By Dr. Vinesh Chandramaniya, Psychiatry,
The advent of smartphones has made mobile phones far more pervasive in your life. You can now remain connected with friends and family on social media for much longer, share your life events through pictures and videos, stay on track with professional information and generally remain updated about information from all around the world. However, this constant barrage of information and the over dependence on the smartphone for work and personal affairs has taken epidemic proportions where people are unable to log off. It has now been classified as a general anxiety disorder commonly known as nomophobia which is “the fear or being away from your cellphone”.
Addiction and the validity of Nomophobia
While cell phone addiction is a valid disorder, the designation of nomophobia is loosely attributed to the anxiety disorders connected to not being able to use cell phones. It’s less of a phobia and more of an addiction as you cannot be without it. These can be better enumerated by the typical symptoms when not being able to use a mobile phone.
Symptoms of mobile phone addiction:
- The ability to spend hours and hours on the cell phone without realizing how much time has passed by.
- Forced attempts to separate from the cell phone result in more time being spent with it (akin to a drug addiction).
- Incremental usages in a number of hours as you end up spending more and more hours on the phone.
- Personal and professional lives being hampered due to excessive mobile phone usage.
- Surfacing of withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, restlessness, anger and depression.
How mobile phone addiction affects people?
Different age groups are affected differently by mobile phone addiction; although some of the symptoms are fairly common. The effect tends to be far more severe on children and teenagers. Let’s look at how different age groups are affected by mobile phone addiction:
Children – Increasingly, younger children are carrying cellphones, especially smartphones. This tends to disrupt their lives as they get easily distracted and thus addicted to chatting with friends and connecting on social media. With children, appetite as well as mental development, is also hindered. In a study in the U.K., it was found that young children with mobile phones had less nutritional intake and thus had lesser and slower physical development than normal. It also affects their eyes. Direct exposure to blue light – like the one that comes from cellphone screens – can cause damage to the retina of the eye.
- Development: Apart from the similar problems mentioned with children, the performance in school tends to suffer the most along with other developmental disabilities in the brain. The human brain is still forming till the age of 25 and many of the finer faculties that develop during the teenage years get badly affected. Holistic development like hobbies, sports, communication skills are greatly hindered.
- Information overload: Teenagers also tend to be very impressionable and thus are at a risk of predation from sources all-round the internet. While aggressively watching porn, the adolescent brain is being shaped around a sexual experience that is isolating, visceral, and completely void of any love or compassion. This has the potential to lead to great problems in sexual compulsivity and sex addiction throughout the adolescent boy’s life because his brain gets shaped to expect the “heroin-like” porn dopamine rush from all of his real-life sexual experiences.
- Peer pressure: Teenagers seek more and more expensive phones in order to compete or to fit in with the crowd. this not only puts more financial strain on the parents but also leads to disharmony at home.
- Friends! Let’s stay connected: Very often parents complain that their teenager can do nothing else but sit by their mobile phone waiting for calls or text messages. They no longer communicate with family members and its not uncommon! Catching teenagers staying up till early hours of the morning texting or talking with friends. Their studies greatly suffer, hobbies no longer take priority and problems like irritability, poor concentration, bunking classes and other health issues are on alarming rise due to lack of sleep.
- Emotional issues: In the era where assignments, notes, outing plans, party invites and important messages are passed on in Whatsapp groups. Getting a phone call or a text message implies an importance, ‘Somebody wants Me’!! It boosts the receivers self-esteem and self-worth. The phone also feeds the desire for attention, acceptability and satisfies a teenager’s emotional drive.