Nomophobia: new disease?

It was close. I could have hit her and then this would be a different story.

I am thankful I saw the woman as she stepped blindly in front of me into traffic, her eyes glued to a cellphone. She was so absorbed by her fascinating screen, she was oblivious to how close she’d come to her demise.

As my heart slowed down to normal, I again lamented the Invasion of zombies that have overtaken society.

As I glanced around me, at least two-thirds of the people on the sidewalks were exactly the same; their eyes glued to their devices. Here, in one of the most beautiful places in the world, they were unaware of their surroundings.

While drinking-and-driving is a well-known recipe for disaster, the risk of cellphone use and walking may be lesser known. People are getting hurt because of this habit, experiencing:

  • Sprains
  • Concussions
  • Broken bones
  • Brain injuries
  • Even death

All because their eyes are glued to a screen.

I’ve had to dodge people while walking down the sidewalk because they’re oblivious about where they’re walking. In London, England, they’ve resorted to padding lamp posts to save people from themselves.

Let’s face it, cellphone addiction is rampant — two-out-of-three people are addicted to their device.

It’s common to see people being alone together, each glued to the screen in front of them. It’s like an invisible cage they’re held in, absorbed in the virtual reality of a device.

Have you ever been interrupted mid-sentence because someone’s cellphone beeped or rang while you were visiting? Whoever was on the other end was more important than anything you have to say.

It doesn’t feel very good, does it? What happens to relationships in the context of this ever-present digital companion?

While it’s easy to go blind to what’s become normal, it’s valuable to question what’s happening to us as a society with our growing addiction to our devices.

I admit to having a love-hate relationship with mine. With a world of information at our fingertips, we seem to be anywhere else but where we are.

I’ve noticed any moment of waiting seems to present opportunity to check these ubiquitous devices. We love our technology, which is great when we’re using it, not when it’s using us.

Nomophobia, a new word born from our love of technology, is the fear of being without a mobile device or being outside of cell range. It’s really a thing.

My friends Jim and Kim Rhindress even wrote a song about the prevalence of this new phobia. I thought it was a joke, until I realized it isn’t.

My awareness of the growing epidemic of cellphone addiction heightened when I viewed a photo series, Removed, by Eric Pickersgill.

Pickersgill captured photos of people in modern life, consumed by their devices, except the devices were removed from their hands in his photos. Images that are all too familiar in today’s society become odd, absurd, and alarming through Pickersgill’s lens.

This photo series was like a cold slap of reality to me. The stark truth of what’s happening caused me to wake-up and notice the isolating and intrusive nature of life married to digital devices.

I call it the invasion of the zombies.

Technology is good, but overusing it creates challenges for the cognitive function of our brains. There are many health costs arising from cellphone addiction.

It may be startling to realize the abilities of our brains are changing due to the increased use of technology.

We are harming our ability to remember and to solve simple problems on our own.

How many phone numbers can you remember? Are you able to quickly calculate sale prices in your head? Our spatial awareness is being altered through the use of Google Maps. Use it or lose it.

As I stood with a young clerk in a store recently, she was shocked when I was quickly able to calculate the final price of an item when the sale price was 20% off. She was impressed. I’m concerned that she was impressed.

Digital dementia, a term coined by Manfred Spitzer in 2012, is the breakdown of the ability of the brain to think. Poor short-term memory, anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders are only a few of the consequences of the overuse of technology.

Whether it’s distracted walking, digital dementia, or relationship challenges arising from over-use of digital devices, the effects are alarming. We’re the only ones who can change it for ourselves.

As my friend Jeff cautioned, “Beware the cyber-toothed tiger.”


Realm of Hungry Ghosts

What separates me from those souls living lives tortured by addiction to drugs and alcohol?

Not much!

I know luck and Divine intervention played a big roll in the way my life turned out.

My parents were alcoholics and two of my three brothers died because of their addictions. I am thankful my one remaining brother, Dave, found Alcoholics Anonymous and sobriety many years ago.

Just because I didn’t turn to substances doesn’t mean I escaped unscathed by addiction. I found a more socially acceptable form, and it made me sick.

The more I work with people, the more I realize many of us have an ‘aholic’ running our lives.

While I escaped addiction to drugs and alcohol, my form of addiction was erosive and detrimental to my health. My addiction was greatly encouraged and valued by others, making it tricky to stop.

It became a part of my identity for a long time, until it nearly took me out.

I was a workaholic. Internal pain drove my addiction; it robbed me of life and made me sick.

Through the work of Dr. Gabor Maté, a renowned addiction expert, author, and speaker who worked in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, I’ve come to understand what laid beneath my addiction.

He says addiction isn’t about moral failure or genetics; addictions of all varieties are rooted in trauma.

Whether it’s being a workaholic, shopaholic, sexaholic, over-eating, overuse of the internet, or drug/alcohol use, helping people heal from trauma is the answer.

According to Maté, “trauma is not what happens to you, it’s what happens inside you as a result of what happened to you. Trauma is that scarring that makes you less flexible, more rigid, less feeling, and more defended.”

In his 2009 award-winning book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, Maté revealed that the neuro-biological source of addiction is rooted in trauma. Our brains and nervous systems are influenced by trauma and each person responds differently to traumatic situations.

According to Maté, our lives are shaped by the invisible force of trauma, which affects the way we live, love, and see the world.

In speaking of people who’re addicted, he wrote, “the painful longing in their hearts reflects something of the emptiness that may also be experienced by people with apparently happier lives.”

Trauma creates a sense of emptiness or pain, causing us to seek outside of ourselves to soothe this feeling with substances, objects, or pursuits.

Addictions of all kinds are an attempt to soothe an insatiable inner need and to quell painful feelings arising from trauma, but the beast is never truly fed with these attempts to soothe.

I believe we’ve all experienced a collective trauma as we’ve navigated the pandemic and the challenges of the past year. I’m curious about how we’ll all emerge as the world opens up. Understanding more about trauma and how it may show up in our lives is important.

It’s timely that a new movie, The Wisdom of Trauma, featuring Maté, will be premiered from June 8-14.

In this movie, Maté shares his vision for a trauma-informed society, offering us hope of healing what drives addiction, pain, and troubling behaviours. The movie is only available during this seven-day period.

I encourage you to check out the website and learn more about the cycles of trauma. There’s even a wonderful free download of The Wisdom of Trauma; Companion Booklet.

Addictions of all kinds are indeed the shadow of our society, and according to Maté, “No society can understand itself without looking at its shadow.”

His vision is to create a trauma-informed society.

As we get curious about what drives the insatiable urge of any addiction, we move closer to creating a more compassionate society and truly breaking the cycles of trauma and addiction.

This important work of being trauma informed may be for others, or for ourselves.

Seeing the world clearly

Oh, the stories we tell ourselves.

The many stories I’ve told myself over the years have caused me suffering, as they reinforced my beliefs about myself, others, and the world.

I used to view myself and the world darkly. My experience of life wasn’t great.

We have habitual ways of seeing ourselves, life, and others. And, because of the confirmation bias, the tendency to see only what matches our beliefs, we always get to be right.

Our lenses are often tinted or shaded, limiting what we’re able to see.

I’ve found this to be true, and I learned much of my personal suffering was a direct result of optical rectumitis, also known as a crappy view of life.

I was quick to judge, and slow to change my mind. I was the author of my own painful experience.

It was a powerful moment when I learned to question my beliefs and assumptions, and consider there might be another way to look at things. This revolutionary act was liberating.

A friend recently had her world beautifully shaken as she asked herself, “What if everything I’ve always believed isn’t true.”

The prospect filled her with fear and excitement, as habitual perceptions came into question.

It’s been lovely to see this friend open and soften as she allowed herself to see the world in a different way.

As Wayne Dyer wrote, “if you change the way you look at things, the thing you look at change.”

My world was cracked open when I first heard the phrase, “be curious, not judgmental.” My dear friend, Jane, changed my life when she shared this wisdom of American poet Walt Whitman with me.

Learning to stay open and curious and not judge people and life’s circumstances through my worst assumptions created space for me to see things differently.

I stopped taking life and others’ behaviour personally, and learned to see things in a better light.

I’ve found it helpful to take a breath and ask myself, “what’s really going on here?” Curiosity opens up our awareness to look past the surface, and gives us the potential of learning more.

I came to recognize that people are trying their best, given their histories, beliefs, and circumstances. I’ve found most unskilled human behaviour is the tragic expression of an unmet need.

I’ve found beneath many reserved or prickly exteriors, there’s a person who could benefit from caring presence and understanding.

Being willing to question my beliefs and assumptions and see beyond the surface has offered me places to show up with caring and compassion instead of judgment.

This feels better for me, and the world feels like a much friendlier place.

Learning to stay open and curious, and allowing others the grace and understanding we, ourselves would hope to receive, allows us to calm the waters, not only for others, but also for ourselves.


Don't believe your thoughts

Sleep challenges are rampant these days, while anxiety disorders and depression continue to rise.

For many, it’s no wonder, because of the horror stories they pay homage to in their minds.

The body doesn’t know the difference between real and imagined, and many of our imaginings are horrendous.

As we review the problems and challenges of the day, our bodies respond as though the events are happening in real time.

Bedtime stories are supposed to be the things sweet dreams are made of. Yet, for many, our mental dialogue is more reminiscent of a horror story than a fairy tale.

We’re often our own Brothers Grimm. No wonder people are anxious or depressed and can’t sleep.

The last horror movie I watched was Silence of the Lambs, way back in the early 1990s; I was jumpy for days after watching it and it affected my sleep for some time.

This was the last such movie I watched because of its affect on me. Call me chicken if you like, but why would I expose myself to something that causes me to suffer?

I now take great care when choosing TV programs. It’s called programming for a reason. What we watch, real or fictional, becomes part of our programming and is held in our subconscious memory.

I also take care with the movie of my mind.

The importance of taking care of our mental hygiene is obvious when it comes to the TV programs and movies we watch, but may not be so apparent when it comes to the repeated thoughts we entertain.

People tell me they feel victimized by their minds and can’t seem to control the thoughts that pop up.

We don’t have to be a victim of our minds. We are the only ones who can change our tendencies of thought.

What we practise grows stronger. With awareness, we can rewire our brains and change the prevailing trend of our thoughts.

As I practised anxious and negative thoughts years ago, I suffered. My mind felt out of control, and my body was constantly hit with jolts of adrenaline.

My anxious thoughts frightened me, which only added more stress chemicals to the mix. I felt helpless, but I was the only one who could change things. Mindfulness practices were so helpful.

I used to take my thoughts so seriously, believing everything that rolled through my mind.

I’d judge and criticize myself for having anxious or unkind thoughts. I’d experience guilt or shame just because of a thought. The thoughts, guilt, and shame all activated the fight-or-flight response. It was unpleasant, and I suffered, as did those around me.

Relief came as I understood I am not my thoughts, and learned not to believe everything I think.

As I’ve learned to stand back from my thoughts and simply observe them, I realize how random and absurd they can be. I’ve learned to question my thoughts and recognize that many times I don’t even believe some of the stuff floating through my mind. Who knows how it got there? I sure don’t.

I recognize while many thoughts float through my consciousness, I do have control over which ones I choose to follow and feed.

For the most part, I let the crappy thoughts just float on by. I don’t give them any air time or feed them with emotion or judgment. Wrestling with or judging negative thoughts only makes them stronger.

I’ve created a habit of ensuring the last thoughts I hold while preparing for sleep are happy ones.

I have a long-standing habit of writing in my gratitude journal before going to sleep. In reviewing the great things from the day, I am bathing my mind and body in neuro-chemicals and hormones supportive of health.

We don’t have to be victim to our thoughts; we can practise new ways of thinking. In doing so, we develop a tendency to pay greater attention to what supports our health, happiness, and sleep.

Your mind will always believe what you tell it. Feed it good things, and your health will benefit.

More New Thought articles

About the Author

Corinne is first a wife, mother, and grandmother, whose eclectic background has created a rich alchemy that serves to inform her perspectives on life.

Corinne, a registered nurse with a master’s degree in Health Science, is a staff minister with the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna, and a hospice volunteer. She is an adjunct professor with the school of nursing  at UBC Okanagan, and is currently teaching smartUBC, a unique Mindfulness program offered at UBC, to the public. She is an invited speaker and presenter.

From diverse experience and knowledge, personally and professionally, Corinne has developed an extraordinary passion for helping people to gain a new perspective, awaken, and to recognize that we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts or to life; we are always at a point of change.

Through this column, Corinne blends her insights and research to provide food for the mind and the heart, to encourage an awakening of the power and potential within everyone.

Corinne lives in Kelowna with her husband of 41 years, and can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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