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What Do You Do When You Are Afraid of Making Phone Calls?

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Updated May 16, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Close up of businessman using mobile phone
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Many people may not like talking on the phone, or may even have a 'phone fear.' But a fear of talking on the phone may actually be considered a phone phobia when your hesitance to make and receive calls causes you to experience symptoms such as severe anxiety, shortness of breath, or a racing heart.

Phone Fear and Social Anxiety Disorder

Those who do not have social anxiety disorder may be afraid to use the phone; they may be more comfortable in direct social interactions, perhaps due to the fact that face-to-face settings allow them to be able to read non-verbal cues, like facial expressions. However, those with social anxiety disorder obviously suffer from the opposite. If you are dealing with this condition, a phone fear may reflect issues you are contending with regarding interaction with others at large.

 

Treatment Options

Treatment for phone phobia can include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques, such as cognitive restructuring and exposure training. In addition, there are many self-help strategies that you can use to cope with anxiety about using the phone.

Cognitive restructuring involves challenging beliefs and replacing negative thoughts with more constructive alternatives. For example, if you constantly worry that you will bother the other person when making a phone call, cognitive restructuring might have you consider the evidence that this is actually true.

Why would the person answer the phone if he was too busy? Why would he have asked you to call if he didn't want to talk to you? Eventually, you would reach the conclusion that it is unlikely you are bothering the other person or that he doesn't want to speak with you.

Exposure training involves the gradual practice of progressively more difficult behaviors. In the case of telephone phobia, a hierarchy of fears might look something like the one below (listed from easiest to most difficult). Each behavior is practiced until you are comfortable and can move on to the next most difficult one.

Telephone Fear Hierarchy

  1. Call a number that you know will only have a recorded message, like a customer service line.
  2. Call a family member or friend that you know well.
  3. Call a business and ask a straightforward question, such as when they close.
  4. Call someone that you don't know well with a simple question.
  5. Call someone that you don't know well about a complicated issue.
  6. Make each of the previous types of calls in front of one person.
  7. Make each of the previous types of calls in front of a group of people.

Your hierarchy might be different depending on whether you find friends or strangers more difficult to talk to, and whether it is more difficult for you to talk on the phone in front of someone else.

It may be difficult to create a hierarchy to deal with the fear of answering calls. If you typically avoid answering the phone, one strategy would be to use a caller ID unit to identify who is calling. You could then start by answering calls from people that you are most comfortable with and letting other calls go to voice mail. Eventually, you would progress to answering more difficult calls.

Coping Strategies

Ideally you should practice cognitive-behavioral techniques under the supervision of a trained therapist. If meeting with a CBT counselor isn't possible, or if you have already participated in CBT and are looking for additional ways to cope, the following strategies may come in handy.

  • Put a smile on your face before making and receiving calls. This may sound silly, but many say it helps them relax and even contributes to conveying a sense of pleasantness to the person you're speaking with.
     
  • Reward yourself after making difficult calls by spending some time doing something that you enjoy.
     
  • Visualize yourself successfully making or receiving calls. Imagine a positive conversation and feeling good afterward.
     
  • If you are concerned about interrupting someone when you call, ask whether you are catching the person at a bad time. If the person is in the middle of something, this gives him the chance to offer to call you back.
     
  • If someone says "no" or turns down a request, realize that it could be for many reasons that have nothing to do with you. Try not to read too much into the actions of someone else.
     
  • Do a bit of preparation before making a call, but don't go overboard. Know generally what you are going to say, but try to anticipate that the conversation may not go exactly as you have planned. If there are important points that you need to bring up, make sure to write those down and keep them handy.
     
  • Realize that you don't always have to answer the phone. If someone is calling you at a bad time, or if you are too anxious to talk, it is acceptable to let calls go to voice mail from time to time.
     
  • Know that the phone may not always be the best method of communication. If you need to have a record of your conversation or if you want to give the other person time to reflect before responding, email may be the better choice. However, if the issue you need to discuss is complex, emotional, or involves a lot of back-and-forth, calling or meeting face-to-face are best.

Sources:

Babbitt RL, Parrish JM. Phone phobia, phact or phantasy? An operant approach to a child's disruptive behavior induced by telephone usage. Journal of Behavioral Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry. 1991: 22(2); 123-129.

Suffering From Anxiety. Do you have telephonophobia?. Accessed November 21, 2009.

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