Ask Paul at the RSIC: Combating symptoms of ‘no-mobile-phone-phobia’ |

Ask Paul at the RSIC: Combating symptoms of ‘no-mobile-phone-phobia’

By Paul Snyder

Special to First Nation's Focus

Cellphone addictions can lead to poor communication skills and lost time.
Photo: Getty Images

I recently gave a friend a ride to her auto shop to pick up her car. I dropped her off and went about my evening. In the morning, I saw she had forgotten her cellphone in my car. It must have slipped out of her pocket or purse. I felt anxious for her and felt like I had to get the phone back to her with urgency.

On the way to work, I kept thinking about how she must feel not having her cellphone for an entire evening and the stress she must have felt while searching for her phone. She experienced a wave of relief when I returned her phone, and sure enough, she said she was really worried when she could not find it.

Being curious about our relationships with our cellphones, I took an informal survey and asked people if they would rather lose their wallet/purse or their cellphone. I was surprised at the responses. About half would rather lose their wallet/purse than their cellphone!

This was an informal survey at best, but it does bring up some interesting observations about our society and our relationship with our phones. In my observations, I found younger people to be more attached to their phones than older people. Young people mentioned going to bed with their cellphone on each night, so they’re connected 24-hours a day, every day.

I’m always concerned about the health of youth. The Elders teach us that we need to be healthy spiritually, emotionally, physically and mentally. Is our new style of communication healthy, especially for our youth?

Having lived a few decades, I can compare the changes in how we previously communicated and gathered information to make informed decisions. I remember going to the library to review encyclopedias, passing notes in school and having a single phone with a cord that hung on the wall in my family’s kitchen.

Privacy, when using a home phone, was limited to how quietly a person could talk. As time went by, we were able to have two phones in our house. If someone picked up the other phone while a conversation was going on, a small click was heard quickly followed by the other party yelling, “I’m on the phone!”

How do the people in your home use a phone? Does your teen take his/her phone into his/her bedroom so you can’t hear what he or she is saying or looking at? Much of our youth’s communication is done through texting, emoji and apps, so they can be more secretive than ever. This type of communication also takes a lot of time — time that could be used with family or friends to play sports, walk or go to the park.

As with many things, you take the good with the bad when it comes to technology. For example, is it important to know how to read a map when GPS and Google maps are readily available? Is it important to know how to write checks and balance a checkbook when you can do online banking?

Is it important to carry a credit card when all of your credit card information can be stored in your cell phone? Is communication with another person necessary when you can send an emoji in a text? Is the cellphone taking attention away from pets, friends, parents and healthy activities or adding to a healthy full life?

I also wonder about the validity and reliability of the information that’s being consumed by our youth. I hear a lot about consuming healthy food. Do we monitor the information we consume?

Previously, a person would look up a definition in the dictionary or research using a reputable source. Today, there’s so much information available it’s overwhelming. The weight of the information is also concerning. It seems people give as much attention and acceptance to someone selling something as they do factual information.

The Elders teach us about the importance of health in our community, family and individually. Is this new way of life and communication helping or taking away from health?

As an addiction specialist, I’m always interested in the way behaviors or substances negatively impact a person’s life. When I observe the behavior or substance is controlling the person in a negative way, I think of ways to unravel the addiction’s power and return the power back to the rightful owner — the person.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as, “a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry.” The definition goes on to say individuals compulsively pursue reward or relief through substances or other behaviors.

Additionally, the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) has a term for the anxiety a person feels when he doesn’t have his/her cellphone. It’s called “Nomophobia” — no-mobile-phone-phobia. Symptoms include:

  • Experiencing anxiety or panic over losing your phone.
  • Obsessively checking for missed calls, emails, and texts.
  • Using your phone in inappropriate places like the bathroom or church.
  • Missing out on opportunities for face-to-face interactions.

As I observe people and their relationships with their cell phones, I see many similarities to addictive behaviors. Addictive drugs cause dopamine to flood the brain, which causes euphoria and reinforces a strong desire to repeat the experience.

Does the “ding” of a new text or email trigger the same response? Our brains are made to be constantly searching for new information; we quickly make behaviors of mundane tasks so we can search out or use our brains to think about new exciting information.

Like an animal always foraging for food, our brain is always looking for new information. This urgency for new information makes the cellphone message irresistible; because the brain associates the cellphone message as new information specifically for the individual. Interestingly, the cellphone is vying for the person’s attention of the things most interesting to them — themselves.

For example, if a person is having a conversation and their phone “dings’ or vibrates, can this person maintain the same amount of attention to their conversation or has the cell phone caller cut in line for their attention? Personally, I want to know who called, and the only way for me not to be distracted is to turn off my cellphone.

I have to look closely at my relationship with my cellphone and recognize when its benefits become detrimental to the important things in my life — my mental and physical health and my relationships with my friends and family.

Dr. Nielsen is a Clinical Psychologist in our Behavioral Health Department. He shares guidelines for us to regain control over our cellphone use and to focus our power of attention on what is most important to us:

  • Select a time in the morning to turn on your phone and check messages.
  • When you are engaged in a conversation, meeting or human interaction, switch the phone to airplane mode.
  • When you are concentrating, reading, working, etc., set your phone to airplane mode.
  • During meals, especially when eating with someone else, switch your phone to airplane mode.
  • Thirty minutes before bedtime, turn off your phone.

“The Red Road to Wellbriety” tells us to think about the kind of person you want to be when you are an Elder; to start developing yourself now to be this person, and you will learn what it means to develop a Good Mind.

“Ask Paul” is a health column by Paul Snyder, MA, LADC-S, a Substance Use Counselor at the Reno-Sparks Tribal Health Center. It publishes each month in The Camp News, the monthly newsletter for the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony community. Have a question for Paul? Email him at


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