Serious fear: Have you got nomophobia?

·2-min read

Many people feel a little anxious if they forget their phone but some suffer from nomophobia - "no mobile phone phobia" - a serious fear of being disconnected.

Macquarie University psychologist Wayne Warburton says smartphones, tablets, computers and TVs can all fuel screen overuse, but phones are particularly problematic because of their constant presence in our lives.

Associate Professor Warburton recently published a paper that found up to three per cent of young Australians could have internet gaming disorder, an affliction associated with screen addiction.

"For most of us, this is not an addiction or a disorder," he said on Tuesday.

"It's a habit that we've developed, but one that's having a real impact on our lives."

The problem is that screens and apps are designed to distract.

"They're giving us lots of little dopamine hits. But they never reward us with that eventual feeling of satisfaction that stops a behaviour, so we keep scrolling," Prof Warburton said.

"There's always the promise of something better just out of reach."

When we're not using them, they try to draw us back with notifications that distract us.

Brain imaging of people with severe screen overuse shows a drop-off in brain activity in certain areas.

"The longer this goes on, the greater the effect on our ability to focus and pay attention," Prof Warburton said.

While two-minute social media videos used to retain attention, that's too long now.

"That's why platforms like TikTok are so popular," he said.

PhD candidate Michoel Moshel is studying the effects of screen overuse on cognition which not only impacts attention but higher order thinking skills, like problem solving and impulse control.

He recommends self imposed breaks from technology like getting rid of notifications from your phone, removing your phone from your desk, charging it overnight in another room and taking time to read a book instead of scrolling social media.

"Think of your attention span as a muscle that hasn't been exercised," Prof Warburton said.

"Building it up will take time, but it can be done."