Ring Ring... Hello Phone Anxiety!

“Ring Ring”, that seemingly innocent noise, can be internally deafening, especially at work. One moment you’re in deep concentration on a task, be it excel spreadsheets, answering an email, or just generally hiding from co-workers.  All of a sudden that inconspicuous object on your desk starts loudly announcing its presence.

If your like me your inner dialogue may go something like this:

Ahh, (stares at the phone in disbelief)

Who are you? what do you want from me?!

(Heart starts pounding. Looking around to see if anyone has noticed the extraordinarily loud tone emanating from this sudden alienating device)

Photo by Luke Southern on Unsplash

Ok, ok, calm down, just answer it.

Wait a minute, what if I can’t help them. What if I don’t know what they want?

They might think I’m incompetent. Everyone will overhear my conversation. They might realize that I don’t know what I’m doing.

(Heart is racing, breaking out into a sweat, and on the verge of panic)

Just calm down. Take a breath. And just do it, answer the phone.

(Reaches out for the phone, hand recoils back, phone still emitting a dreaded wailing noise alerting everyone to my incompetence)

Maybe if I don’t look at it…pretend I’m busy…it’ll stop…

No this is silly if it’s something I can’t help with I can transfer it or ask the boss

Ok here I go, I’ve got this

(freaking out heart now pounding louder than the phone. Reaches out for the phone and…so focused on the act of answering the phone forgets own name, company they work for or any communication skills learned)…

Does this sound familiar. Maybe not as bad? Maybe worse?

You are not alone. (I Don’t mean that in a creepy “I’m watching you from a distance” kinda thing, just that there are a many of us out there that have a deep fear of answering or making phone calls). So rest assured there is absolutely nothing wrong with you and please read on…

For some people, (you odd bunch), answering the phone is no big deal. No second, third, or fourth thought is required. I marvel at your ability to just reach out and answer with such ease, while also silently curse you for it. For you this idea that phone can be a terrifying communication device may be baffling but if you have friends that never answer the phone read on as you may discover why. But for others the mere thought of it sends us chills.

Why do we fear it? Is it the fear of the unknown.

Who is it? What is it? What do they want from me?

You don’t know what the other person on the end of the line is thinking.

 

They say that communication can be broken down as body language, tone of voice, and actual words.

Therefore words on there own, say through phone communication, won’t always give you the whole picture.  Whereas facial expressions, and tone can give you a much better interpretation. We’ve all been, or at least the majority of us, have been a recipient of “the I’M FINE NOTHINGS WRONG” look, you know the one, lips pulled tight, eyes that stare accusingly, that even tone of voice. You know they are anything but fine!

Body language, gestures, how much coffee they have had, all make up a large part, which you just don’t fully get over the phone.

Yet our minds are trying to register all of this through the phone. So something innocent as a joke delivered with a smile could come across as a sarcastic attack. But without all the communication cues how would you know.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Likewise, flip it around and the person on the other end also doesn’t get the full communication cues from you. For example, if you’re like me I use a lot of hand gestures and facial expressions, which as you could imagine gets lost over the phone.

Without realizing it we subconsciously like to show that we are listening, we do this by encouraging a person to keep speaking with a little head nod, or our eyes glaze over giving the speaker a cue to switch topics.

Pauses on the phone are the worst. This is utterly nerve-wracking for the anxiety-prone. You don’t know if that person is glaring at the phone waiting for you to respond, fallen asleep, or are deciding what to say next… 

What about text messages and email? Arn’t they just as bad. I mean its not like you know the tone or body language behind them.

Well yes and no, they can be miss interpreted too. However, they dont cause near as much anxiety than answering the phone. You see when you get a message you can take a moment to re-read it spend a little longer deciphering it.

Not so much with a phone call. A phone call requires you to decipher it then and there and this can add a bit of pressure. 

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Then there’s the feeling of being judged. We often focus a lot on ourselves and how we come across to others. We may be constantly worried that we won’t sound competent on the phone, we will stumble all over our words so we start catastrophizing. 

While we are focusing on monitoring ourselves our mind is not paying full attention to the caller. Our minds can’t split the attention to both of these things at once, it will try, but often fail spectacularly. It would be handy though…

 

So, how do we tame that phone anxiety?

Do we just turn the ring tone down and hope no one notices it when someone calls. Forward everything to voice mail and answer them back via text later?

Well yeah you could do but it won’t help in the long run.

Exposure: We just don’t do it that often. For myself, I usually only have to answer the phone at work, and even now it’s only rarely. Most of my communication, which like a lot of people, is through email or text message.

As painful as this is, one option is to suffer through it. I know that’s completely not what you wanted me to say. Exposure to the phone often enough will build up your experience. The more you do it the less anxiety you will have. Building up the communication muscle.

Make yourself a script to go off. Or note down the points you want to make during the call. Likewise when answering the phone have a pen and paper ready to go and jot down important words during the conversation. This way when you’ve hung up you can refer back, and use those words to help remember the conversation.

Breathing Techniques, (I know these breathing technique pops up everywhere doesn’t it. Must be something in it). When the phone rings, deep breath in, long exhale out. Why does this help? when your stressed of anxious your breathing becomes irregular and shallow. By taking some deep long breaths it signals the nervous system that everything is ok. 

A little trick I was taught was to breathe in for 7 seconds, hold, then exhale for 7. Now there is a catch, you may have to build up to 7 seconds. It does take a bit of practice when you’re not used to it. Once you’ve got the rhythm your nervous system will be in a much calmer state.

A brilliant little visual helper to get you in the rhythm. Click on the 'Calm' button to take you straight to calm.com

Now that you’ve read all the different ways to overcome this. Also equally important to remember, you don’t have to answer it! Unless it is apart of your job and your getting paid to answer the phone… but if you’re at home in your own space doing your own thing and that intrusive disruptive sound maker interrupts you, you don’t have to answer it. No one is entitled to your time, they are just requesting your attention.

Also, just tell friends and family the truth, explain to them why your not one with phone calls. Your friends should understand that you’re not avoiding their calls as a personal attack, it’s the phone call itself that freaks you out.

Don’t get me started on trying to leave voice mails!

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