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Why We Need to Take Phone Anxiety Seriously

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You’re sitting there, phone in your hand. You can feel the sweat beading on your neck. Your heart is beating hard and fast, and you can feel it in your throat. You quickly run through all of the hiding places you can get to in the next 10 seconds. But instead of being able to move, you’re frozen. You can’t even manage to swallow the lump in your throat. You look down and see a notification:

(1) missed call

From what I just described, you might think I had just started a horror movie. But actually, if you experience phone anxiety, you have been there before.

What is phone anxiety?

I believe all of us have felt anxious at least once in our lives, whether it’s feeling like our stomach is full of butterflies right before a presentation or thinking our heart is stuck in our throat when we’re on a date. Phone anxiety is having a visceral anxiety reaction at the prospect of using the phone.

I am notorious for being difficult to get a hold of — at least when you try to call me. If you text me, I’ll get back to you pretty quickly. And in this day and age of technology, you’d think that that wouldn’t be a problem. But, there are still people and situations that demand phone calls to communicate.

While I would like to rag on them for holding on to an “out of style” technology, there are actually many benefits to using phone calls for communication over textual methods. Inflection and tone of voice are a lot easier to pick up on over the phone than through any kind of messaging. It’s also a much faster way of delivering and receiving messages.

How does it manifest?

For many people, even my own age, being on a phone call is no problem. However, even if I recognize the number on my caller ID, is very difficult for me to get myself to answer the phone. It’s not that I don’t want to talk to you, it’s that I am literally fighting a fight or flight response to having my phone ring.

This isn’t just something I do or say because I don’t want to make phone calls. If you are around me when my phone rings, you’ll see my jaw clench. You’ll see my muscles tighten. You might even hear my heart start to beat out of my chest (I certainly feel like it does). I might even start hyperventilating if the anxiety gets bad enough.

Making calls is a little bit easier, because I am in control. However, I’m still incredibly anxious on these phone calls. I can usually power through them, if I have to. Most of the time, I will do whatever I can to get out of making phone calls. This has included putting off doctors appointments, falling out of touch with older relatives, making some of my friends a little bit angry and begging someone else to make a phone call for me (usually my partner, bless his heart).

Symptoms of having phone anxiety include: having a panic attack at the idea of talking on the phone, experiencing an accelerated heart beat, feeling your heart beat harder, feeling out of breath, shaking, sweating and avoiding the phone.

Why is it a big deal?

I, like many others in this day and age, run my own business. When I need to onboard new clients, I have to talk to them over the phone. I haven’t gotten any new clients for a while because I know that I will have to talk to them over the phone.

If I have to reschedule a doctor’s appointment, I’ll just take the no show fee rather than call in and reschedule. If I have a friend who hasn’t heard from me in a while, I just won’t reconnect with them.

Turns out, talking on the phone is helpful in a lot of ways. And I do everything I can do avoid those situations. In my mind, at the moment I need to make a phone call, doing literally anything else sounds better.

Whether it sprouts from generalized anxiety disorder or something else entirely, phone anxiety effects the way I, and others like me, function on a day to day basis. I would much rather speak in person with a stranger than to someone I know over the phone.

To be honest, I’m still working on improving my phone anxiety. My therapist and I are working on a desensitization technique that helps me slowly get used to talking people on the phone without having that anxiety piece attached to it.

So if you encounter someone who tells you they have phone anxiety, don’t just brush it off as something they are making up. It can seriously impact their life. Ask them what you can do to help them overcome that anxiety and encourage them to work through it instead of just avoiding the phone. They’ll be better off for doing it.

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Unsplash photo via Alex Holyoake.

Originally published: June 20, 2017
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