Drop me a text...Dealing with "phone phobia"
Updated: Nov 23
A lovely - although unusual - thing happened to me recently, and while it's likely to relate to how my communications have changed over the pandemic, I'm glad it happened. A friend of mine texted me to ask a question. Usually I would respond in kind but instead I asked - "Do you want to message or chat?" We had a really lovely chat...and for someone who tends to prefer (hide behind?) texting or emailing, I have begun to shift my perspective.
But "phone phobia" is a real thing - and this blog is taken from an article I wrote for Happiful.
Tackling phone phobia
The advent of the World Wide Web as a source of sharing information which then progressed swiftly through email, forums, chat rooms, and social media means that it is possible to connect with many people from the comfort of our own homes – and without having to leave the house. This has actually been quite a lifeline for people who struggle with social anxiety. They do not need to go out in order to engage in conversation, or order necessities. However, when "normal practice" is seemingly dominated by texting, messaging and emails, we may be less and less likely to use our phones to talk with others and as we reduce the amount of face-to-face talking time, we can also begin to lose the knack – and our confidence in doing so.
Certainly right now, when speaking may be one of the few real connections left open to us, facing it may be a good idea.
Phone phobia and social anxiety
Research from Anxietyuk.org.uk states that “1 in 6 adults had experienced some form of ‘neurotic health problem’ in the previous week [to the research being conducted]” and more than 1 in 10 “…are likely to have a ‘disabling anxiety disorder’ at some stage…”, with 13% likely to develop a phobia.
Phone anxiety is likely to sit well under the broader “social anxiety” and is characterised by similar physiological responses – but often triggered by having to speak on the telephone, or the thought of doing so.
Symptoms of anxiety
A diagnosis of anxiety often means experiencing debilitating physiological symptoms over a certain period of time. Such symptoms include:
· A “racing” hear rate
· Tingling in the hands
· Feeling faint
· A sense of terror – often doom or death
· Sweating or chills
· Chest pains
· Difficulty breathing
· A feeling of a “loss of control”
These are all common physiological responses to a sense of “threat” known more colloquially as the “Fight or flight” response – the body is preparing to fight or run away.
Unfortunately conversing on the telephone may be an essential part of work, or the most efficient way to get things done.
What might cause “phone anxiety”
The original source of the fear may be something unconscious – an old experience which is no longer thought of, although the sense of fear remains. Perhaps a conversation in the past ended very badly with a huge, unwanted, life upheaval. Perhaps you were on the telephone when you witnessed a terrible incident. Perhaps you couldn’t access a phone when you needed to in a moment of fear.
It may also be part of our general fear of “looking/sounding silly”, or simply “messing up”. Then, the fewer times we do it, the harder it becomes.
What can I do?
You could simply avoid doing it, and perhaps always try to see people in person. However if speaking on the phone is integral to your lifestyle, then you can take steps to reduce anxiety before, helping manage the fear prior to disrupting your day; as well as use practical techniques to get you through the call itself. You can do this either prior to making a call, or even while visualising yourself making one.
As soon as you feel anxiety growing:
· Focus on your breathing. It can help to concentrate on breathing slowly in and out while counting to five.
· Stamp on the spot/move physically. It can be helpful to channel the nervous sensations physically.
· Focus on your senses. For example, taste mint-flavoured sweets or gum, or touch or cuddle something soft. It can help to have an emotional first aid pack…I personally love fluffy things and have a pompom as my “alternate” stress ball.
· Think about self-care. Pay attention to what your body needs – you may find that resting, or going to the toilet or eating or drinking something light can alleviate the sense of fear
· Tell someone you trust. If you feel able to talk to others they may be able to help wile
· Tell yourself “these feelings will pass”. Using positive coping statements or affirmations can focus your mind and help you feel more in control.
Have an agenda – Write down what you need to say and follow that – if you have to write a “script”. The only proviso I have with scripting is that it can cause more anxiety if you feel like you are not following it, so bullet points are probably a more useful tool.
Find a time you are not rushed/are in a private place – If this is possible, it can help because then if you feel it has “gone wrong” then the number of people who may have noticed is limited. It may reassure you to know that others probably are not looking at you, but it can feel very different when you are dreading something.
Practice - Speaking is a “performance skill”. Therefore, as much as you can read about it, or listen to advice, you need to practice it to feel more comfortable.
…and once you have had one call, be proud of your achievement. What may seem “silly” because “others do it” is still a big step for you – measure your success by your own benchmark…and consider how best to tackle the next call.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience For quick tips and tools: click for SKILL PILL and Q&A videos and here for Media appearances. Twitter/IG @draudreyt