A dear reader recently asked me if I had any advice on how to overcome phone anxiety. And whaddaya know, phone anxiety is something I have indeed struggled and dealt with.
If you’ve been following me for a while, you might by now be wondering if there’s any kind of anxiety I have NOT struggled with. To which the answer is probably no. I mean I have said in the past that the whole world makes me anxious. And I was only exaggerating ever so slightly when I said it. 😀
But anyway, today we’ll narrow our focus and zero in on those pesky little devices that can simultaneously serve as a security blanket (ie. scrolling to avoid having to talk to people 😉 ) as well as an evil source of major dread.
Now, one obvious way to overcome phone anxiety might be trying to desensitize yourself. You know, you call a gazillion strangers, have a gazillion strangers call you, have the strangers be mean to you or deliver bad news, and basically just talk your head off on the phone until it no longer fazes you.
For me personally, this has not been practical. I mean where would I find all these people to talk on the phone with? And where would I find the time to do this regularly, as I’m pretty sure it would take at least somewhat frequent exposure to keep it up?
So given that becoming a phone center employee has never been one of my goals in life, I followed a less flashy approach to dealing with my phone call anxiety. After all, I didn’t need to have the capacity to happily talk on the phone for eight hours a day. I just needed to overcome my phone anxiety to the point that I have the capacity to answer the phone when one of my people needs me, make calls when I need something, and to survive the ordeal without lasting damage.
How To Overcome Phone Anxiety
1. Adjust Your Expectations
And introverts and highly sensitive people are really good at getting themselves in trouble by expecting themselves to function exactly the same way as the extravert non-HSP majority.
So you beat yourself up for having this out-of-proportion reaction to such a simple thing as making a phone call and wonder what’s wrong with you that you can’t just breeze through this like they can.
But there are actually some legit reasons why talking on the phone can be more difficult for introverts and HSPs than for others:
- Introverts are often not great verbal communicators anyway – being more articulate in writing – and this gets amplified on the phone, because talking on the phone is all about, well, talking.
- Introverts like to think before they talk and this need for pausing in the middle of a conversation leads to weirdness on the phone. As in “Are you still there?” and “Did I lose you?” So introverts talking on the phone feel pressured to talk before they are ready even more so than in a face-to-face setting.
- Highly sensitive people – typically high in empathy – like to rely on non-verbal cues to intuit what’s REALLY going on with the person they are speaking with. Other than tone of voice, these non-verbal cues are not available on the phone.
- Highly sensitive people both react more intensely as well as learn faster when faced with any kind of threat or stressor than non-HSPs. So it doesn’t take that many bad phone call experiences for an HSP’s brain to learn to dread phone calls altogether. And from that point on, any time the phone rings or the prospect of having to make a phone call comes up, the HSP’s involuntary physical stress response is triggered. In other words, talking on the phone makes your body go into fight-or-flight.
For all these reasons, talking on the phone can feel difficult for introverts and HSPs. And when you have to do something that’s difficult – something that you don’t feel well-equipped to handle – it’s stressful!
And therefore… Just like an extravert might never be content to embrace solitude and read a book for four hours straight, you might never learn to love talking on the phone. It might always remain a necessary evil that you have to deal with from time to time. And that’s okay! You are entitled to your own preferences and you don’t have to like all the same things the rest of the world does.
So let’s say you accept that talking on the phone will never be your fave activity. But obviously, you still have to do it some. It’s just one of those grown-up things that’s unavoidable. So how can you deal with that?
Well, that’s what the rest of this post is all about…
2. Dig Deep And Figure Out What Your Phone Anxiety Is REALLY About
When dealing with any kind of fear or anxiety trigger, I think it’s always good to get really clear and specific and state what exactly it is that you are afraid of. And this applies to phone anxiety as well.
You are not really afraid of the device itself, right? You are not afraid that the phone will morph into a terrible monster and eat you.
I’m guessing that what you are REALLY afraid of is one of two things.
Fear of Bad News
First, you might be afraid of getting bad news. Maybe you’ve gotten so many bad news calls in the past that now you just expect bad news any time the phone rings and it freaks you out.
Fear of Judgment
Or second, you might be dealing with a form of social or performance anxiety. You are not at your best when talking on the phone, so you are afraid people will judge you for it. They will laugh at you. They will be angry at you. They will say mean things. They will blame you for bothering them. They will think you are a poor excuse for a human being.
I know it can be painful to think about this stuff, but the beauty of getting very specific about your fear is that then you can develop a coping plan for it.
What if you DO get bad news over the phone? How could you cope? How could you comfort yourself?
And what if you DO suck at talking on the phone? What are some ways you could cope with that?
3. Set Boundaries Around Phone Use
One obvious way to cope with not being an expert telephone conversationalist is to just avoid talking on the phone. I’m guessing you don’t want to avoid it completely (there’s that pesky grown-up thing), but there’s no law that says you have to choose using the phone when you have other options at your disposal.
I actually talk on the phone for a half hour every day, because my husband and I like to talk when he’s driving home from work and I’m cooking dinner. It’s our time to catch up, and because he’s my husband, there’s no stress involved. 🙂
But otherwise, I just don’t talk on the phone that often. I don’t answer the phone if I don’t recognize the caller. Those who know me know I’m not a fan of talking on the phone, so we mostly communicate via text or email. When it comes to calling about appointments and scheduling repair people and such, my extravert husband takes care of most of those in accordance with our personality type driven division of labor.
4. Do What You Can To Prepare
Another way to cope when you suck at talking on the phone is to try and improve your chances of success by doing what you can to prepare in advance.
Think Before You Talk
When I do need to make calls – say the husband is not available or I need to make a doctor’s appointment for myself or I need to make a work-related call – I accommodate my introvert need to think before I talk by thinking before I talk. 🙂
I literally take a moment to think about what exactly I want to say. Sometimes I even write down a bullet list to remember all of my talking points. And when I make a doctor’s appointment, I have my birth date, address, and phone number written in front of me, because when my stress response is triggered I’m sometimes unable to recall numbers.
Know What To Say If You Don’t Know What To Say
Another way to prepare is to have a few short phrases memorized in case you are presented with a question you are not prepared to answer:
- I’ll have to look into that. Can I get back to you?
- I need to give it some thought and get back to you.
- I’m feeling kinda scatterbrained right now. Maybe I can text you later.
Remind Yourself To Be Mindful
As before any potentially challenging (and therefore stressful) tasks, it’s good to remind yourself to be mindful. Relax any muscle tension in your body. Take calm breaths through your nose all the way down into your belly. To the extent that you are able, work toward maintaining this relaxed physical state throughout the phone call to avoid having your body get all fired up.
5. Change Your Self Talk
The final way to cope with telephone terribleness is to change the way you think about the ordeal. In particular, I would urge you to challenge two beliefs that might be fueling your anxiety. I know these beliefs well, because I lived by them for most of my life.
Everything Is Always Your Fault
Back when I was still anxiety’s slave, I was held prisoner by the belief that everything was always my fault. If anything ever went wrong (with wrong being defined as anything less than 100% perfect), it was always my responsibility alone regardless of who else was involved.
So an awkward phone conversation would have automatically been my fault alone. It would have happened because of my shortcomings.
The awkward silences were never the other person not knowing what to say. The fact that I had a hard time understanding was never caused by a poor connection or the other person mumbling. The fact that I couldn’t keep up was never caused by the other person being scattered and unable to stick to a topic. The fact that I couldn’t respond fast enough was never caused by the other person not shutting up long enough for me to get a word in.
Do you see how unreasonable I was being?
You Need To Be Good At Everything And Everyone Needs To Think Highly Of You
The other batshit crazy belief I needed to tackle in order to overcome phone anxiety was the expectation that I needed to be good at everything and that everyone needed to think highly of me.
What I needed to understand was that even IF I made a total fool of myself over the phone, it’s really not that big of a deal. If some random person thinks poorly of me, then so what? Does it really matter? Do I really want to value the opinion of judgy people?
No, I don’t.
And I don’t think you should either.
(But if you need to get a hold of me, please send an email. Don’t call. 😀 )