Phone anxiety, and what it’s like to live with it
Anxiety on the phone? Come sit with me…
Confession: I can’t remember the last time I voluntarily used my phone to actually CALL someone.
In fact, the last time someone tried to call ME on it, I was so surprised – and, OK, confused – by what was happening, that I ended up hitting the “end call” button instead of the “answer” one by mistake (“Yeah sure,” said Terry, when I told him why I’d just hung up on whoever was trying to call me. “AS IF it was a “mistake”…), and sending them straight to voicemail. Then I did it AGAIN when they called back a few seconds later.
“I swear I’m not doing it deliberately,” I insisted, when I caught Terry rolling his eyes at me in despair. (We were in the car at the time, so he was able to witness my extreme ineptitude in close-up…). But seriously: WHO uses phones to actually CALL someone? And WHY? Why wouldn’t they just DM me on Insta, or even send me an email, like a normal person? Why do they hate me, though?
It’s a question I am destined never to be able to answer: because, no matter how carefully you try to explain it to me, or how good your reasoning is for trying to contact me by phone, I’m still going to assume you’re a psychopath or something, because that’s not normal, right? Like, you don’t just… PHONE someone? Not without giving them fair warning, at least, and, ideally not even then, because, the fact is, some of us have phone anxiety, and we’re going to hate you for making us face it. Sorry, but it’s true.
Phone anxiety, as I’m sure many of you know, is actually pretty common – especially amongst people with social anxiety – and it can be a really hard thing to deal with, because of… well, because of all the people who think the phrase, “Let’s jump on a call!” is a reasonable thing to say to someone in 2020. (Which, no, it isn’t, just FYI. Not ever, really.)
Just in case it wasn’t obvious, then, “jumping on a call” is not something I’m EVER going to want to do. (And what’s with all the “jumping”, anyway? Seriously, stop trying to make pointless phone calls sound cute and fun, because they’re really, really not. It’s like when people go around telling everyone how “totally KERRAAZZZY!” they are, and you instantly know they’re going to be the dullest people ever…) The fact is, I HATE talking on the phone. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I suffer from phone anxiety: for instance…
* The sound of the phone ringing makes my heart race with anxiety. Part of this goes back to my ectopic pregnancy, when the results of the frequent blood tests I had to have were given by phone, and I would literally have panic attacks when it rung in case the news was bad (I actually ended up having to get the hospital to call Terry’s phone rather than mine, because I’d be panicking too much to speak. Once the whole thing was over, he had to change his ring-tone, because the sound of it would trigger pure panic in me…), but, if I’m honest, I’d get anxious even before that, so I have no excuse, really.
* This is the case even when it’s not my phone, and there’s absolutely no expectation of me having to answer it.
(Random aside: does anyone else always feel obliged to answer a ringing phone, even when it’s not theirs? Like, I remember once I was waiting in line to pay for something in a shop, and the phone behind the counter started ringing. The whole time I was standing there, I had to keep on reminding myself that it was NOT MY RESPONSIBILITY and that no one was expecting me to answer it. And still I felt guilty for ignoring it.)
(I get the same thing with crying babies, ever since I had Max. I hear a baby crying somewhere, and I just have this instant feeling of guilt, as if everyone around me is thinking, “FFS, why isn’t Amber doing something about this?!”)
(Yeah, it’s fun living in my head. Not.)
* When our landline rings (Yes, we have a landline: it’s purely for Terry’s business clients, stop rolling your eyes like that….), and I’m on my own, I will almost always just let it go straight to voicemail, because I know it’s not going to be for me anyway, and, on the few occasions when I have answered it, the person on the other end has been so astonished to discover that there’s someone other than Terry living in the house that it always ends up being super-awkward.
* We’ve had this landline number for seven years now, but I have absolutely no idea what it is: I mean, why would I, though?
* There’s almost nothing I wouldn’t do to avoid having to make or take a phone call. If I need to make a doctor’s appointment, for instance, I always have to fight the impulse to just walk the 2+ miles to the surgery and ask in person, rather than phone them. Like, that seems like an easier option to me, really?
(I should probably add here that I’ve never actually done this. I’ve just THOUGHT about it…)
* On the rare occasions when I absolutely HAVE to make a phone call, I will have to psyche myself up for it like I’m preparing to go on stage or something. (And, after I’m done, I feel like someone should be waiting in the wings to hand me flowers for my performance…)
* A large part of my working life right now is spent making up excuses to explain why I can’t “jump on a call” with people. Because it’s apparently not acceptable to just say, “No, I don’t want to, and you can’t make me!” to someone who’s offering to give you money, but only if you agree to have a “quick chat” with them about all of the things you’ve already discussed via the far more civilised medium of email.
This is actually starting to become a little bit of An Issue for me, because I’ve found that, ever since the pandemic kicked off, people have become much more likely to want to “jump on a call” with me for some reason, so what would previously have been a quick email interchange becomes something I have to dread for hours, and which then takes up far more time than it really needs to. #TINYVIOLINSPLEASE
Of course, you don’t have to be a psychiatrist to work out why some people have phone anxiety, do you? In my case, I hate talking on the phone because, as someone who’s always communicated far better in writing, phone-calls leave me feeling at a huge disadvantage – almost as if I’m being put on the spot, and not given the appropriate amount of time to consider my responses and make sure they’re the right ones. The knowledge that this feeling of pressure is almost certainly all in my head doesn’t really help either: I’m the kind of person who will always try to fill an awkward silence (And who will inevitably find every silence “awkward…”), and who will often do it by blurting out the first thing that comes into her head. Which makes phone calls all kinds of angsty for me, really.
Also, because I find phone calls so awkward, I find that I’m concentrating so hard on sounding normal on them that I totally fail to concentrate on what the person’s actually saying to me, which means I get off the call, start mentally congratulating myself on having done it… then realise I’m now going to have to email the person anyway, because I’ve forgotten everything that was said. GAH.
Because I can sense that I’m making myself sound even crazier than I actually am here, I’m just going to quickly add that I can and do use the phone successfully when I really need to, so it’s not like I’m completely incapacitated by fear, or anything like that. I deal with it: I… just don’t want to HAVE to, really, and I know from conversions with friends (Even ones who wouldn’t generally describe themselves as anxious…) that I’m not the only one who feels that way. So, what do we DO about it?
Well, a quick Google tells me that the main treatment for phone anxiety is good ol’ exposure: in other words, you just repeatedly force yourself to make those calls you’ve been putting off, and eventually it gets easier. It’s a good theory, and I’m sure it works for some (Or maybe even most…) people, but here’s the thing…
I used to work in a call centre. Yes, even though I had phone anxiety.
Because that’s the IDEAL choice of job for someone like me, right?
Here’s the OTHER thing, though:
I was absolutely FINE with answering the phone all day at work. In fact, I even used to train other people how to do it: that’s how little it bothered me.
How did this come to pass? Honestly, I have NO freaking idea. All I know is that I’d answer phone calls all day at work, then come home and have to call up to make an appointment with the optician, say, and find myself thinking, “What if I just went blind instead, though?”
So, yes, exposure certainly worked in the sense that it allowed me to answer phones while I was at work (And bear in mind that I worked on what was effectively a complaints line, so every call I got was from someone who who absolutely FURIOUS, and ready to take it out on whoever was on the other end of that phone…), but I suspect the effects of that were only temporary, because by the time I moved onto my next job, I was back to my phone phobic ways, and have remained like that ever since.
I could get therapy for it, obviously: that’s what a sensible person would probably do, but if there’s one thing I’m not, it’s a sensible person, so I just keep bumbling along, thanking my lucky stars that I’m living in an era of text messaging and emails, and hoping to God that this whole, “Jump on a call,” thing comes to a natural end sooner or later, and everyone just accepts that email is SO MUCH EASIER. Because it just IS, isn’t it?
(Oddly enough, though, much as I hate phone calls, I’ve actually been really enjoying the video calls we’ve been having with friends during the pandemic. I don’t know, I guess the fact that I can actually SEE them makes it feel more like a normal conversation, so totally non-scary? Or something?)
Anyone else out there suffer from phone anxiety? How do you deal with it?