Does your cellphone give you anxiety? You may have nomophobia

Friday, June 1, 2018
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Does a low cellphone battery give you anxiety? Then, you may need to see a doctor because you could be suffering from nomophobia.

SAN FRANCISCO, C.A. -- Does a low cellphone battery give you anxiety? Then, you may need to see a doctor because you could be suffering from nomophobia.

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Nomophobia defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as "the fear of being without access to a working cellphone."

"Nomophobia, one way of looking at it, this is a realization of that vulnerability that we all sense without that extra appendage that we now have," Elias Aboujaoudi, M.D., said.

Aboujaoudi runs Standford's Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Clinic and is author of "Virtually You - the dangerous powers of the E-personality".

Aboujaoudi has done significant research on addiction to technology. "We are faced with a situation where our attachment to our devices is looking very similar to unhealthy attachments we have to substances or other behaviors," Aboujaoudi said. "I can feel myself getting anxious and I can recognize it," Ellen Wilkinson from Palo Alto said.

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ABC7 News talked to Wilkinson about a new app called "Die With Me". Wilkinson said she found the app "funny" because users bonded "instantly" through their shared suffering. The "Die With Me" app is a chat room made for anxious people who have low battery. You can't log on until you have less than five percent. "It makes some sense, I guess, that they can all commune over this shared high anxiety and this shared unique problem," Aboujaoudi said. ABC7 News showed him the app and he laughed, noting that "it's a little bit tongue and cheek of course."

However, Aboujaoudi said the idea behind the app isn't new. It's part of tele-psychiatry where people get psychiatric help remotely. The tele-psychiatry movement began decades ago, with cassettes and CDs. Then, it moved to the Internet, and now our phones. Pretty soon virtual reality and artificial intelligence could help cure addictions.

The science surrounding digital addiction is relatively new. A recent study done in South Korea definitively showed an imbalance in brain chemistry of young people addicted to smartphones.

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Stanford Professor Max Wintermark, M.D., familiar with the results, explained "they obtained images of the brain, using an MRI scanner of teenagers affected by the addiction to cellphones. They were able to find some changes in the brains of those teenagers."

The recent South Korean study showed changes in brain function (how we process information). However, more studies are needed to determine if those changes are positive or negative. For example, meditation has proven to positively improve brain function.

But don't panic quite yet. Wintermark says the study showed "all those changes were reversible when the addiction to the cellphone use was reversed."

A little digital detox could do the trick. And if you think you suffer from nomophobia, keep a charger handy.

Click here to read more about the South Korean study.

And click here for more information on Die With Me.