Looking to Put an End to Phone Anxiety—It’s Your Call

When we were kids, we so badly wanted someone to call us. We didn’t care who it was, we just wanted to have a family member hold out the phone and say, “It’s for you.” You’d rush to their side, put the clunky handset next to your ear and start the conversation. It was exhilarating!

How times have changed. And they have not only changed for adults, 96% of whom find phone calls to be disruptive, but for kids as well who now carry personal cell phones with them to school and for whom the word landline is nearly as unfamiliar as the words rotary phone.

And no longer do phones stay in one place, constantly plugged into a wall. Our cell phones are always within reach. They’re so mobile that kids transport them in their backpacks and tweens, teens and Generation X, Y and Zers, tuck them into the pockets of their jeans, ready to be retrieved from behind their backs like a gunslinger reaching into his holster for a quick draw in one of those old cowboy movies.

Communication channels have expanded beyond the telephone

Before cable TV and the 24-hour news cycle, people felt insulated from the outside world, one might even say isolated. For those living alone, phone calls made them feel less lonely. It’s no surprise that years ago AT&T’s slogan was, “Reach out and touch someone.”

Today, many people choose to limit the amount of outside interruptions and control when and how they communicate with others. The word “disconnect” used to be reserved for machines, but now it’s used to describe the steps many of us take to literally unplug ourselves from technology and what we view as unnecessary intrusions on our time and personal space.

With the rise of text messaging, online chat, social media platforms and instant messaging apps, staying connected with friends, family, co-workers and others halfway around the world is easier than ever. Why pick up the phone and talk when you can shoot them a message and include a photo, emoji or filtered video of yourself in the process? The level of anxiety you feel in that moment is pretty much nonexistent. It can even make you feel good. You control the time, method and pace of the conversation.

Clearly, our conversation preferences are changing. According to Merriam-Webster, a conversation is an oral exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions, or ideas. Technology is changing more than just the way we communicate; it’s changing the words we use to describe that communication. Who would have predicted “texting” and “messaging” would someday be synonymous with “talking?”


Cell phone in hand at coffee shop

When one of your hang-ups is talking on the phone

We engage with our smartphones a lot throughout the day, but surprisingly the “phone” icon is one of the least touched features on it. We’re far more likely to tap out a text message or use a messaging app than make a call. So, when an incoming call lights up the screen it can make you feel like you’re at the mercy of someone else, which can lead to feelings of anxiety as if some outside force is closing in on you. Talk about pressure.

Anxiety can take the form of a queasy feeling that descends when you fear you’re going to be put on the spot and need to talk with someone without the benefit of visual cues. That can be stressful depending on the nature of the call. It can be particularly hard for people with mild to severe social anxiety, where talking on the phone adds another layer of discomfort.

Some common symptoms of phone call anxiety. Do you:

  • delay making phone calls due to anxiety?
  • worry about bothering the other person?
  • worry about what you will say?
  • worry about embarrassing yourself?
  • avoid making calls or having others call you?
  • obsess about what was said after calls?

Not surprisingly, behavioral scientists attribute some of this newfound social anxiety to the rise in texting and social media sites that make it easy to communicate by typing rather than talking. Who wants to dial a number, wait for a response and mentally prepare what you’re going to say when you can simply shoot off a text message?

With phone calls, when you can’t read another person’s facial expression or gauge their level of interest in what you’re saying, a mental tape of negative self-talk can start to play and cause worry, self-doubt and even fear; fear of being judged, misunderstood or, worst of all, being laughed at. When these feelings surface, all the person can think about is getting off the phone as quickly as possible even if that means panicking and hanging up mid-sentence. It doesn’t matter that the other person wasn’t thinking what you negatively imagined, your brain is interpreting your thoughts as if they’re real and your body’s fight or flight response kicks in.

Psychologists say this unease is becoming more prevalent in younger generations who didn’t grow up with a phone as their only form of communication. They haven’t been conditioned to handle the steady stream of a back-and-forth dialogue. They have less experience making and receiving calls; when someone is less practiced in something, there’s more uncertainty. And when it comes to talking on the phone, that can lead to more anxiety.

Why you get that anxious feeling when you hear your phone ring

When we hear our phone ring, feel it vibrate or play a snippet of a song, our body starts to respond before we even realize it. It can be a feeling of joy when you see that it’s a call from a loved one or a feeling of dread when you realize it’s the collection agency whose calls you keep ignoring. When you’re alerted to an incoming call, the pressure on your anxiety barometer can instantly ratchet up a notch. It’s not until you see who’s on the other end that your anxiety level starts to go up or down.


Quote by Dr. Bo Bennett


According to Dr. Bo Bennett, a social scientist based in the Boston area, “If your phone is only used for basically friends and family, and positive calls, then you’re not going to feel that sense of anxiety. You’re going to be excited when your phone rings because it’s going to be something that you look forward to.” But when the call comes from someone you don’t know or is a call that you’d rather not take, the feelings can be the opposite.

Dr. Bennett continued, “Most of this happens at an unconscious level. You don’t realize why you feel the way you do when your phone rings. Some may feel butterflies in their stomach and general uneasiness while others experience physical symptoms, such as nausea, sweating and fainting, which can point to a more general anxiety disorder.”

If talking on the phone makes you feel uneasy, you’re not alone. While these sensations are temporary, and often result from feeling unsure of what to say or worry that you’ll come across as nervous or unprepared, they can still be very uncomfortable.

Not being able to read the other person’s facial expression and body language or know when to jump in or wait for the other person to finish their thought can be an open door for anxious thoughts to walk in. You can get lost in your own head and miss what the other person is saying, which only leads to deeper feelings of anxiety. “What if they ask me a question and I don’t know how to answer?” Or worse, “what if I don’t even hear the question because I’m so wrapped up with the conversation in my head?”

How do you overcome phone anxiety?

There are times in life when a phone call is necessary. Texts and emails are wonderful tools, but sometimes you will need to pick up the phone and speak to someone. A good example is a job interview. Many employers screen candidates by phone prior to inviting them for in-person interviews regardless of how amazing their resume looks.

Having experience talking on the phone with friends and family is good training for feeling more confident when you need to speak with someone new, especially when it comes to future career opportunities. You know that once the call happens your brain may go a little blank, so you want to be as prepared as possible.

When that time comes and you’re still feeling anxious you can:

  • Ease your anxiety by writing yourself some notes in advance of your call. Maybe even write a full script of what you plan to say.
  • If you’re scheduling an appointment, write down the days and times you’re available so you’re not having to check your calendar while they wait, filling the air with awkward silence.
  • It’s also a good idea to make notes to yourself with reminders such as: talk slowly, take a breath, and smile when you speak so your voice sounds friendlier.
  • Having a glass of water nearby is helpful to whet your whistle and keep your voice from sounding parched.

Another way to combat phone anxiety is to bite the bullet and just start making calls. Do this when the stakes are low and you’re not relying on the outcome of the call to go one way or another. Keep the conversations short and sweet so there’s no pressure. There’s nothing like getting some experience under your belt to build confidence. The more you do this the less daunting longer phone calls will be.

Keep things in perspective

If one call doesn’t go well, it’s not the end of the world. Sure, you may feel embarrassed, but the other person isn’t likely to dwell on the call after they’ve hung up. We’re always our own worst critic. For the other person, your call will be a small part of their day, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Nobody’s perfect.

Having a few success goals for your call beforehand is helpful. Focus on what you want to achieve, not on what you don’t. Telling yourself “don’t be nervous” just focuses on what you want to avoid. When you do that the mind zeroes in on what you’re resisting, which is counterproductive.

Instead, tell yourself that you want to speak slowly and clearly and leave a good impression. Visualizing how you would like the call to go beforehand is also a proven technique. One that will help calm your nerves and give your mind a roadmap to follow when any surprise twists or turns appear on your path.

Zipwhip’s survey data found that 77% of consumers experience some degree of anxiety when talking on the phone.

Phone anxiety is on the rise, but texting is a popular solution

With all the convenient tools available, it’s possible that someone could communicate with the outside world without ever taking a call. But who wants to live in fear of talking on the phone? Granted, knowing who’s calling (thanks to caller ID) or having it be from someone on your contacts list doesn’t always take away the jitters. We’re conditioned to respond to the other person with eye contact, head nods, affirmations and such.

But when you’re not looking at the other person or you’re out of practice, even a call with someone you know can cause nerves to kick in. Thankfully, most people will understand if you stumble a bit with your words. We all go through it at one time or another. It’s called a character-building experience.

So, why does talking on the phone seem like a scarier option than texting for some people? After all, a typed message is also missing those nonverbal cues. It’s because time is on your side when you send text messages. With written communication you can think about what you want to say and take time to edit what you’ve written. Phone calls don’t provide those natural buffers. You need to act on your feet, listen intently, and formulate answers on the fly. When talking on the phone, every long pause can seem like you’re veering off course.

Additionally, calls are usually more time-consuming than texts. You can send a message between other activities. With a phone call, many people wonder if they’re interrupting someone and taking them away from some other task. With that frame of mind, it’s easy to see a phone call as a demand, one that the other person might feel is more intrusive than welcome.

How phone calls and texting can work together

Phone call anxiety affects all types of people—including consumers, which is why businesses are finding it hard to connect with customers that way. At Zipwhip, we wanted to learn more to help businesses better communicate with their customers. We surveyed 500 consumers about their phone preferences. Our data shows that 77% of consumers experience some degree of anxiety when talking on the phone, with 41% feeling anxious often to very often. To learn more, we invite you to download our free e-book: Why Your Customers Don’t Answer the Phone Anymore.

We believe that phone calls and texts are complementary communication tools that work well together. Some conversations are short and don’t require a lot of back and forth. In that situation, texting may be the best method. It can be especially beneficial in organizations where salespeople can quickly communicate with customers by text.

In fact, our 2019 State of Texting report found that texting is the communication method most consumers prefer. If, however, both parties would benefit from an in-depth conversation where a lot of information is shared or hearing the inflection or emotion in the other person’s voice is important, a call would probably be best. The choice is yours.

For more info on Texting for Business, visit Zipwhip today and sign up for a free trial.

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