Is Cell Phone Addiction Real (And Is It Causing You Pain)?

We all have had high stress and anxiety days and sometimes weeks at a time. This can come from happy events like pre-wedding jitters or job-related activities like prepping for a career-changing meeting. Did you know, however, that it was found in a 2012 survey that 66% of people feel similar stress levels from losing their phone? This new trend called “nomophobia” and is related to the question: Is cell phone addiction real? Nomophobia is being seen more and more across the world and has shown significant growth since a 2008 study showed that only 53% of people had this fear.

Is cell phone addiction real? 

Nomophobia, short for no-mobile-phone-phobia, is the fear of being without a mobile device, or more specifically, out of mobile contact. Simply put, it is a word for cell phone addiction. Currently, it isn’t listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, although there is talk of adding it to the next edition. Why can misplacing a cell phone lead to high anxiety, panic attacks, and distress in a person?

A prime factor can be contributed to how much dependency the average person has on their smart device. It is used for scheduling, organizing our lives, information gathering, staying in contact with loved ones, and much more. It is unsurprising that losing such a valuable tool would be a stressor. It is also believed that the major drivers for nomophobia are boredom, loneliness, and insecurity.

A recent study actually found that high engagement with a cell phone and the internet is linked with anxiety and depression as well as using devices as an emotional coping mechanism. The same research, however, did find that using your phone to alleviate boredom did not negatively contribute to anxiety and depression.

Nomophobia is a modern phenomenon that has only come about within the last decade because of the massive expansion and penetration of smartphones in the global market. Smartphones have become so necessary and ubiquitous, it is hard to tell if you are addicted unless you take the time to find out.

Do you have cell phone addiction and how bad is it?

Scientists from Iowa State University have come up with a “Nomophobia Questionnaire” to help measure and evaluate a participant’s nomophobia severity. It uses a 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree) scale to quantify this condition. The scale was developed by interviewing grad students and ascertaining their thoughts about their cell phones. There are 20 questions on the survey that were created using this data and they can be surprisingly revealing.

For example:

  • If I could not use my smartphone, I would be afraid of getting stranded somewhere.
  • I would be worried because my family and/or friends could not reach me.
  • I would feel anxious because I could not check my email messages.
  • I would feel nervous because I would not be able to receive text messages and calls.

The researchers from this study analyzed this data and found that there are four key components that make up nomophobia:

  1. Poor or lack of communication with people
  2. Loss of connectedness
  3. Inability to retrieve information instantly
  4. Loss of convenience

As a word of caution, this study is very new and there has not been a lot of research yet on all of the effects of nomophobia. So while there are negative side effects of heavy cell phone use, it is not yet proven that every aspect is a problem nor has there been an in-depth study on the benefits.

Now that we have touched on what nomophobia is and how it can be evaluated, why is it such a problem?

What are the consequences of cell phone addiction?

There are numerous side effects that can be observed from constant cell phone use. These can range from physical issues to mental health problems that can lead to chronic pain. Let’s visit each in turn.

The physical

Texting neck occurs when the neck is repetitively strained and is frequently caused by hunching over a smartphone. This can cause major pain to your neck, shoulders, and upper back in general. Robert Bolash, MD, a pain specialist at Cleveland Clinic notes:

“Neck muscles, in their proper position, are designed to support the weight of your head, about 10 to 12 pounds. Research shows that for every inch you drop your head forward, you double the load on those muscles. Looking down at your smartphone, with your chin to your chest, can put about 60 pounds of force on your neck.”

That is quite a lot of extra pressure on your spine and, on average, a person spends 700 – 1,400 hours a year in this position!

The mental

There have also been numerous studies that link bad posture (aka hunching over a cell phone) to other neurological conditions such as headaches and depression. There is also evidence that people who lose their phone can suffer from withdrawal. Finally, if you are still wondering is cell phone addiction real, a survey done by TeleNav, Inc. should provide a pretty strong case. This study found out some startling facts, such as one-third of participants would be more willing to give up a sex for a week than their smartphones. If that isn’t bad enough, one in five said they would rather go shoeless than phoneless for an entire week!

Tips and tricks to avoid the pain

Here are some quick ways to help fight the physical and mental pain that excessive cell phone use can bring:

  • Try to look at your phone in the neutral spine position. Hold your phone up or only move your eyes down. If you need help, there is even an app called Text Neck that could be just the thing you need.
  • Work on your overall posture. It will help with text neck and provides a host of other benefits.
  • Stretch more. Take five minutes a day to work out your neck with easy exercises or go to your nearest yoga studio.
  • Put the phone down. Avoid the issues all together by ditching your phone for a few hours. Taking time to go out and connect instead of staring at your phone will have loads of positive effects.

What do you think — is cell phone addiction real? What are your experiences with cell phone addiction and the pain it causes?