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Hang up on the fear of calling: Phone anxiety is normal — get over it

March 18, 2022 - 11 min read

Young-Woman-On-The-Phone-Eating-At-Restaurant-phone-anxiety

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What is phone anxiety?

Where does phone anxiety come from?

Symptoms of phone anxiety

How to overcome phone anxiety

Did the pandemic increase phone anxiety?

The bottom line

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?

Frustrated-Woman-Looking-At-Mobile-Phone-phone-anxiety

Also known as telephobia, phone anxiety refers to avoiding conversations over the phone. 

Many people dislike making or receiving phone calls. That isn’t the same as experiencing anxiety about it.

According to a 2019 survey in the UK, almost 80% of millennials feel anxious when their phone rings, compared to only 40% of baby boomers. As a result, over 60% of millennials miss calls entirely to avoid speaking on the phone. 

Another study found that phone-anxious people prefer text messaging. They find it more comfortable and expressive.

Texting or emailing is funny. You lack the cues of face-to-face communication, but that makes some things easier. You are in control.

You can plan out what you want to say or delete a message before sending it. You can be informal or formal. You could 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 boon to people who are very sensitive or have social anxiety.

This anonymity also makes it easy to engage in debates on social media. You can hide behind your screen and avoid seeing someone’s reaction to a negative comment. 

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Where does phone anxiety come from?

Phone anxiety can come from many different places. You could feel self-conscious about your voice or uncomfortable about not being able to read the other person’s body language.

When we talk on the phone, we’re relying solely on our voices. We can't incorporate nonverbal cues, which strips us of a vital aspect of communication. This disconnect automatically disadvantages us and makes some people very uncomfortable. 

We hear feedback immediately based on the person’s tone when making a phone call. We can hear if they pause and experience their instant reaction. 

In contrast, texting allows us to walk away without making any social contact. We may find this particularly useful if we feel like the other person disapproves of or rejects us in some way. 

All these factors can make a phone call intimidating to someone with anxiety. 

Symptoms of phone anxiety

People who have phone anxiety typically suffer from social anxiety disorder (SAD), 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

Worried-Woman-Looking-At-Phone-phone-anxiety

Physical symptoms can arise as well:

  1. Increased heart rate and shortness of breath
  2. Nausea
  3. Shaking
  4. Trouble concentrating

You aren’t alone if you experience any of these symptoms. A lot of people struggle with different forms of anxiety. Don’t be afraid to consult a professional if you need extra help dealing with this. 

A dedicated coach can help you overcome challenges such as phone anxiety. At BetterUp, we can provide the perspective and accountability you need to overcome challenges. If you need extra support when it comes to anxiety, consider coaching.

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. 

2. Smile

Physically smiling puts you at ease and makes you feel happier. Using your own facial expressions and body language, you can pretend you’re face-to-face with the person on the other end of the phone. This might feel better than standing stiffly or keeping a straight face.

Man-Smiling-And-Talking-On-The-Phone-phone-anxiety

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 or partake in self-care. Personal growth is always worth celebrating.

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.

Did the pandemic increase phone anxiety?

Black-Man-Wearing-Mask-Using-Cellphone-At-Bus-Stop-phone-anxiety

COVID-19 has altered us, undoubtedly how we communicate. Phone calls, Zoom meetings, emails, and FaceTime videos are the new normal. If you’re not a phone person or you’re generally anxious and shy, though, these digital resources don’t make things easier. 

These days, we experience much less face-to-face interaction. That 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 be making us nervous.

However, it’s also refreshing and beneficial to your mental health to hear your loved one’s voices 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. 

The bottom line

An important first step is to become aware of your limits. Speaking on the phone is a skill like any other, too.  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 our fears can be daunting, but we’ll be with you every step of the way.

At BetterUp, we believe that everyone can improve in their personal and professional lives. We bring together AI technology, world-class coaching, and behavioral science experts to help every individual unlock their full potential. If you’re ready to conquer your phone anxiety, consider working with a coach. 

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Published March 18, 2022

Elizabeth Perry

Content Marketing Manager, ACC

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