Five Ways to Conquer Phone Anxiety

Photo by Zanetta Hardy
Photo by Zanetta Hardy

I hate talking to strangers on the phone. Sometimes I even hate talking on the phone to people other than my best friends. So when I got my job as a customer service representative for a developing technology startup, everyone thought I was crazy.

I am the person who will look at my cell phone when it rings and not answer if I don't recognize the number. My friends always get mad at me when they see me do this, or when I do it to them if they're calling from a different phone, but sometimes I really can't help it. I hate having to risk talking to a telemarketer or a stranger.

And what's worse is that I have no idea why! I can't remember any traumatizing incident on the phone at an early age that would cause fear, and there isn't even anything specific that I am afraid will happen on the phone; I just hate having to talk on it to people I don't know.

This hub will share some of the tips I have learned at a job where I have to constantly make and receive calls, and hopefully it will give you some comfort that, if you have phone anxiety, you are not alone!

Examining the Extent

The Meyers-Briggs personality test asks, "When the phone rings, do you run to answer it or wait, hoping someone else will answer?" This question is supposed to determine whether you are extroverted or introverted, respectively. But just because you are an introvert doesn't mean the phone should terrify you!

If you have phone anxiety, the first thing to do is to determine the severity. I'll break it down into several categories, but these are not hard-and-fast so please feel free to mix and match.

  • slight -- You prefer to shoot someone a text or email rather than call them directly.
  • moderate -- You let "Restricted" calls go to voicemail but pretty much talk to everyone else.
  • severe -- You have to take a deep breath or two before making a phone call.
  • acute -- You really can't talk on the phone unless someone is standing there making you.
  • extreme -- You don't even own a phone unless you have to.

If these are our categories, I would have to say that I have "severe" phone anxiety. I have to force myself to make phone calls to people I don't know, and I almost never answer the phone when it's an unknown number except when I'm expecting it.

Practice Makes Perfect

If you are on the less severe side of that spectrum, you could just be a conscientious person (not wanting to intrude on other people by calling them, etc) or might have had past experiences with the phone that were less than pleasant (bill collectors harassing you and the like).

But if you're closer to extreme, you have a serious problem that is probably negatively affecting the quality of your life, and I doubt it is caused by just one damaging phone call when you were in middle school. You might even have anxiety about other things, like talking to people in person, or even participating in online forums and email chains.

Either way, you are not beyond help. There are probably a million things you can do to make it easier for you to have comfortable phone conversations. Here are a couple that I have used with some degree of success.

  1. Just do it. Nike has it right: in many cases, getting started may be the biggest bump you have to get over. This is, of course, easier said than done, but a great way to start is to have a family member dial for you, wait for it to ring for a second, and then hand you the phone. Now it's too late to hang up, and before you know it, the conversation has started! Like ripping off a band-aid.
  2. Practice makes perfect. Sorry for the cliches, but this one is true, too. Or, at least, practice makes better. Next time you and your roommate order pizza, you make the phone call. The pizza guy talks to hundreds of people every week on the phone, so he won't remember if you mess up. The same goes for calling the dry cleaner to find out what time they close, or calling to ask any store any simple question. They never have to know your name, and they will forget about you the second you hang up. This can take off some of the pressure.
  3. Rehearse. Working as a customer service rep, I have to call a lot of people and answer even more incoming calls. I have a line, with my name, the company, and "thank you for calling" that I have rehearsed so well, I probably say it in my sleep. This allows me to forget about what I need to say, at least at first, and makes it so the other person has to start the conversation. As an introvert, I am a much better listener than talker, so I say my line, listen to them, and then I can just respond naturally.
  4. Write it down. The trick here is not to sound like a robot. But writing some notes about things to say can be very helpful. I recently had to do a phone interview, so I did a bunch of research about questions they might ask and the position I was applying for. I wrote down the answers, had my resume by my side, so when the phone rang, I was able to intersperse spontaneous thought with the points I had written down. I was infinitely more confident than I would have been, and I know I would have forgotten half of the things I wanted to say.
  5. Take control.  If you really have extreme phone anxiety, there might be something else going on.  Try going to a therapist or reading a book about social anxiety or shyness.  There are thousands upon thousands of people out there going through the same thing you are, and psychologists have developed tried and true methods of overcoming anxiety.  Cognitive behavioral therapy is especially helpful, as I understand.  With the help of a therapist, you sort of... change your internal monologue.  Instead of: "oh God I have to make a phone call what will the person say what do I say to them oh no oh no" it slowly becomes "this phone call will be a success in every way I want because I am in control" etc.  This is not an easy transition, though, so you should at least get a good book on the subject before expecting yourself to be able to do it.

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When All Else Fails

There is also always the option of medications -- both manmade and natural -- that you can take to help counter the effects of your anxiety. Of course, only a doctor can prescribe you something like Xanax (and you may not even need it), but there are plenty of natural products on the market that can help "take the edge off" your anxiety.

Bach's Rescue Remedy is something we got for our dog, who has extreme separation anxiety.  But it's for humans, too, so a friend of mine who has anxiety tried it before an interview.  She said it was great and doesn't think it was the placebo effect.  She has used it a few times since.  So if you're wary of drugs, Rescue Remedy is entirely natural (it does have some alcohol in it, I think).

Anything Else?

If you have any other tips, tricks, or suggestions, please leave a comment and let us know! I know there are tons of people out there who have weird phone issues, so feel free to share anything that has worked for you.

And more than anything, never get up!  Improving your phone skills, practice, and perseverance will at least help get you through those tough calls you can't possibly avoid.

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Comments 39 comments

Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 7 years ago from St. Louis

Hi Helena: I wouldn't say I have phone anxiety, but I don't like having long conversations on it, and I have come across many people who can't even understand that, much less someone with an aversion to it. I can imagine how difficult it would be for a person to overcome this, and I think you have offered some great suggestions on how to help.


helenathegreat profile image

helenathegreat 7 years ago from Manhattan Author

Hi Christoph, thanks for the comment! I think lots of people have little hangups regarding talking on the phone that other people don't seem to understand. But modern life requires that we use the telephone for so many things, so hopefully my hub can help people start to feel better about using it.


ralwus 7 years ago

http://hubpages.com/hub/The-2009-Celebrity-Dead-Po...

You got it right. Billy Mays died, you killed him.


RGraf profile image

RGraf 7 years ago from Wisconsin

Good tips. I'm the oposite. I feel more comfortable because I'm not having to look right at them.


natalie 6 years ago

I have telephone anxiety and I have started my own business. I am a very confident person normally but since i started my business i am terrified of unknown callers! I let them leave a msg and then call them back...which in effect is costing me a lot of money. I have wrtitten things down but still feel awkward. I never had a bad experience on the phone either so it is really strange. In person I am fine.


amy 6 years ago

Unfortunately, I think I'm around acute or even extreme. I think it's more than phone anxiety, it's more of social shyness.. I've hoped by now in life I would have gotten over it but it hasn't lessened.. Hopefully after reading this over I can figure out things I can start doing to help... Thanks for writing this.


crazybeanrider profile image

crazybeanrider 6 years ago from Washington MI

I have never heard of this before. I thought I was nuts b/c I have the same phone anxiety. If I didn't need one I would be without one. You have one great post here. Full of useful information.


Scott 6 years ago

I am more than happy to answer the phone if I know it's for me, or I am confident that I will be able to help the person that is ringing.

Making calls is a different story altogether. I quite often dread making calls, particularly when home by myself. I haven't had many (if any) embarrassing phone incidents in such a long time, but I still can't shake the feeling of anxiety that washes over me when I first go to dial the number.


katinthehat 6 years ago

I definitely have phone anxiety (probably in the severe range).. and I have no idea why! I'm not exactly shy either when talking to people in person and I don't even mind talking to strangers face to face.. but whenever the phone rings I'm so hesitant to answer it, even if I know the person. I get filled with panic.. sometimes I will take that deep breath and answer it, but most times I'll let it go to voicemail and call them/text them back when I feel ready. It's the weirdest thing too because I've had jobs where I have to make calls or answer the phone. The anxiety wasn't -as- extreme because I guess I had a little guideline on what to say.. i never thought to look up "phone anxiety" until today though and I stumbled upon this page.. so it's comforting to know I'm not the only one.


blx.contacts profile image

blx.contacts 6 years ago from Nigeria

this is great, i love it.

check http://hubpages.com/literature/conquersoubt


Christene profile image

Christene 6 years ago from Massachusetts

I'm phone phobic too.

I have to rehearse or write things down.


melissa 6 years ago

thank you for this. i am glad to see i am not alone. i can't think of anything else in my world that gives me such anxiety and i have NO idea where it comes from. when the phone rings and it is not one of my few "safe" people, i basically want to throw the phone out the window. i am fine in person and love being social. but, telephone..... no way!

i recently started my own business and i really need to overcome this ridiculous problem.

i am worried that i won't understand them, won't hear them correctly, won't be able to communicate well. then, i worry that i won't have the information that they want. i like when they leave a message and i get an idea of what they want to know. but, then, even when i am prepared with the information i don't want to call them. i worry i will interrupt them, etc...


bryanmccarty profile image

bryanmccarty 6 years ago

It is funny. For me I had an anxiety about leaving an outgoing message on my answering machine. Now, that my cell phone comes with an automated voice message, I don't have to worry about it. Great hub!


nona 6 years ago

Here I am thinking Im just a weird person. when I did my internship in the human resources office at a hospital I had to make outgoing calls to people reminding them to turn in their benefits packet. My super wrote down a script which helped alot but my anxiety over the phone has become so bad I even dread ordering a pizza. So I order online because Im scared to talk to people. OMG when I make appointments for the doctor I write it down on paper/ But what kills me is my stammering problem. I dont have it bad but when I get nervous I stutter I close my eyes and make myself say what I need to say its embarrasing glad Im not alone


Anxiety Slayer Podcast 6 years ago

Thanks for sharing a thorough presentation on handling phone related anxiety, rescue remedy - as you already mentioned - is a great help and EFT or the Quick Anxiety Stopper would be very helpful too.


Kristen 6 years ago

I am definitely in the acute an possibly leaning toward the severe range. The funny thing is though, I have no problem shooting someone a text, but I can't call them and I usually won't answer when I get a phone call even if I know the number. I'll just text them making some excuse about how I can't be on the phone right now and continue the conversation through text.

This has become a real problem because I'm fifteen and looking for my first job. I have a relative that can easily get me a job working at her office but I'd have to answer the phones which I think is what is keeping me from getting back to her.


Bree 6 years ago

I'm so glad I'm not alone in this! I never answer the phone unless I know the person. Right now I'm job hunting so this is a nightmare. Everyone gets mad at me because I let it go to voicemail ALWAYS


brightforyou profile image

brightforyou 6 years ago from Florida

Its so good to hear you trying ways to cope with your anxiety without becoming dependent on benzos.. thought you might like to read my story about xanax http://hubpages.com/health/Xanax


CheapMobilePhones profile image

CheapMobilePhones 6 years ago from UK

I am not very anxious towards using a Mobile Phone and I am very comfortable and able to control my activities.


Vicki 6 years ago

I recently got a really good job offer as a junior CSR something which i know i can do the paperwork end of the job but i am just so afraid i will not be able to effectly perform the phone part of the job cause i am terrified of incoming phone calls i get stuck every time when answering i just started using some techniques such as writing down what im going to stay and relaxation breaths wish me luck!!


Amber 6 years ago

I am definitely in the acute to severe range myself and have been for as long as I can remember. I used to even have a hard time calling friends and family members. I feel absolutely ridiculous being this way and have been anxious for two days now about having to make a call to set up a hair cut and finally dialed the phone... to be met with their line being busy. So now I have to do it again. Oh the joys of anxiety...


Jonathan 5 years ago

I get so nervous when it comes to things that I'm naïve or unsure about. For instance, I bought my first car recently and had to call the insurance company.. I just could not bring myself to do it. It seems everyone has had a car longer than me and are infinitely smarter and I might start asking dumb questions so I think, what's the point. Thanks for this post.

~J


TroyM profile image

TroyM 5 years ago

Neat theme! THought this just happened to me :)


Miss Phone 5 years ago

I thought I was the only one! I'm a very gregarious individual in person. I have no problem talking to strangers face to face. When it comes to making phone calls, I become tongue tied, nervous and start stuttering. Leaving voice messages are the worse that why I never leave voice mails! Glad to know what my problem is.


HealthyHanna profile image

HealthyHanna 5 years ago from Utah

I didn't realize there were so many like this. I am one of them also. In today's world, it seems everybody is always on the phone. I hide from it. I can talk if someone calls me. It is picking up the phone to make a call that wigs me out. I have never been a telemarketer, so it is not a learned phobia. I have heard it said that in life we should pick our battles, or everything becomes a battle. I'm not sure it is something I want to overcome.


XYZ 5 years ago

Thank you so much for posting this article. It is good to know that I am not alone. After reading this article, I did some self-analysis and I found out that the main reason for my anxiety is English being my second language and difficulty in understanding US accent(sometimes).Although I can write and speak fluently but still I tremble when I make a call. The steps that you have mentioned are practical and I have been following one of them. I would also like to add, taking a training or may be re-creating a telephonic scenario with your friend can also help. I would say one needs good support system to overcome any obstacles in life.


Nick Malizia profile image

Nick Malizia 5 years ago from USA

This is a great hub. I used to be shy but am now fairly extroverted, my pa definitely has a phone aversion. This is a very common phobia it seems and therefore a very relevant hub to make. :-)


Aleis 5 years ago

I think one of the things that makes talking the phone so awkward are the pauses. In a regular conversation you can rely on non verbal communication to fill the void during the awkward pauses, but on the phone you can't do that so it become so much more awkward.


Tina 5 years ago

I have severe phone anxiety and I live in a country that is not my own, which raises it considerably, since my phone calls also have to be in a second language. *Sigh*


suzie 5 years ago

Thank you for your post! I have been feeling like such a loser over this problem. Although am generally a hardworking and motivated person I have recently avoided a string of good oportunites to do free-lance work and make extra money because I can almost panic just at the thought of having to answer incoming phone calls about business. Its so bad that I feel physically uncomfortable and anxious just to watch people talk on the phone to a stranger. And I feel anxious just reading and writing about it! I take a medication for anxiety and it helps me immensly but I have this lingering social phobia about the phone, I hate it. But I am glad to read your post and I feel a little inspired that I can work on it and that it can get better. thanks!


SevereTina 5 years ago

My situation resembles that of Katinthehat. I almost thought I wrote that post lol. But even with close friends I get anxious. I let the phone ring and wait until I'm ready... don't know exactly why but I would like to find out why. Nothing traumatic has ever happened to me on the phone and as I get older it seems to be getting worse. Ughh so frustrating bc I don't wanna be anxious but I am. I find that father is also like this... could it be that I picked it up from him?


Anxious 4 years ago

I'm fine with answering the phone, no matter if I know the number or not. It's just making the calls to others that kills me. There are less than 5 people in the world that I can call without being terrified. Just got off the phone with my dog's vet and wanted to thank you for writing this page...it helped me force myself to make that call.


Let Go 4 years ago

Just recognise what you feel is counter-productive and serves no purpose, chuck it out, flat out ignore it... try standing with a proper posture, hold your head up high, this will make you feel more confident, smile also, but genuinely, when you smile It will show through your voice and let your mind know everything's ok. Just do it, if it doesn't feel awkward and uncomfortable than you're not doing anything new, consider each opportunity as your ongoing practise and think of it as an adventure. If you want to be confident then be confident :) they won't know who you are or anything about you, you could be a millionaire for all they know and whatever is said will not matter the second it's over, live in the moment. So what if you think they judge you, their loss for being so close minded, don't let them have the upper hand in your life. Whatever their reaction, if it's unwelcome, so be it, you didn't warrant it. Just let go and do it :)


Lily 4 years ago

i have severe phone anxiety to the point where i cannot even hold a phone without shaking. I am generally shy but not to the extreme so i don't really see why i have a problem with phone calls. I usually leave the phone to voicemail if no one else picks up and i dread for hours if i have to make a call. I seem ok when actually talking however i cannot phone a friend for fear that a family member may pick up. I have tried all the tips however nothing seems to work. Sometimes I can make a call if I force myself but that is very rarely. It is very comforting to know that there are other sufferers out there as I was sure that no one else had a fear of talking on the telephone.


Brianna 3 years ago

I freak out so much when I am making calls to an office. I get so worked up about it that I can't get over the mound of dialling the number. Glad I'm not the only one!


svencooke 3 years ago

There are so many things that bring on feelings of anxiety. The phone and dealing directly with others can be a real scare for some. This hub has some really good information, that is really worth sharing.

http://mylindenmethodreview.org


Jen 3 years ago

Any time I have to make a phone call, I have to walk away from anyone in a room, preferably entirely out of earshot. I just started an internship where I have to cold call people about casting and I generally spend the entire day not making calls and sending emails. The thing is, once I actually make the call and am talking to the person, I'm pretty much fine! It's just the anxiety from the anticipation of it all. Same goes for answering the phone. I've got a front desk receptionist position that I've literally just started and every time the phone rings, I stare at it for a second in horror before answering with a shaky, stumbling voice. I'm fully aware that it's just nerves and it'll get better with time but man, is it draining! I just wish my mom would call and I wouldn't have to bother with any of it, haha.


Angie 2 years ago

I have severe phone anxiety, but the weird thing is that I'm a receptionist. I am completely fine answering the phone when it's not for me and I'm just transferring it to someone else. When I get an internal call at work I know it's actually for me and I get this wave of panic before I can answer. I never answer my cell phone. Unless it's my mom, kid, or husband. And even then I have to take a deep breath. I've even NOT answered when my husband called and then texted him back. LOL! My own husband! (well, really he should know I have phone anxiety, right?) Making phone calls is even worse! I honestly feel like I have to give a big public speech. I well get out of breath and my heart is beating a million times a minute. My palms are sweaty and I feel nauseous. I will avoid making phone calls at all costs. I know it's ridiculous. So that makes it even worse. I have no problem face to face though. In fact I will go way out of my way and show up somewhere to ask a question rather than call. What is wrong with me???


Jeff Quigley 22 months ago

Bach's Rescue Remedy appears to be a homeopathic remedy, which probably means that if it works, it works via placebo.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bach_flower_remedies#...

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