Don’t Let Phone Anxiety Hold You Back
When I first started working at office jobs, the usual tasks included setting up a voicemail greeting. I remember having a bit of phone anxiety, in particular when working in an open office format, as I felt everyone was listening and judging.
Although I knew I could always re-record if I didn’t like how it went (I’d heard other coworkers do this and never batted an eye), I felt embarrassed even to do that. So, I usually resorted to recording that perfect greeting at the end or beginning of the day, at a time when there were fewer people around.
Gradually though, over many years of needing to make and receive phone calls for work, I found it less daunting. It’s no longer part of my job description (I work from a home office and most communication is by email), but I’m confident that I can make or receive a call without any hesitation (though I do still prefer not to make calls in front of other people).
The other day I answered a call from a telemarketer from MADD Canada who began a spiel leading into a donation request. I stopped him politely about a minute in and said, “I’m sorry, but I’m actually in the middle of work. What’s more, I only make donations on my birthday.
Perhaps you’d like to call back <my birthdate> of next year?” He hung up quickly.
The point is, I didn’t feel anxious on the phone or worry that I was saying something silly. At some point, when you do something often enough, it’s really hard for it to make you anxious (a process called habituation).
What Is Phone Anxiety?
I told that story not to make light of phone anxiety, but rather to illustrate that it’s something you can overcome. Whether it’s a standalone fear or part of a larger problem of social anxiety, there are ways to get past your fear.
Some have speculated that rates of phone anxiety are actually on the increase because the phone is being used increasingly less. Teens these days are more likely to use text or messaging apps, and they just don’t have the same exposure to using the phone. Etiquette rules might not be clear and the whole concept of talking to someone without seeing them might feel off.
Unfortunately, at the same time, phone anxiety is very real and can cause problems in your personal and work life. In a vicious cycle, what you fear happening (mind going blank, voice shaking) probably ends up happening because of your thoughts that it’s going to happen.
This can lead to avoidance—which only serves to prolong your fear and make it worse. You might avoid making calls, procrastinate, or choose other ways of getting in touch even when it doesn’t make sense (think sending a text to someone when you know they won’t get it in time, and a phone call would have been answered).
Causes of Phone Anxiety
There are complex reasons why phone anxiety develops. You might actually dislike the nature of phone communication since you lose all nonverbal feedback. You might not like being under pressure during a conversation and not able to take time to think (like with text or email). Silence might feel awkward.
You might also feel like the other person is annoyed or bothered to have to talk to you on the phone. Or like me, you might feel anxious that other people can hear you while you talk on the phone.
Just like public speaking, talking on the phone can feel like you are being evaluated. This causes you to self-monitor, which leads to feeling awkward. When you start focusing too much on yourself and become self-conscious, you no longer hear what the other person is saying.
Phone Anxiety Symptoms
Phone anxiety symptoms can be both physical and mental.
Physical symptoms include the following:
- shortness of breath
- a racing heart
- trouble concentrating
Mental symptoms include the following:
- procrastinating about making calls
- over-rehearsing what you will say
- excessive self-consciousness
- fear of embarrassing yourself
- “blanking” out
- feelings of panic
As bad as these symptoms feel, know that you are not alone, and this seemingly easy task affects others in the same way as you.
How to Overcome Phone Anxiety
Change Your Thoughts
First, play a little devil’s advocate with your negative thoughts. What sorts of thoughts run through your head when you need to make or answer a phone call? Start to write these down, and then come up with questions to ask yourself about them, to generate some more realistic alternatives.
Here are some examples below:
The other person won’t want to speak to me.
I’m bothering the person.
I’m going to stumble over my words.
My voice will shake.
They won’t answer the phone if they don’t want to talk.
It’s unlikely I will be bothering them.
Even if I stumble over my words, they probably won’t notice or care.
Even if my voice shakes, they probably won’t notice.
2. Call and make an appointment.
3. Call a family member to talk for five minutes.
4. Call a friend to talk for 10 minutes.
5. Make a call in front of one other person.
6. Make a call in front of a group of people.
Instead of imagining everything that is going to go wrong, put yourself into a positive frame of mind. Visualize phone calls going well. Smile as you are talking to convey a positive vibe. Prepare for the call, but don’t obsess over it. Make a list of important points so you don’t forget what to say. Tell yourself, “I’m good at making phone calls,” or “I make phone calls easily.” Tell yourself this enough times, and you just might start to believe it. And, if things don’t go exactly as planned, forgive yourself. Nobody really cares or notices. If they judge you for being awkward on the phone, isn’t that a reflection of their character and not yours?
If physical symptoms get the better of you on the phone, spend five minutes doing some relaxation exercises before you hop on a call. Breathe deeply, relax every muscle in your body, and picture a tranquil scene. When you feel relaxed, dial the phone before you have a chance to talk yourself out of it.
Sometimes, phone anxiety is part of a larger problem of social anxiety. In that case, you might benefit from traditional treatment such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or medication.
Most importantly, remember that you are not alone in this issue. Though you might feel silly being afraid of the phone, there are many other people experiencing the same thing.