How to tackle phone anxiety and get comfortable making (and taking) calls

Hate making phone calls? You’re not alone.

A 2019 study of 500 office workers estimated that 62% have some form of ‘telephobia’; a fear of making or taking calls.

Often linked to social anxiety, this can be associated with similar symptoms such as increased heart rate, nausea, and dizziness.  

Thanks to intense feelings of self-consciousness and a fear of being put on the spot, sounding strange or getting something wrong, many of us delay making phone calls or avoid them altogether (61% of millenials, in fact).

As well as the obvious embarrassment that comes from being a grown adult who can’t sort their own life out, a fear of phone calls can also mean putting a hold on important parts of your career and relationships. Because while email and texts offer convenience and a lower-pressure, editable method of communication, there are some things that can only be handled over a call – checking in on a friend, or getting through a first stage phone interview.

I’ve had phone anxiety ever since I was old enough to be making calls for myself. I couldn’t arrange a doctor’s appointment for myself, avoided phone calls with friends and even – particularly embarrassing – once had to get student services to phone the Student Loan Company for me (ironically, I found this even more excruciating than the phone call itself). 

And then, the pandemic happened. With literally everything going virtual we’ve all found ourselves relying on calls more than ever – for connection, for support, for essential services – and my usual avoidance tactic was no longer an option. 

Like my very own exposure therapy, the more calls I made or received, the more dialled down my anxiety became. I reached out to friends to check on them during lockdown, completed an online course with live, virtual feedback, and took my doctor’s appointments over the phone with lower anxiety symptoms each time.

Surprising myself, I also decided to try therapy for the first time. Virtual, of course. Believe me, crying over Zoom to a stranger 40 minutes a week desensitises you to phone anxiety like nothing else.

I can now happily take work calls from prospective freelance clients, make appointments when I need them – and I even joined an online writing group where I read my creative fiction aloud. 

If that sounds a little bit extreme for you, there are a host of other tricks you can try to ease that phone anxiety. 

Get it out of the way first thing

Like all bad things, sometimes the ‘eat the frog’ method works the best. The idea is to give yourself as little time as possible to build those anxiety levels up.

Put the phone number on a post it note and leave it somewhere prominent. Go somewhere quiet, take a deep breath, and just do it.

You’ll feel better for it. Plus, the more easy, low-stakes calls you make (hairdressers, dentists and opticians are all good for this), the less stressful all calls will become. 

Make some notes

If you’re booking something, have your calendar out in front of you with the times that work best highlighted.

If you’re having a virtual doctor’s appointment, make a list of any medications or symptoms you need to ask about.

And for work calls – prepare your talking points to run through.

At the suggestion of my therapist, I even made a list of topics and questions before phoning a friend for a catch-up. I didn’t end up needing them, but they served their purpose and helped me and my anxiety get out of my own way and make the damn call. 

Rationalise things

What’s the worst that could happen, really? Now, I say this as the type of person who answered that very same question with ‘we could crash and die’, when asked by a driving instructor, but that probably won’t apply in most cases.

Receptionists, call centre operators, even a job interviewer, they all have one thing in common – it’s pretty much their job to help you get the outcome you need when you call. They aren’t trying to catch you out or trip you up, they don’t think you sound weird and they don’t care if you stumble or mess up your words. 

Get some help

Phone anxiety can really knock your sense of confidence and independence, so it’s absolutely worth taking some time and outside help to get you through it. It might seem like a trivial thing, but there’s no shame in seeking help from a pro.

Though I didn’t start therapy to help specifically with my phone anxiety, opening up to someone about all the weird thoughts and worries whizzing around my head definitely had positive knock-on effects in other areas of my life. 

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