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Too Hooked To Hang Up?

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The majority of smartphone users are tethered to their cell phone like it's an extension of themselves, according to a recent study out of the United Kingdom.

Stateside, a treatment group has been formed for smart phone users who have become seemingly addicted to the digital device.

For Christiana Ike, not having her phone provokes extreme anxiety.

She has three phones and carries two phone chargers with her at all times.

She even takes her phone with her in the shower.

"I'll have it sitting there on the counter, because I'm thinking, 'What if President Obama calls or the Pope?' I don't know why I do that," Ike says.

Since 2008, some 66 percent of the UK population showed symptoms of Nomophobia, or no-mobile-phone phobia, according to a study sponsored by SecurEnvoy.

Symptoms of Nomophobia include:

    Panic and anxiety when separated from the phone
    Having multiple phones
    Compulsive checking of phone for messages, battery life
    Using phone in inappropriate places
    Phone activity becoming an issue in relationships, work or school

"For some people who use the phone excessively, we know that the brain is actually responding to the phone as if it is a drug," explains Dr. Elizabeth Waterman, clinical psychologist at Morningside recovery Center in Costa Mesa, California.  "So there's some burst of dopamine that occurs when the person can engage in the pleasurable behavior."

When cell phone users receive that reward and their anxiety is decreased, they become conditioned to frequently check their phone throughout the day, Waterman said.

"They have an anxiety response when their phone is inaccessible and they engage in desperate behaviors to avoid losing their phone," she adds.

Ike's obsession with her phones began after a traumatic incident six years ago during which she did not have her phone with her.

Now her preoccupation with her phone is affecting her face-to-face interactions.

"If someone has to talk to me, it's hard for them to pry me away from my phone especially if I have a message," she says. "I have had several people try and take my phone away from me or tell me I'm being disrespectful and rude."

"Unfortunately I become so attached to communicating with everybody via my iPhone, that I become less attached to people who are physically in front of me. And that's where it becomes detrimental," Ike says.

Ike belongs to a Nomophobia recovery group at Morningside Recovery Center in Costa Mesa where she learns how to break her habit.

Clients are first taught health coping skills to manage the anxiety they feel when their phones are taken away, Waterman said.

"We help them identify irrational fears associated with the phone loss and help them create new rational thought to replace those fears," she says. "We teach them distraction skills, so they can learn to distract themselves with healthier behaviors instead of engaging in the additive behavior."

Self-awareness has been touted as the leading method of curbing frequent cell phone and Internet use, according to Waterman.

She says the hyper-connected should start monitoring how frequently, when and where they use the phone or surf the web.

They're also encouraged to ask friends, loved ones, even co-workers if they see it as a problem.

If so, Waterman suggests powering down - turning off the cell phone, walking away from the computer - for a certain amount of time each day.

During that time users should nurture face-to-face relationships.

"If you can't follow through with putting the phone down or putting the computer away, then ask for people to take those things away from you for a certain amount of time," Waterman says.

Ike has learned a variety of coping skills to manage her anxiety and fear.

She is repairing old relationships, forming new ones, and is enrolled in school.

"As opposed to thinking of myself as being trapped without my phone, I am actually trying to focus on how it can actually be freeing to not have my phone," she says.  "I don't have to hoard things like my phone in order to feel safe."

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