• People text more and make fewer voice calls than they did a decade ago.
  • For some people, that reluctance to make and receive calls is caused by telephonophobia, or phone anxiety. 
  • Phone calls can make people feel ambushed, trapped, or acutely self-conscious—but fortunately, there are different approaches that may help you overcome your phone anxiety.
  • For example, never hesitate to use your spouse or children as excuses to get off the phone or work to make talking on the phone more comfortable.
  • Experimenting with these anti-anxiety measures, you may find that the telephone isn’t “an invention of the devil” after all. 

We’ve all seen the articles about smartphone addiction and how being glued to an iPhone screen for hours a day can cause sleep deprivation, depression, and FOMO. But this blog is about a more analog phenomenon, one that dates back to Alexander Graham Bell in 1876, the voice call. 

Terrifying. 

It might seem quaint and old-fashioned that some folks still call each other, but they do (though less and less frequently). And for people who hate talking on the phone, attitudes haven’t changed much in almost 150 years. In 1911, the author Ambrose Bierce defined the telephone as “an invention of the devil which abrogates some of the advantages of making a disagreeable person keep his distance.” And a century later, a Reddit commenter called the phone a “hell-machine”. Very relatable.

So how can you overcome your anxiety about talking on the phone? First, take a good, long look at your cell phone. Actually, you’re probably staring at it right now. Or it’s directly next to you. Or it’s somehow been welded physically to your body with anxious sweat and Facebook fumes. Now, hurl it against the wall. Or, as the same Reddit commenter suggested, “[Smash] it with a crucifix and [bury] the pieces at the four corners of the earth”. Don’t you feel better now?

Fortunately, we have some slightly better advice for conquering telephonophobia (a real word). But first let’s explain what causes this phone apprehension.

Phone to My Head, Angst and Dread: Why Some People Hate Voice Calls

Making calls and receiving calls can both trigger phone anxiety. It can adversely affect both personal and business communication. And the anxiety can honestly be debilitating for people who suffer from it. As with any phobia, one’s fear of talking on the phone can get stronger the more you avoid doing it. And the fear can be caused by a wide variety of reasons.

RING RING

  • You feel ambushed when the phone rings. You don’t have time to mentally prepare for the imminent conversation.
  • You feel interrupted. A ringing phone demands an immediate response, and you’re taken away from what you were doing. 
  • You feel trapped. Will you be able to extricate yourself from the conversation?
  • You feel alarmed. Someone must have been in an accident. There must have been an emergency. 
  • You feel invaded. So much for your personal space.
  • You’re reminded of your wider social circle when you’d prefer to stay in a more intimate zone. You can no longer be mindful of the people who are physically present. The writer Chuck Palahniuk summed this up nicely when he stated, “I disconnect the telephone to keep the outside world in its correct place.”
  • You’re a millennial.
  • You’re introverted.
  • You feel self-conscious and insecure about talking. You might even have speech anxiety (glossophobia) or a diagnosed social anxiety disorder. (Anxious people tend to prefer texting.) 
  • You feel anxious that without visual cues and body language, you won’t know what the other person is thinking on the other end of the line.
  • You feel like phone calls are a waste of time and texting/email is more modern and efficient. 
  • You feel like you’re in the spotlight. 
  • You worry that you won’t be able to hear the other person well and you’ll have to ask them to repeat everything. 
  • You feel lazy and talking on the phone seems like a chore.
  • You resent that you can’t ever be unreachable. 

10 Ways to Overcome Your Fear of Talking on the Phone

No one here at Thriveworks is forcing you to talk on the phone. (We don’t even make you call us to book your therapy appointments, though you certainly can–and our staff is very friendly!) But if you feel that you might benefit from some advice and coping strategies to help you deal with your phone phobia, we have some options.

  1. Take advantage of the latest screening technology. Phone manufacturers like Apple are always making improvements to their tech so you can politely dodge phone calls from all the people you love. For example, you can experiment with the following:
    • Assign one ringtone to your partner in case of emergency, and silence the rest.
    • Use the Do Not Disturb setting. You can even rig all your calls to go to voicemail except for ones from contacts on your Favorites list.
    • Line up a great autoresponse excuse for not answering.
    • Change your voicemail to ask people to email you.
  2. Prepare an exit strategy before you get on the phone. If you have kids or a spouse, use them! We’d never advocate lying to your friends, but if you live in New York City, naturally you’re about to get on the subway. Or you could try one of the following proven-effective outs:
    • I’m actually tied up right now. Can I call you in a bit?
    • I have a deadline today so I’ve got to run. 
    • I’m in the middle of XYZ. Can we talk later?
    • It’s been great catching up with you. Let’s talk again soon. 
    • I have to wrap this up now, but you have my number if there’s anything else you need from me.
    • I’ve got to go, but I’ll give you my email address in case you need to reach me later.
    • I’m eating/about to go to sleep/need to concentrate on driving/about to enter a cellular dead zone/have to use the bathroom/need to charge my phone.
  3. Make talking on the phone more comfortable. Designate a cozy “talking chair” in your house, where you keep headphones to prevent tech neck, a water bottle, minimal distractions, etc. You can even use a landline! Or if you’d rather keep moving and feel productive, use the bluetooth headphones and prep dinner while you talk.
  4. Opt for video calls instead of voice calls. Then you can read visual cues. Even online psychotherapy appointments can be just as effective as in-person because people can still read nonverbal body language.
  5. Concentrate on the other person and their words, not yourself. If you’re focused on being a better listener, you may feel less self-conscious.
  6. Try DIY or Thriveworks cognitive behavioral therapy. Challenge your beliefs about talking on the phone and dispel your myths of the worst that could happen (catastrophizing).
  7. Try DIY or Thriveworks exposure therapy. Practice making brief, low-stakes calls, like to the library to see what time they close, and build your way up to more meaningful conversations.
  8. Run a cost/benefit analysis. Yes, you hate talking on the phone, but maybe the rewards could exceed the potential suffering.
  9. Remember that human voices have more interpersonal value than texts.
  10. Cut loose and have fun sometimes. Does your best friend love waffles? Of course she does. Next time she calls, answer the phone with “International House of Waffles.” Silly for sure, but it might break the ice and remind you to look beyond your phone’s limitations and remember the occasional delights of human connection.

It’s Been Great Catching Up with You. We’ll Have to Do This Again Soon. 

When the phone was first invented, it was marketed exclusively for business purposes. “Foolish women” weren’t supposed to tie up the line with their “exchange of twaddle.” But then women found that the device could be liberating. Maybe they liked that the social connection could temporarily free them from oppressive domesticity. Maybe they liked that they didn’t have to look “presentable” to talk on the phone. In any event, they became dominant users. And perhaps they still are. One recent research study showed that “friendly and compassionate” females make the most phone calls. 

Nowadays, we have many more options for staying in touch with our friends, family, and coworkers than the rotary phone in the kitchen. If anything, we sometimes feel too connected. So maybe you can experiment with a new kind of liberation: that of opening up about your phone anxiety to the people you care about. Chances are, they can relate, and before you know it, you’ve had an engaging 2-hour-long phone conversation about how much you both hate the phone. 

END CALL

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