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The Stages of Phone Anxiety

There’s no escaping phone calls

phone anxiety

That feeling of intense dread and panic associated with making phone calls? It’s real. That’s why our inner introverts are celebrating the rise of doing everything online (and the slow death of phone calls). But there’s still no escaping them completely.

You still have to schedule your dog’s exam or talk to an older family member. And that's when the familiar stages of phone anxiety can come out to overwhelm and paralyze you. We’ll take you through the stages, showing you exactly what one phone call can do:

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Stage 1

Stage 1: The fear begins

This is the moment the fear begins creeping in, your chest tightens and your fight-or-flight instinct kicks in.

Maybe your mother is handing the phone to you, asking you to say something to your grandma. Or your dentist will only schedule appointments by phone. You’re not sure how much longer you can stare down that call screen…

This is the moment you realize you’re going to have to talk on the phone.

Stage 2

Stage 2: Looking for a way out

Fear and panic are taking over, but there’s still some hope. Maybe you don’t have to make the phone call! There must be some way to avoid it, right? You do your research to try to find a way around it.

You Google businesses, check on Yelp, even check Facebook. Maybe you can order online for delivery, or email your dentist and the receptionist will understand. Maybe your roommate can make the call for you while you give them the thumbs up from afar.

But, if for some reason, you can’t avoid making the call — it’s time to soldier on to stage 3.

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Stage 3

Stage 3: Maybe it’s not that bad…

You try to calm yourself down. You tell yourself it isn’t that bad. You even feel a little silly for being this afraid of talking on the phone. You start trying to pump yourself up. You’re smart, you’re capable, and this isn’t a big deal! And yet — your heart’s still beating rapidly… the phone call is still unmade.

Some people might call this irrational, but it’s still very much a fear — knowing that there’s no reason to be afraid doesn’t automatically mean you won’t be afraid, and that’s okay.

Stage 4

Stage 4: Practice what you’ll say over and over

At this point, you know the call is unavoidable, and you’re still anxious. The best way to quell this anxiety (even a little bit) is to write yourself a script.

If you’re ordering food, you meticulously write down what you want. If you’re making an appointment, you make sure you write down every day you’re available, from what time to what time, in an effort to avoid any awkward silences and uuhhhhhmmmms.

You know that once the call happens your brain will go a little blank, so you want to be as prepared as possible. You make little notes to yourself:

  • talk slowly
  • take a breath
  • smile while you talk so your voice sounds friendlier

You make sure you have a little water so your voice doesn’t get dry and weird. You run through the script one last time and go to a private place if you haven’t already.

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Stage 5

Stage 5: Taking the plunge

This is the call.

You dial the number. You count each ring, and as time passes you hope that maybe no one will answer, but, of course, someone does. It’s their job to.

You say hello, feeling your heart tightening in your chest, and a little part of you might go numb for self-preservation. You read through your script, cringing at inevitable lulls and imperfections, like when they can’t hear you well or misunderstand your order.

Your voice might shake, and your hands might tremble, but you get through it.

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Stage 6

Stage 6: Wait for the silent tone… and sweet relief

Finally, it’s over! Thank goodness.

You make sure to plug the appointment into your calendar, or put an alarm on your phone for when the delivery will be nearby. That experience, to be honest, kind of sucked. But you did okay and now it’s over.

It’s also possible that you might be on the receiving end of a call, which is almost worse because you haven’t had time to prepare. The moment the phone rings, you feel the rush of anxiety and dread, and even a little anger for being caught off-guard like this. Most of the time you’ll just ignore it, but if it’s an important call that you have to answer, you’ll quickly try to compose yourself, scrambling for a pen and paper. But just like making a call, you’ll do okay and it’ll soon be over.

Phone anxiety is no joke. It can be an overwhelming component of social anxiety, and it’s unfortunately still unavoidable today, even with the increasing online options.

If you experience phone anxiety, know that you aren’t alone and that after each call, you’ve survived. Holding onto that can make the next call a little less scary.


Ellie Guzman

Ellie Guzman is a writer living in Los Angeles. She studied human biology at USC and has worked in cancer research, cleft lip and palate research, and emergency medicine as a medical scribe. She transitioned to a career in the entertainment industry but is still passionate about nutrition, mindfulness, and health education. You can visit her at her blog here. 

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