Your Cell Phone: Friend or Foe?

asian woman on smartphoneToday, cell phones and smartphones are a way of life. Most of us use our phones for managing both our personal and work business—keeping track of our appointments, sharing videos or photos with friends and family, posting to Facebook or responding to posts, finding information on the web, or helping us get to that new restaurant in the next town over. A 2013 survey of 2,252 adults found that 91% used a cell phone. Many parents even give cell phones to their children so they can know where they are and what they are doing.

In June 2013, Consumer Reports estimated that 1.6 million American consumers were victims of smartphone theft in 2012. With so many of us relying on our cell phones, what happens when our phone is lost or damaged? It causes stress that can lead to emotional issues. Nomophobia, a term coined in 2008, is the fear of being out of mobile phone contact or being without one’s cell phone. In 2012, a poll conducted in England found that two-thirds of participants (1,000) experienced anxiety over being separated from their cell phones, even for short periods.

Separation anxiety is a condition wherein a child becomes fearful and nervous whenever he or she is away from the home or from his or her primary caretaker (provider of a sense of security). It is not uncommon for children with separation anxiety to develop physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, or even nausea, and the condition can interfere with the child’s ability to do normal activities such as going to school or even having a piano lesson. Separation anxiety is not typically diagnosed in adults, but when an individual loses his or her phone, many of these same symptoms are present. Should the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) recognize this issue?

Have you ever had a friend who lost a cell phone? I have, and the behavior they displayed was similar to the separation anxiety I have seen in children. The mind races, anxiety intensifies, and the person becomes fearful and nervous when the phone cannot be found. One friend of mine who lost her phone had to go to the emergency room to get checked out because she thought she was having a heart attack. She was told it was a panic attack.

This response to the loss of a cell phone can also resemble an addictive behavior. Although stress is part of our lives, many of us “need” our cell phones to help manage our stress. It is like we have to have our “fix” by checking Facebook, our email, or texting in order to feel connected to those around us. We begin to justify our outrageous reactions with the excuse that “everyone does it.”

In our society, there is pressure to get more done each day. We often find ourselves multitasking, which can have a negative physical effect on our bodies. We need something that can speed up our tasks and help us stay organized. Cell phones help solve that dilemma.

If your mental health is in jeopardy, what are you willing to sacrifice? Can you get done all you need to do and not rely on your cell phone to do it?

© Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Teresa Collett, PsyD, LMFT, Worry Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Daphne

    March 11th, 2014 at 10:47 AM

    My job requires me to be in constant contact with my phone at all times, even on nights and weekends. My husnad hates it, but it’s how I amke a living so it is kind of a requirement that we both have to accept. I guess that I have gotten used to it so it doesn’t bother me too much but I suppose there are times when I do feel a little anxiety when I feel like I am missing something important if I have to turn the ringer off or if I can’t check email for a while. It does feel a little addictive at times and I worry about it driving a wedge between us but at the same time I worry about paying the bills too so there has to be a way to balance all of it out.

  • Amy Armstrong

    March 11th, 2014 at 1:55 PM

    You raise some interesting points here. I agree that all of us would probably be less stressed if we spent more time away from our cell phones. When it comes to concerns about losing the phone, I’m not sure it’s necessarily separation anxiety.

    It seems like a lot of us get upset about losing things, especially an item like a purse or cell phone that is associated with our “adult” status. Losing that talisman of maturity can trigger thoughts like, “I’m irresponsible” and those can be anxiety-provoking, especially if you were already distracted by something upsetting. I know I’m more likely to misplace items when I’m already upset.

    Also, it seems like cell phones do carry a myth of extra security, and by extension, there’s a fear that if you misplace your phone and something bad happens (e.g. car breaks down, getting robbed, etc.) it would have all been fine if you’d had the phone.

    So, I guess what I’m saying is: separation anxiety? Maybe. Put the phone down and cut yourself some slack? For sure.

  • lk

    March 11th, 2014 at 2:01 PM


  • jeanette

    March 13th, 2014 at 2:01 PM

    The very last thing that I want is to let a piece of technology rule my life. I see kids who can’t eat without having their phones with them at the table… it’s a pretty disappointing picture


    May 22nd, 2018 at 8:03 AM


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