Scared of staying single, losing your phone? A look at new-age stressors

Plus, what you can do to help yourself and others.
(HT Illustration: Gajanan Nirphale)
(HT Illustration: Gajanan Nirphale)
Published on Dec 07, 2019 07:11 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | By Puneeta Mahadevia

Modern living — factors ranging from being constantly plugged in to facing the impact of human activity on the planet — has generated a new set of stressors. They’re not registered as phobias, yet, but they’re persistent and disruptive. Here’s what you can do to help yourself or others.


Certain processed foods are reportedly carcinogenic. The jury’s constantly in and out on MSG. Cellphone towers can cause cancer. So can the sun. The list is endless, and it’s causing people to alter diets, lifestyles, and healthcare plans. It appears to be a new form of hypochondria and is leading people with routine symptoms — stomach aches, headaches, nausea — to fear that they have cancer. Carcinophobia is also a term used for the extreme fear that a loved one will contract the disease.


Rooted in social factors, this is an intense fear of staying single forever. “This can cause people to enter relationships without considering the quality of the same. It can stem from low self-esteem and can lead anuptophobes to stay in toxic relationships,” says counselling psychologist Lajja Sanghavi Shah. “Seeing others’ seemingly picture-perfect love lives on social media without knowing about their imperfections can make your life seem inadequate too.”

“Loneliness can often cause people to use social media excessively, which can have a negative impact,” says Dr Manoj Kumar Sharma, who runs the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences’ (NIMHANS) Service for Healthy Use of Technology (SHUT) clinic in Bangalore.


This is the term for the extreme impatience cause by waiting, whether for a page to load or in a grocery store line, or a response to an email. It comes from a fear of loss of control, but is exacerbated by a culture where apps and websites respond instantly to most stated needs and desires. “Instant gratification definitely plays a role. There is no concept of waiting today,” says Shah. “Children, especially, need to be taught early on to wait and earn rewards.”

“We often stop differentiating between the virtual world and the offline world. Interpersonal conflicts that result from the delayed gratification in the offline world are an indicator of this problem,” says Dr Sharma.


Studies have shown that some users experience blood pressure spikes and elevated heart rates, when their phone is separated from them. They call it nomophobia, and the term also covers similar symptoms cause by loss of network connectivity or a dying phone battery. “Our dependence on constant connectivity can exacerbate this,” says Dr Samir Parikh, director - department of mental health and behavioural sciences at Fortis Healthcare.

“If a person is unhappy with their ground reality (their real life), they may depend on virtual reality to escape reality, and that can be a root cause too,” Shah adds.

Zero-inbox syndrome

The urge to check every notification and clear every inbox is registering as a stressor too. “The urge for zero unread messages leads to repeated phone use that can affect focus, attention and productivity,” says Dr Sharma. It also leads to the tendency to pick up the phone every few minutes, almost as a reflect.

The Shut Clinic has even designed an app, called Digital Detox, that helps users track and reduce screen time. “Digital fasting can also be tried by families. Just put devices away and spend time together,” says Dr Sharma.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2021