No app for 'nomophobia,' fear of cell phone separation


by Abbey Gibb /

Posted on February 28, 2013 at 12:18 PM

PORTLAND -- Cell phones have become a part of everything we do, to the point that for many there is a genuine fear or anxiety when they don't have their phone with them.

Now, doctors have a name for it: Nomophobia. It affects as many as two in three adults, according to a new survey out of the U.K.

"I'm constantly having the phone, 'Where is it where is it?' It has to almost be on my body," said busy mom and business owner Mary Bicknell.

And when it's not right next to her, Bicknell said sheer panic arises.

"Oh my gosh, it's that pit in your stomach. You think, 'Oh no, oh no,'" she said. "That's just a terrible feeling. 'Where is it?'"

Mary is like the 66 percent in a recent study who said they have a genuine fear of being without their phone.

"I'd be lost without my phone, it's like my little brain," Bicknell said.

The study found the fear is up from just over 50 percent four years ago, when the phobia was first identified.

"We've given it such a powerful presence, that we think we can not live without it. The anxiety that can build up is pretty dramatic," mental health expert Mike Sherbun said.

If you still doubt nomophobia is real, just ask Natalie Corah, 18, and her sister Katie, 13, what it's like to go two minutes at dinner without their phone.

"Katie and I would freak out, like we're disconnected. I would panic," Corah said.

Katie has had a cell since she was 10, which means for nearly half her life a cell phone has become the main way she communicates. She sends about 200 texts to each of her friends every day.

"It's like what I'm used to now. We don't talk on the phone anymore," she added.

When sorted by age, the study found 18- to 24-year-olds (77 percent) have the highest incidence of nomophobia.

But Sherbun worries this multitasking could be holding our kids back from learning how to have a face-to-face conversation.

"They're not used to this interaction without something in their hand and that's where the anxiety comes in," Sherbun said.

He added that families are missing out too, by not living in the moment with those around them.

"You've got to have some time away from that, put it down, engage in who you're talking to, then go back and get it," he said.

Sherbun suggested starting with baby steps, like no cell phones at the dinner table. You can set an example by putting your cell phone down while talking to your kids.