A lot of us joke about dodging the calls of those with the audacity to call instead of text, but for some of us, a ringing phone sets off serious panic. The good news is, it’s quite fixable.
I worked in a bookstore around 20 years ago – back when the internet wasn’t our go-to way of shopping or seeking information, and mobile phones were the domain of the early adopters or wealthy.
This meant the phone by the register would frequently ring, and as the full timer, it was often on me to answer it.
I can still remember the pull in my stomach before every call, similar to the one I have now when my mobile chirps into life. Sometimes this pull isn’t so little, and it’s never related to who is on the other end (though I will say the caller ID of my husband or boys are the only exceptions.) This Includes people I adore. Given I do have social anxiety, I was never really surprised by it, but recently I started to wonder if I needed to simply accept and put up with it, or if instead, I could do something about it.
Why do ringing phones cause some of us to panic?
“I personally had a telephone phobia as a child and young adult. I still sometimes feel nervous when calling someone I don't know. It is linked with social anxiety and shyness,” says counsellor, Eugenie Pepper.
She says face-to-face settings allow you to be able to read non-verbal cues, facial expressions and body language, and phone-phobics may feel more vulnerable not being able to see the person on the other end of the phone.
The symptoms can go beyond the nervy tummy when your phone rings. Eugenie says for some, making a call can be just as traumatic, and for both or either, may include:
- Feeling extremely anxious.
- Delaying making phone calls due to anxiety.
- Worrying about bothering the other person, what you will say or embarrassing yourself.
- Avoiding making calls or having others call you.
- Obsessing about what was said after calls.
What can you do about it?
“Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and hypnosis are good treatment options, as is challenging beliefs and replacing negative thoughts with more constructive alternatives,” she suggests.
Other strategies she recommends are:
- Smiling to yourself as you answer your phone.
- Visualising the call going well.
- Preparing what you are going to say in advance.
And what not to do?
Much like avoiding parties or stressful events simply because they make you anxious is a bad call, so to is avoiding answering or making calls.
Being an experienced pupil of CBT – it helped me enormously with my social and other anxiety, I was able to give myself a huge head start and apply the principles and many strategies I’ve learned over the years to my phone (including the three tips above) and kick my phobia for once and for all.
Answering my phone got easier quite quickly
The first time my phone rang, I immediately panicked. Instead of flipping my phone over or walking away from it, I took a deep breath, reminded myself panic is ok but I don’t have any reason to give into it and consciously told myself “this will go well.” The call itself was fine – which is standard for all the anxiety inducing situations I’ve faced throughout my life; the fear is always worse than the reality.
Next up, I had a phone interview. I decided to take five minutes to ‘catch’ the thoughts running through my mind. Firstly, I was afraid I would make a fool of myself. I evaluated the fear and realised it was certainly possible – I’ve done it before, but no one died, I was able to laugh it off, and I went on to have a lovely day – so if the worst happened, I’d be fine. Secondly, I reminded myself that the fear wasn’t a helpful coping strategy beyond ensuring I was prepared and ready to do the best I could.
The call went much as they always do – there were some minor hiccups (I don’t think well on my feet – perhaps a big part of my phone phobias!) but it was mostly non-eventful and productive.
Following the first two “mindful” tackling of my phone phobia, I gave myself no further passes on taking a call. Within a week, it had lost a lot of its power, and by the end of the month, barely a flicker.
I still feel stressed before an interview or a call I suspect may be especially awkward, however, CBT skills, mindfully assessing the fear and ensuring I’m prepared has helped me calm myself quite quickly. If you think you’d benefit from learning more, CBT can be accessed through a registered psychologist; or is even available online!