You are sitting on a couch or working peacefully at your workstation or enjoying a cup of coffee in serenity and solitude of a day. Suddenly you feel the treacherous vibrations and sounds, intruder’s name in huge capital letters appears on your phone screen and this is the moment when you know: you are getting a phone call and you have to answer it. You are sitting in a cold sweat, with trembling hands and shaky legs. You feel paralyzed, unable to move, to answer the call or switch the telephone off. You sigh with relief the moment the call ends and the silence falls. If it is a friend/relative/colleague, you will resort to texting the person depending on the urgency of the answer. If it is an unknown number you tend to look it up in a phonebook or blacklist it. This is it – the fear of phone calls.
If you recognize yourself and this is what you have to deal with a lot, the first thing you should know is that you are not alone. You are actually experiencing something related to a Social Anxiety Disorder or SAD. According to the ADAA, the defining feature of social anxiety disorder, also called social phobia, is intense anxiety or fear of being judged, negatively evaluated, or rejected in a social or performance situation. It is a mental health condition and not just shyness. Approximately 15 million Americans are affected by social anxiety – the majority of which are women. Unfortunately, our environment and modern lifestyle don’t give a chance to even recognize the issue – around 36% of those Americans report experiencing symptoms for 10 years before getting help.
Phobia of talking on the phone is usually described as a milder form of social anxiety and a lot of even seemingly neurotypical people experience. Psychologists believe that this is due to the lack of non-verbal signs like gestures and facial expressions that the “bodiless voice” feels intimidating.
If you are still not sure, whether you have phone phobia check out this list of symptoms of phone anxiety. If you answer “yes” to any of these, there might a good chance you have phone anxiety:
- I feel anxiety before and after making phone calls.
- I do all my best to postpone the phone call.
- If I have an option, I will always use text-messages and e-mail. If there is no option, I will still do my best to create one.
- I always worry about disturbing the other person and I am afraid they might be angry with me.
- I am afraid of stuttering and mispronouncing words. I always rehearse before talking to somebody on the phone.
- I ask all my friends and relatives to never call me if they have another option.
- During the phone call, I feel shaky, I can hardly concentrate on the call, feel nauseous and sweaty.
- My heart-rate jumps up.
Phone anxiety might be a great obstacle in both professional and personal life. Social anxiety from phone calls may ruin personal lives, alienate people from relatives and friends, hinder career progress and even cause more severe stages of social anxiety and lead to depression. And if you can do your best and create a safe space with understanding relatives and friends, the former is, unfortunately, harder to organize, as the modern job market is tough and demands a lot of mental stability.
There are several techniques and approaches to battling phone anxiety. Apart from regular treatment like therapy, medication and support group, there are also combined physical and psychological approaches, like physical relaxation and cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT. Some of the CBT techniques include cognitive restructuring and graduate exposure training.
Cognitive restructuring, also known as cognitive reframing, is a cognitive therapy technique, that can help people identify, challenge and alter thought patterns and beliefs that cause stress. Its goal is to enable people to replace stress-inducing thought habits with more accurate and more flexible thinking habits.
With this background, we have a set of tips that can effectively battle your fear of answering the phone.
You can use all of them, some of them or not use them at all and maybe come back to them later when you feel more like it:
1. Make a list!
First of all, try the behavioral approach and try to beat the fear step by step. Make a list of phone call conversations and put them in a particular order: from most casual to most terrifying. You can start from phone calls to your friends, partners, lovers, relatives, parents, people you know very well and trust, numbers of companies or places that definitely have prerecorded voicemail. Practice answering the calls and move to the next step after you feel totally comfortable with the previous one. You can continue with business numbers, delivery, unknown numbers. In the end, you can practice making phone calls in front of a single person or a group of people.
2. Prepare and rehearse
You can actually write down the message you are going to deliver to the person and say it out loud several times before you feel comfortable enough to make a call. A positive experience will relax your fear of stuttering or being inaudible. Relaxed, you will be less anxious about embarrassing yourself.
3. Remember that you are not bothering them
Remember, that the other person always has an option to not pick up the receiver. If they were really busy, they would never answer you in the first place and if they are busy this is their choice to answer, not yours. You can’t possibly know. And if they say “no” this has nothing to do with you and your message but more with their lack of time that they couldn’t assess in the first place.
4. Don’t answer all the time
Don’t overkill. You don’t have to answer all incoming calls and have long and profound conversations with all the salesmen.
5. Find an alternative and use it wisely
Thanks to modern technologies and progress cell-phones serve millions of purposes aside from making phone calls. Most people never even use the telephone as Graham Bell originally intended, finding resort in text messaging and e-mails.
6. Reward yourself after
You can pat yourself on the back if you are flexible enough, eat an extra piece of cake to go for a walk. You feel good after a good conversation and you’ve got to fix it in your memory!