As more of our day-to-day communications move online, are we losing the knack of talking on the telephone? For some, the less they do it, the scarier it becomes. So, if you fear using the phone, here are some tips to get you chatting again

In a world dominated by texting, messaging, and emails, we may be less and less likely to use our phones to actually talk to people. In fact, as we reduce our talking time, we can begin to lose the knack – and even our confidence to converse.

The advent of the internet, with its forums, chat rooms, and social media, means that it’s possible to connect with people without ever leaving home. This is great for those who struggle with social anxiety, as they don’t need to go out to chat or shop.

Research from charity Anxiety UK reveals that one in six adults has experienced some form of ‘neurotic health problem’, and more than one in 10 are likely to have a ‘disabling anxiety disorder’ at some stage, with 13% likely to develop a phobia.

Phone anxiety is part of this broader social anxiety, and is characterised by similar physiological responses – often triggered by having to speak on the telephone, or the thought of doing so.

Symptoms of phone anxiety

You can take steps to reduce anxiety, and there are practical techniques you can use to get through the call

Anxiety often comes with a range of debilitating physiological symptoms, including a racing heart, tingling in the hands, feeling faint, a sense of terror, sweating or chills, chest pains, difficulty breathing, and a feeling of a ‘loss of control’.

Unfortunately, as scary as it may sometimes seem, talking on the telephone can be an essential part of work, or the most efficient way to get things done.

What might cause phone anxiety?

The original source of the fear may be something unconscious – a past experience which you don’t think about, but a sense of fear remains. Or perhaps a conversation in the past ended badly, with a huge life upheaval? Perhaps you were on your mobile when you witnessed a terrible incident? Perhaps you couldn’t access a phone when you needed to in a moment of fear?

It may also be part of a general concern of looking or sounding ‘silly’, or simply ‘messing up’. Then, the fewer times we use the phone, the harder it becomes.

What can I do?

If speaking on the phone is integral to your lifestyle, then you can take steps to reduce anxiety and help manage the fear. And there are also practical techniques you can use to get through the call itself. As soon as you feel anxiety growing…

1. Focus on your breathing.
It can help to concentrate on breathing slowly in and out, while counting to five.

2. Stamp on the spot or move about.
It can be helpful to channel your nervous sensations into something physical.

woman talking on the phone in public

3. Focus on your senses.
Try mint sweets or gum, or touch something soft. Have an emotional first aid pack – I personally love fluffy things, and have a pompom as my alternative stress ball.

4. Think about self-care.
Pay attention to what your body needs; you may find that resting, or going to the toilet, or eating or drinking something light, can alleviate the sense of fear.

5. Tell someone you trust.
If you feel able to talk to others about your phone phobia, they may be able to help.

6. Tell yourself ‘these feelings will pass’.
Using positive coping statements or affirmations can focus your mind and help you feel more in control.

Try these practical support techniques…

Have an agenda. Write down what you need to say – even write a script if you want. But be aware that using a script can cause more anxiety if you feel you are not following it, so bullet points are probably a more useful tool.

Find a time when you are not rushed, or are in a private place. This can help, because if you feel the dreaded call has gone wrong, the number of people who may have noticed is limited. It may reassure you to know that other people are not looking at you.

Practise. Speaking is a ‘performance skill’, so you need to practise it to feel more comfortable.

Once you’ve made that call, be proud of your achievement. What may seem ‘silly’, because others do it easily, is still a big step for you. Measure your success by your own benchmarks – and consider how best to tackle the next call.