I hate it when my phone starts ringing. Even if it’s a call from someone I know and love talking to, I just get really irritated when the phone starts ringing. Trust me; it doesn’t have to do with my ringtone! Given that I’m a professional who needs to deal with a lot of people in and outside the office, I receive lots of calls. But I hardly respond immediately. I wait and then call back later. Especially when it’s a call from an unknown number or an “unexpected” call from someone I know, I just get really fidgety. To be honest, I’ve rejected a call sending excuses like “I’m in a meeting,” Will call you back later” or “I am driving; call back later” because, even if I have to talk to them later, it then becomes an “expected” call and I do not get stressed anymore. Although this hasn’t affected my relations with people much, I’d like to get over with this unreasonable stress over a phone call. Can you suggest how? FYI, I have no issues with SMS.
You know Phoebe, when I read your question, I thought someone from my office sent this question to ‘Talk to Me,’ just to play a prank on me. I am so notorious for doing the same thing.
I think it is associated with some anxiety. First, I really don’t know what to say over the phone, maybe because it feels very distant and unreal for any meaningful conversation to happen. I do share your anxiety about the unknown. If I see a “missed” call; instead of calling back, I start imagining all possibly bad things that this call could be about. It works better when people just text me a question and I either answer via text or call back.
Because I don’t often pick up the phone or call back, and these days, people at work don’t call me until things are bad. Therefore, it has become a self-fulfilling vicious cycle.
Because I struggle with myself, I can perhaps just share what has been helping me. I think I have realized that I need to approach it from two ways— one is to find strategies to manage this phobia without letting it interrupt my life and work; the second is to find and gradually cure myself from whatever triggers this anxiety. One way I manage is, by letting everyone know what phone calls weird me out. I have asked people to text me and let me know in advance what they want to talk to me about. I also give people my husband’s number to reach to if I don’t pick up my phone. This way, my husband can give me a heads-up about an upcoming call. At work, I manage people by asking them to call my associate first so that all the calls are funneled into my associate, who then is the only person that would need to call me. So I reduce my stress and potential anxiety by reducing the number of people who need to call me. Over the years, I have also pushed myself a little by swearing that no matter what, I will always pick up my mom’s phone. This helps manage things in life and at work but this is probably not something that I can do forever.
For long term coping, what has helped me is taking different kind of relaxation and stress releasing therapy. The assumption is that phone phobia is not literally a phobia of the phone itself but is related to some other social phobia or anxiety. In such cases, cognitive behavioral therapy and psychotherapy can be very effective. I have tried other general relaxation techniques, massage, and meditation that has been slowing releasing my anxiety and slowly easing my social anxiety. You should try several techniques and find what you connect to you and works for you. I know that people have a lot of reservation about seeing psychotherapies but please do seek necessary support. It will take a little more than just advice to deal with our anxiety. It has the potential of severely impacting our life and career.
Swastika Shrestha is the co-founder and head of training and support at Teach for Nepal. She has several years of experience training and mentoring youth leaders. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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