“It might seem quite an innocuous emotion to be fearful of not having a smartphone, because it does seem like a rational response when smartphones are so entrenched into our everyday lives,” Mr Kaviani said. “But it also means we are more likely to use it when we shouldn’t be using it.”
The term nomophobia has been around for about five years but the research, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, is thought to be the first study into its prevalence in Australia.
Mr Kaviani said the more people used their smartphone each day, the higher the nomophobia and risk of engaging in problematic behaviour came along with that.
This included dependent use “such as excessive habitual use or a sense of loss without the device”, prohibited use such as in a movie or petrol station forecourt, and dangerous use such as using the phone while crossing a road or driving.
Those with moderate nomophobia are nearly 8 times more likely to engage in dependent use and 5 times more likely to engage in dangerous use. For those with severe nomophobia, dangerous use is 14 times more likely.
Women and younger people were more likely to experience higher levels of nomophobia, but men with the condition were more likely to engage in prohibited use.
Sydney psychotherapist Dan Auerbach said dependent phone use could damage family and partner relationships.
“Whether or not we’re paying good attention to each other, is a really central issue in most relationships,” he said.
Natalie Coulson, 42, from Manly, said she identified with the description of nomophobia and she took her phone with her everywhere, including when going into different rooms of the house.
“When I’m not sure where my phone is I get worried about how I’m going to cope,” she said. “It’s like when I go out without wearing rings – I feel naked without my phone.”
Ms Coulson said she was guilty of walking down the street looking at her phone but she always stopped and looked before crossing the road. She also understood the urge to use it while driving – though she either resisted it or pulled over to do it safely.
Ms Coulson said excessive phone use was an occupational hazard for her in the marketing profession because she needed to be contactable by clients and she ran several social media accounts. But even in her daily life, it was hard to put down. If she went for a run, the phone provided the soundtrack. If she did life administration on the computer, the phone provided the authentication app. If she wanted to catch up with friends or family during lockdown, the phone would be used for a Zoom call.
She was hoping to use the holidays to “detox” and try to set some boundaries for 2021.
Caitlin Fitzsimmons is a senior writer for The Sun-Herald, focusing on social affairs.