You may feel like everyone knows the phone rules when you don’t. Like you never got the handbook or missed out some innate skill or instinct. Maybe you haven’t learned phone skills yet which triggers your anxiety, or maybe your anxiety keeps you from getting enough practice. Or maybe you’ve mastered phone skills, but your anxiety flares up for other reasons. Regardless of your reasons, it doesn’t change the fact that talking on the phone often goes hand in hand with at least some degree of anxiety. The good news is that you can learn to manage or overcome phone anxiety and fear of phone calls.
Even without anxiety, phones are a challenge to our human nature. We are required to be part of a real-time interaction while getting less input about the other person’s reactions. Talking to a disembodied voice with no way to judge body language or facial expressions doesn’t come naturally. Many phone calls are underwhelming. People stutter, misspeak, interrupt, mishear and pretend they didn’t. It’s a wonder that everyone’s goal when on the phone isn’t to get off the phone as soon as possible, right?
Signs of Phone Anxiety<
When dealing with phone calls, do you…
…delay or avoid phone calls whenever possible?
…worry about bothering the other person?
…worry about what to say?
…worry about forgetting what to say?
…worry about what the other person will think of you?
…worry about embarrassing yourself?
…worry about freezing up or falling apart?
…shake, sweat, stutter, feel dizzy or nauseous, or have a racing heart?
…pick apart the conversation afterward?
…beat yourself up for your imperfections afterward?
In this day and age, it’s simple to avoid many phone calls by using email, texting, and social media, but unfortunately, you can’t use those for everything. Worry and anxiety can make it difficult to call the plumber, or your kid’s school, or to schedule or cancel an appointment. For now, the phone is not yet obsolete. And overcoming your phone anxiety will require using the blasted thing.
Changing Your Self-Talk with Coping Statements
How are you talking to yourself when dealing with phone calls? Do you tell yourself that the other person will be annoyed, bothered, judgmental, or rude? Do you feel like you need to apologize for wasting their time with your concern, for interrupting their life, for existing? Listen to me now – You deserve to be heard, and there is nothing you can do to control their reaction.
Remind yourself of the advantages of phone calls
- Nobody can see if I blush, sweat, shake, or bite my nails.
- Nobody can see if I make eye contact or not.
- Nobody can see what I look like or smell my fear.
- I will get or convey the information I need.
- I will be able to cross this all off my to-do list.
Remind yourself that you are human
- No human is perfect. Nobody expects me to be perfect.
- Everyone has had awkward phone calls.
- Nobody else has a rulebook either.
- Phone calls are weird and uncomfortable for many people.
Remind yourself you can’t control others
- They have chosen to be on the phone with me.
- They didn’t have to call me or answer my call.
- If they sound impatient, that’s their issue, not mine.
- They have a lot more going on in their life than a phone call with me.
- This phone call is a tiny part of their day.
Remind yourself that your mind isn’t always your friend
- Feelings aren’t facts and thoughts aren’t truths.
- I won’t believe everything I think.
- If the other person picks apart the conversation later, they will be judging themselves and not me.
Remind yourself of your strengths
- This feeling isn’t comfortable, but I can handle it.
- By relaxing through these feelings I learn to face my fears.
- I can feel anxious and still deal with this situation.
- By staying present and focused on my task my anxiety will decrease.
- I’ve done hard things before and I can do this, too.
Learn more coping statements for anxiety here.
Coping Skills for Phone Calls
There are also other skills and strategies you can use to manage or reduce your anxiety while on the phone. Add to this list with ideas you think may work best for you, and try them all to see what works in reality.
Visualize a successful phone call, or remember a past successful phone call.
Go somewhere quiet and comfortable where you won’t be distracted.
Pet a cat or dog, if possible, or use a worry stone or hold a comfort object.
Breathe deeply and slowly.
Do some power poses before and/or during the call.
Have notes handy with the information you want to reference.
Ask someone you trust to be with you.
Watch and correct your self-talk as needed.
Congratulate yourself for every accomplishment.
Reward yourself for making a difficult phone call.
Mastering Phone Skills & Reducing Anxiety with Gradual Exposure
Using the phone comfortably isn’t an instinct; it’s a skill that anyone can learn and few ever perfect. Maybe you know you have good phone skills and your anxiety is unrelated, or maybe you grew up hearing others use the phone comfortably so you know how it sounds. Or maybe you’ve had little exposure at all to phone skills. No matter where you’re starting, building and practicing phone skills is a big part of managing phone anxiety, and working up to the harder phone calls gradually is a wise approach. Combined with changing your self-talk and using other coping skills, you will decrease your phone anxiety over time.
Answering a Phone Call
To reduce anxiety around answering phone calls, make your phone ring. You get to keep it within your control for this step, and eventually, you should feel less anxiety at the mere sound of a ringing phone.
First, try out Call My Lost Cell Phone– Your phone will ring, but you can still ignore the call.
Next, send calls to yourself on a cell phone or landline from Comedy Calls and answer them. (Avoid the pranks section; they will not be good for anxiety.)
Keep doing these until your anxiety is at a manageable level when you hear the phone ring.
Next, if possible, recruit a trusted friend or family member to call you at a planned time. Let the phone ring for two to three full rings before answering, and use that time to breathe slowly and deeply.
Lastly, get ready to answer your phone the next time it rings unplanned. Commit to doing this; the practice is a necessary part of healing this anxiety. When the phone rings, let it ring two or three times while you take slow, deep breaths and use some healthy self-talk and coping strategies. Then answer the phone and see what happens. If at any point, you need a moment to collect yourself, say “Wait, hang on a sec, please” and take a few deep breaths before returning to the call.
If you find you have less anxiety making a phone call than answering one, it is usually fine to let the call go unanswered, but commit to calling them back within five minutes. Avoidance feeds anxiety, so don’t let yourself fall into that unproductive trap.
Making a Phone Call
If your anxiety is high, first start by calling to listen to movie listings, a closed business’s voicemail, or an automated system. Or for some variety, call some fun hotlines (in the US/Canada). Do these a lot!
Hogwarts Admissions Office: 605-475-6961
Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up”: 248-434-5508
Hall & Oates Song Menu 719-266-2837
Hotline Miami Recording: 786-519-3708
(Please note: These numbers were valid as of 3/22/17, and yes, I have Hogwarts, Rick Astley, and Hall & Oates saved as contacts in my phone.)
Next, call a local store to ask their hours. Use a script with phrases that feel most natural to you. “I’d like to know what hours you’re open, please.” “Um, yeah, how late are you open?” “Hey, what time do you open tomorrow?” “Okay, thanks.” *click*
Now, get ready to make a bigger call. Plan a time to make the call. Stick to it. You can schedule or cancel an appointment, call to ask about services a business provides, or call your insurance company to see if you qualify for any additional discounts. It’s your choice and you are in control.
Before you call, write a script or bullet points to remind you what you need to say or ask, and to note any dates, numbers, or other facts you may need to provide. It is also good to have a short script or reminders if you need to leave a voicemail. Check that you are using the self-talk and coping strategies that you’ve learned work the best for you, and make the call. You can do this! (Note: remember pauses are a natural part of conversation and usually don’t last as long as you think you do.)
If you find that you continue to pick apart conversations or beat yourself up for not being perfect on the phone, keep using your healthy self-talk and practice forgiving yourself before your next practice call. You deserve it.
A Unique Solution
I know of a pair of adult sisters who both struggle with phone anxiety and they came up with an interesting strategy to help each other during the most difficult times. When a challenging phone call needed to be made (like calling about a defaulted loan, or setting up a scary medical appointment), they’d do a 3-way call and call the person together. Sometimes they would identify everyone on the line, but there were times when they used their similar voices and practiced timing to seamlessly jump in for the other without letting on they were two different people. These two have found a unique way to help each other out, and you can be creative with your solutions, too.
Even if you don’t have a voice-twin with intuitive timing, you can still work out skills and strategies to manage your own phone anxiety, and the more you practice, the easier it will get. You may always have some level of anxiety on the phone, but as long as the phone anxiety doesn’t prevent you from doing what you need to do or want to do, then you’ve got a good handle on it.