How to deal with phone call anxiety (with signs and causes)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 22 March 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Some people find making or receiving phone calls a challenge. This can be difficult if speaking with colleagues or clients is a large part of your job. Being able to make and receive phone calls confidently and feeling relaxed when doing so can improve productivity and the way you feel at work. In this article, we discuss the symptoms of phone call anxiety, possible causes and ways to overcome it.

What is phone call anxiety?

Phone call anxiety is an internal emotional response when you pick up the phone receiver to make or receive a call. It's not quite the same as phone phobia, although they can present similar symptoms. Phone phobia is the fear of making or receiving phone calls, while phone anxiety is less a fear and more a reluctance. Many people prefer not to talk on the phone, but if you find that this nervousness is causing you to avoid making or answering calls, you may be experiencing phone call anxiety.

Business phone calls

Phone call anxiety at work can affect your productivity. It not only affects people who conduct their work primarily by phone, but it can also affect salespeople, help desk staff, secretaries, journalists, public relations officers, lawyers, consultants and others who make and receive phone calls as part of their job. It can also impact your ability to secure a job if your phone interview escalates into a panic attack.

Related: 14 tips to learn how to stop worrying about work

How to deal with phone call anxiety

It's easier to evade situations that cause anxiety than confront them, but the longer you put it off, the worse the anxiety may become. Rather than telling yourself to get over it, there are various practical steps you can take that may be useful to help you overcome your anxiety. Here are some steps you can take to learn how to deal with phone call anxiety:

1. Recognise anxiety triggers

Keep a diary of what you were doing when anxiety struck and the severity of the anxiety. This helps you identify whether you feel more anxious when your phone rings or when you're planning to make a call. It shows whether you feel anxious before picking up the phone, worrying about what you were going to say, or after the call ends, as to whether you made yourself clear or said the right thing. You may feel more anxious about an incoming call than an outgoing one, and your diary can identify which calls trigger your anxiety.

Related: Coping with burnout from work (with symptoms and causes)

2. Exercise

Relaxation or breathing exercises can be helpful in relieving anxiety. Even 10 minutes of exercise can reduce tension. It can also help you to focus on the present rather than what may or may not happen next.

3. See the bigger picture

Consider your situation from another perspective. Ask yourself what advice you'd give to a friend or colleague. Ask yourself if it really matters to the other person that you stumbled over a word or mispronounced it. This may help you to devise a plan to deal with your own anxiety.

4. Think logically

If you're worried that your call might disturb someone, reassure yourself that if they're too busy to talk, they probably won't answer the phone. And rather than fretting about what the other person thinks of you, remember that they can't see you, either. They can't see what you look like, what you're wearing, your body language or your gestures.

5. Structure a call

Prepare a structured call. If you're worried you may stumble over your words or forget what you were going to say, write a short script in advance. Read it aloud before making the call. When you're comfortable with it, make the call.

6. Make a call

Use exposure therapy: confront your fear. The more you perform an activity, the less intimidating it becomes. You could start with a call to an automated information centre, where you choose numbered options rather than speaking to a real person. Then try calling a local restaurant or dry cleaner and ask what time they close.

With practice, your growing confidence is likely to displace your anxiety. Make a to-do list of all the people you intend to speak to on the phone and make the first call. After the call, acknowledge your achievement and move on to the next.

7. Set goals

Start with small goals. One goal could be to stay on the phone for longer than two minutes. Another could be to answer the phone within three rings. Gradually extend those goals.

8. Seek professional help

If you feel you might benefit from therapy, there are several ways you can seek professional counselling. You can ask your GP or medical practitioner to refer you to a specialist. If you prefer, you can search for an appropriate counsellor or therapist privately.

Symptoms of phone call anxiety

You may notice that you tend to delay using the phone or avoid it altogether. But the main symptom of phone anxiety is a feeling of nervousness. This can range from mild disquiet to full-scale panic. You may also develop physical symptoms, such as sweating, shaking, breathlessness, dizziness, nausea, joint or muscle pain and even an increased heart rate.

Possible causes of phone call anxiety

We can sometimes link phone call anxiety to other issues, such as social anxiety or depression. Social anxiety is an overwhelming fear of social situations, while depression is a persistent feeling of sadness and hopelessness, often for no obvious reason. Here, we discuss a few of the causes of anxiety when it comes to using the phone.

Not knowing what to say

Communicating by text or email gives you time to think and choose your words. You can't always prepare a response ahead of a phone call because you don't know what the other person is going to say or what questions they might ask. This inability to pre-empt the other person's side of the conversation can induce anxiety.

Other people's opinions

Anxiety can stem from thinking about other people's opinions of you. Stop this thinking as soon as possible. If you're worried about disapproval or rejection, ask yourself whether it matters. The chances are that it doesn't.

Time constraints

Phone calls can take more time than a quick email. You may be in a hurry to impart some information and don't have time for a phone call that may develop into a lengthy conversation. You might also worry that the person you're calling may consider your call an intrusion into their busy day.

Related: How to manage feeling overwhelmed at work (with steps)

No undo button

Written communication gives you time to collect your thoughts, reconsider and edit what you've written before hitting the send button. With a phone call, while you can correct something you've said, you know you can't undo it.

No visual clues

A phone call is like conducting a blind conversation — you only hear a voice. You may also feel self-conscious about your own voice. This equates to actors refusing to watch themselves in movies. Unless it's a video call, you can't see gestures or body language, so you can only gauge the other person's manner by their voice. Pauses can also be uncomfortable; you can't see if someone or something has distracted the other person or if they're taking notes. Videophone calls let you see these signals, but if you're insecure about your appearance, they can exacerbate your anxiety.

Lack of privacy

In a face-to-face discussion, eavesdroppers hear both sides of the conversation, but open-plan offices aren't conducive to productive phone calls. Knowing that your colleagues can hear every word may influence what you say. And knowing they can't hear the other person's side of the conversation may inhibit your ability to conduct your conversation as you'd like to.

This in itself presents a challenge. You may consciously adjust your phone behaviour, carefully monitoring your tone and often modifying your words for the benefit of those who might overhear you. This may lead to more anxiety as you're placing all the focus on yourself rather than just saying what you want to say. This can also make it more difficult to concentrate on what the other person is saying.

Inexperience

With the increasing use of emails, texts and online chats, people are making fewer phone calls. Phone conversations require an understanding of the subtleties of phone etiquette. This includes knowing how to move on from a greeting to the essence of the call, when to pause, when it's acceptable to interrupt and how to end the conversation.

Related:

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  • How to reduce anxiety in the workplace (with steps)

  • How to calm down at work (and what causes work anxiety)

  • 13 things you can do to help stop anxiety at work

  • How to deal with anxiety at work: helpful tips and tricks


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