In a world so connected by instant communication, making a phone call seems like no big deal. Sure, maybe talking on the phone is annoying when you could just send a text, but it’s also just another way to check-in and talk to loved ones.
But for people with phone anxiety, or a telephone phobia, this reluctance to talk on the phone isn’t just because it’s inconvenient or a hassle. It’s a real fear that can take over your life. Whether it’s the anticipation before making a phone call or the uncertainly of picking up, completing certain tasks, maintaining relationships, and even employment opportunities can be affected by this fear.
To understand what people who experience phone anxiety need others to know we asked people in our mental health community to weigh in.
Here’s what they shared with us:
1. “I can answer a call, but some days having to make a call is incredibly hard. Don’t ask me to explain why, I don’t know the rational behind it. It’s just hard. No, I don’t think they will yell at me. No, I don’t understand it. Yes, it’s frustrating and if I could just get over it, believe me, I would.” — Mandie M.
2. “The avoidance of the phone can be highly emotional and unique even within the spectrum of those who have [phone anxiety]. If I am avoiding incoming calls, it is likely due to depression and shame. A simple question like, ‘How are you?’ can fill a depressed person with shame if they aren’t feeling well and can’t articulate why. I would rather not answer the call than lie and say ‘I’m fine’ if I’m not. If I’m avoiding making outgoing calls, it is typically due to feeling overwhelmed. If I must make a call to take care of some task, I may avoid calling because I fear making the call will not simplify my life by checking off the task but complicate it further with any potential follow-up tasks. This anxiety is especially difficult to overcome if it has been continually reinforced by past experiences that validate your fear.” — Kylie B.
3. “Making phone calls is excruciating. I can answer phone calls (usually) no problem, but making them is something I have to psych myself up for. Even texting can be too much sometimes. If I am asking/saying something personal, I may type out the message five times before deleting it altogether. If I ignore you or don’t respond in a timely manner, it’s not usually you. Either I’m not feeling up to talking to anyone or I’m trying to find the right words. Give me time or space.” — Alaura F.
4. “I hate making phone calls, so I adopt a new persona when I do. I literally go into acting mode and pretend to be someone else with my name. Sounds silly, but it works. I’m not Daisy, I’m phone Daisy!” — Daisy A.
5. “If my phone rings and it comes up as ‘unknown number’ I’m not going to answer it. Please leave a message so I know who it was and I’ll make contact with you if I can. People are better off sending me a text message, I will nearly always reply to you then.” — Ali C.
6. “Don’t tell me I’m being ridiculous or pathetic when I refuse to call someone for you, e.g my mother asking me to call a family member to say we’re running late. Sometimes I’m OK making a call, sometimes I’m not.” — Amber C.
7. “Sometimes I need to turn off my phone. Don’t get mad, I’m taking care of me for once.” — Annika A.
8. “I wish my wife would understand how uncomfortable I am talking to people on the phone. I’ve tried explaining myself, but she doesn’t understand how much anxiety it causes me. She’ll ask if I called so and so, and I say no. She gives me the look and does it herself, and I can tell she’s annoyed by it.” — Kevin L.
9. “Just because I won’t answer the phone doesn’t mean I’m idle or lazy. It’s like meeting someone for the first time — you don’t know who they are, or what they want or what they are going to say to you. I need time to mentally process it, and my mind for some reason wants to take a long time on that one. Like an old computer, it needs a moment to think, even if that’s a few days to let the cursor stop spinning.” — Erin H.
10. “When I actually answer the phone, my responses will be detached sounding. No, I’m not angry at you. No, I’m not bored with you. No, I’m not annoyed with you, I just can’t hold a conversation with you. I will give you the most basic answer I possibly can to get you off the phone. If you absolutely want to have a conversation, Skype me. That way I can see your face and read your body language. Also, don’t leave me a cryptic voicemail telling me we need to talk. I won’t call back because my brain already has 100 thoughts of what that conversation could entail, and none of them are positive.” — Kat. P
11. “Please don’t call me unless it’s an emergency. Texting gives me time to process what was sent and lets me have time to respond without pressure.” — Cassandra S.
12. “There are a million and one other things I’d rather do than making phone calls. They are energy-sucking vampires of tasks.” — Michelle M.
13. “Stop telling me making a call is not a big deal. It is to me. What if I don’t know what to say? What if I can’t explain myself properly? What if they don’t give me an answer I want? Are just a few of the ‘what ifs’ taking over my brain every time I need to make a call, and you telling me it’s not a big deal doesn’t make them magically disappear. I can’t explain why I get so anxious to myself, so I can’t explain it to you either.” — Emma H.
14. “Quiet space during a conversation makes me ramble.” — Tracy R.
15. “I get really nervous that I’ll mess up what I’m trying to say, so I’ll end up pausing and stumbling over words a lot to try and make sense. I just need you to be patient and understanding with me.” — Rianne R.
16. “Making a phone call can send me into a panic attack. I wish my family wouldn’t call me lazy or childish when I ask them to make a call for me.” — Skye G.
17. “My phone is my best friend and my worst enemy. The thought of having to call someone brings on anxiety attacks. I can’t see people’s faces or body language, and I panic and feel put on the spot. I also have trouble hearing and have to either constantly ask people to slow down or speak more clearly, which gets mixed results. Texting and email are so much easier because I can plan my responses and word things more carefully. If I ever have to call someone I try to write down everything I need to ask or say to help lower the stress level a little.” — Leah W.
18. “If I have to make a phone call, I have to hype myself up for a few minutes to even dial the number. I then write down everything I need to say because if I don’t I’ll forget things because I’m about to have a panic attack. I will not pick up the phone unless it is my mother or father or grandparents. And even then, I get terrified when I see their names on my phone.” — Riley S.
19. “Oh man, I really wish more people talked about this. People always look at me weird or in disbelief whenever I tell them I can’t make phone calls or ask them to call for me. One thing I have found to help though, is having close friends call or calling them myself every now and then — people whom I feel safe and comfortable with. Slowly but surely, by going through the process of calling and speaking to them through the phone, I have found myself slowly able to work up enough confidence to make phone calls to other people. (Still often takes me days, even weeks, to prepare though.)” — Hannah M.
What would you add?