Do you ever need to make a phone call and silently hope that whoever you’re calling doesn’t answer? If yes, you might be suffering from phone anxiety.
Whether you’re worrying about what you’ll say or how your voice sounds, phone anxiety is related to fear. In this case, the fear of making a phone call.
Some of us automatically answer when our phone rings — others get sweaty palms at the thought.
That might sound funny in an age when our phones are always with us. We use technology for everything, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic started. In this new era, phone anxiety might hinder your ability to navigate your day-to-day life.
But there’s no need to fret. Like any other fear, it’s possible to get over phone anxiety. With these tips, you’ll be able to identify and overcome your phone phobia before you know it.
What is phone anxiety?
Also known as telephonophobia, phone anxiety refers to avoiding conversations over the phone. Though many people dislike making or receiving phone calls, this isn’t the same as experiencing anxiety about it.
One study found that phone-anxious people prefer text messaging. They find it more comfortable and expressive.
But why is this? When texting or emailing, you lack the cues of face-to-face communication, but that makes some things easier. You are in control. Additionally, when texting, you have the opportunity to plan out what you want to say or delete a message before sending it.
You can be informal or formal. You might even become a more confident version of yourself, more willing to share your opinion since the other party can’t see your face. This can be a plus for people who have social anxiety.
Where does phone anxiety come from?
Phone anxiety comes from many different places. Here are some factors that make phone calls intimidating to someone with anxiety:
1. You struggle to pick up on verbal cues
Humans rely on their ability to interpret body language. In face-to-face interactions, nonverbal cues like body posture, mannerisms, gestures, and facial expressions give us insight into our conversation partners’ thoughts and feelings, intentions, and motivations.
But when you’re texting, you don’t have access to nonverbal cues during phone calls, which can be disorienting. If we struggle to pick up on verbal cues such as speed or tone we might feel awkward and uncomfortable.
2. It can feel like a lot of pressure
Talking on the phone requires you to think on your feet, and there’s no delete button. You might feel overwhelmed thinking every word poses a risk, depending on the situation.
High-stakes conversations such as relaying grave news or conducting an interview mean less time to think about your answer, which will feel stressful on the phone.
3. You feel judged
If you’re self-conscious about your voice or ability to communicate your thoughts, not being able to read the other person’s body language could make you feel uncomfortable or inhibited.
Natural lulls in the conversation might make you worry your conversation partner is silently judging everything you say. Meaningless responses might seem defensive or accusatory if you can’t see the person smiling or keeping a neutral posture.
4. You feel uncomfortable being present
Phone calls require you to be fully present, and you may feel hurried or flustered if you have other things on your mind. Channeling your energy into the conversation is difficult when you’re preoccupied.
Phone conversations also ask you to keep up with the pace of your conversation partner and force you to tap into your listening skills.
Demonstrating you’re listening is important — asking someone to repeat themselves or misinterpreting their words could make your conversation partner feel you aren’t fully invested.
5. You feel safer sending text messages
Text messages allow you to read through messages at your own pace and as many times as needed. You can also think through response, edit, retract, and, depending on how quick you are, delete a message before someone sees it.
Symptoms of phone anxiety
People who have phone anxiety typically suffer from social anxiety, but anyone can be nervous about phone calls. If you’re concerned that phone calls cause you anxiety, examine your symptoms first.
Some common emotional symptoms of phone anxiety include:
1. You avoid making calls or having others call you
2. You delay answering calls
3. You obsess about what you’ll say before the call and what was said when it’s over
4. You worry about embarrassing yourself
5. You let anxious thoughts take over, thinking you’ll receive bad news
Physical symptoms can arise as well:
1. Increased heart rate and shortness of breath
Consider consulting a mental health professional if you need help.
How to overcome phone anxiety
There’s no time like the present to tackle what scares us. Here are five tips to help you overcome those dreaded phone calls:
1. Pick up the phone
This may seem too obvious, but really, this is where it all starts. You can’t overcome your fear if you don’t pick up the phone and subject yourself to exposure therapy. The more frequently you participate in phone calls, the more at ease you’ll feel.
Many people feel anxiety over uncertainty about future possibilities, which disrupts our ability to predict and avoid uncomfortable situations. If picking up a call from a stranger feels too overwhelming, start by making a list of people you enjoy conversing with face-to-face.
Practice having short, casual, low-stake phone conversations with friends and family members you’re comfortable with. Calls with loved ones might be more enjoyable, and eliminating the surprise factor of unexpected conversational turns could ease you into answering the phone more often.
Physically smiling puts you at ease and makes you feel happier. Using facial expressions and body language, you can pretend you’re in person. This might feel better than standing stiffly or keeping a straight face.
In addition to smiling, taking on an expansive power pose for a minute can elevate testosterone, decrease stress hormones like cortisol, and make you feel more powerful and tolerant to risk. If you have an important phone call, practicing an open posture beforehand may make you feel more comfortable.
3. Reward yourself
For those with phone anxiety, getting through a conversation is a big deal. Pat yourself on the back! Do something you enjoy to unwind and take care of yourself. Personal growth is always worth celebrating.
Reward yourself with a break. After successfully navigating a phone conversation, take a nap, go for a walk, or enjoy your favorite TV show. Acknowledge your accomplishment so you feel proud and excited to tackle the next phone call.
4. Don’t overthink it
Anxious people tend to overthink things. If someone says something you don’t expect, it doesn’t mean they’re upset with you.
Because we’re missing those nonverbal signals that can help identify how they’re truly feeling, don’t read too much into what they’re saying. Finish the conversation, hang up, and move on to another task.
This also applies to the moment before a call. Preparing what you want to say is a great strategy, but don’t overthink it. Conversations always have the potential to veer off in a different direction. Be open and curious. Go with the flow and keep your notes nearby.
5. Let it go to voicemail
Remember, you don’t always have to answer the phone. Life is busy. Chances are, they’ll call back later. Let it skip to voicemail and get back to it when ready.
How common is phone anxiety nowadays?
Phone anxiety is incredibly common. A 2019 study found that 76% of millennials have it, compared to 40% of baby boomers.
This increase in phone anxiety among younger generations might have to do with a more general rise in anxiety, which has doubled in youth since 2012. Younger generations might also feel more comfortable communicating virtually rather than over the phone because of the online disinhibition effect.
This describes how people feel less restrained and express themselves more openly when interacting virtually. Talking online shields people from their biggest phone-related anxieties, like fear of problem-solving on the spot, freezing up, or being judged.
But avoiding phone calls can cause serious problems in our personal and professional lives. Our jobs might require calling coworkers, managers, and clients. And we could lose long-distance relationships if we’re unwilling to overcome this fear.
Did the pandemic increase phone anxiety?
If you excel at solo work, embracing a hybrid or remote position might have been easy. But communication is still a necessity. If you’re not a phone person or you’re generally anxious and shy, increased digital communication doesn’t make things easier.
These days, we experience much less face-to-face interaction. This has made many people more anxious about making small talk or returning to minor social interactions. We’re awkward.
For example, did you phone home during the holidays and find yourself quickly running out of things to say? Experiences such as this can make phone anxiety worse. It’s a double-edged sword: we’re lucky to have telecommunication to check up on loved ones and keep up with remote work.
However, texting is so widespread these days that the transition to video chats and phone interviews might make us nervous. It might feel more difficult to pick up on verbal and nonverbal cues that were once a part of our everyday interactions.
However, it’s also refreshing and beneficial to our mental health to hear a loved one’s voice or see their face — even on a computer screen.
You don’t always need to answer every call. Some people are better at it than others, and that’s fine, too. Find the line between putting yourself out there and skipping out on Zoom trivia night to take care of yourself.
Enjoying phone calls
An important first step is to become aware of our limits. Speaking on the phone is a skill like any other. All that matters is that we identify the areas we need to improve and make an effort to do so.
Progress comes in many forms. Don’t be discouraged if your pace or path doesn’t look like somebody else’s. Facing your fears can be daunting, but you have a supportive community and online resources to help.
Connect with others who experience phone anxiety to build accountability and connection. Ask friends and family to be patient if you need to reschedule calls several times, but encourage them to keep calling.
The more calls you complete the less daunting they’ll be. It’s time to pick up the phone.