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Social anxiety and phone calls

Social anxiety and phone calls

Would you rather do just about anything than pick up the phone? Do you put calls off for as long as possible? Does your heart sink when your mobile rings, or when someone says “I’ll give you a bell”?

Feeling anxious about speaking on the phone is a fairly common form of social anxiety. Some people may find it easier than a face-to-face encounter, especially if their worries relate to blushing or being judged on their appearance. For many, however, phone conversations can be difficult.

It’s harder to figure out what someone’s thinking or feeling when you can’t see them. When you meet someone in person, you can pick up on non-verbal cues such as facial expressions or body language. There’s no chance to ‘read’ those signals on the phone, which can be unnerving and lead to self-consciousness, activating fears about how you’re coming across.

Another reason someone might dread phone calls is the pressure to ‘perform’. If you meet someone in a cafe the conversation flows naturally, with pauses while one of you gazes out of the window or takes a sip of coffee. On the phone there are no handy external distractions, so it can feel like the focus is completely on you. This might enhance the fear that you’ll say the wrong thing or handle something badly; it’s easy to feel ‘put on the spot’, and that you have to answer questions straight away, for example.

The big temptation when you’re anxious about using the phone is to put calls off, or try to avoid them altogether. The more you procrastinate, however, the worse the anxiety is likely to get –especially if the call is about a problem that needs sorting, or you anticipate a tricky conversation. The longer you leave it the more apprehensive and down you’ll feel. From a practical point of view, letting things slide will leave the problem unresolved, or even cause it to escalate.

Avoiding making or taking phone calls when it’s part of your job could cause friction with colleagues, and lead to negative feedback about your performance – again, increasing your anxiety.

So how do you break the pattern?

Firstly, recognise and acknowledge that you’re putting off or avoiding calls. List the different people you need to speak to on the phone – friends, relatives, service providers, customers. Figure out what it is about each encounter that makes you anxious. Are you worried about what the person thinks of you? Are you afraid you’ll be asked a question you can’t answer? Do you think you’ll be given bad news?

Next, change your behaviour by making or taking one call today. You can slowly build it up from there.

If you’ve been worrying about the outcome of the call, test your assumption. Call the bank, for example, and notice what happens. Was it as bad as you envisaged? It’s likely that the worst case scenario you imagined didn’t actually take place. Remember this the next time you have a call you expect to be difficult.

If you were concerned about being judged negatively on a call – that the other person might have found you boring, for example – ask yourself if there’s actually any evidence that this was the case. If they sounded a bit ‘off’, could this be because they were distracted by something in the room?

Writing down the main points you want to get across might help you to prepare for a difficult or important call you find yourself avoiding. It’s best not to make this approach the ‘norm’, however, as it’s easy to become over-reliant on planning.

Finally, acknowledge the achievement after you finish the call. Enjoy the relief, and cross it off your to-do list – this will help motivate you for the next one!

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a very effective treatment for social anxiety, and there’s an online option which might be a good choice if you feel a bit nervous about talking to someone in person. Find out what to expect from online CBT.

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