Phone anxiety is probably ruining my life

Not to brag, but I have nearly mastered the art of getting out of making phone calls.

Is the place I need to contact close enough to go to in person? I’m there. If it’s too far away, can I e-mail them and achieve similar results to calling? Perfect. Can my fiancé make the call without having to pass the phone over because they’ve specifically asked to speak to me? Even better. Making an appointment? Canceling a service? Complaining to customer service? There’s probably a way to do that on their website; otherwise, see above. And ordering food? It’s 2014. If a restaurant doesn’t offer online ordering, it probably isn’t worth it.

However, there are a significant few instances where making a call is absolutely necessary. If a place where I’ve applied for a job leaves me a message, for example, it’s only proper that I call them back. In fact, most of these instances involve mirroring the person’s preferred method of communication – it’s probably in all the etiquette books. (I’ll note that taking my phone off of silent mode every once in a while, so I don’t have to call them back, might alleviate some of my apprehension. But that’s another situation entirely.)

To put it simply, I’ve likely transcended phone-related anxiety at this point, and graduated to a problematic sort of indifference. I’m not too proud to admit that I’ve put off making phone calls for so long that I’ve probably waited too long and the content of the call-that-never-was is left up in the air forever. My thought process in those situations was along the lines of, “Well, I’m going to be too scared to make this call, and I can’t imagine myself doing it, so I guess it’s not going to happen.”

See? No anxiety, as long as you cast aside the very idea of making the phone call post-haste. (I do not suggest you do this, ever.)

Clearly, I have a problem that pretty negatively affects my life. And having studied psychology in college, I learned more times than I can count that there are many methods of therapy that can address the problem, from the idea of the anxiety itself to my casually ignoring the anxiety and hoping that will make the problem go away.

In lieu of therapy (and the inevitable phone call – or phone calls, if the first therapist I call isn’t accepting new patients – required to initiate it), here are a few things I’ve learned about my own phone habits, out here in the open for you (or, more importantly, me) to analyze:

  1. It’s not like I never make phone calls. A couple of weeks ago, I ordered food from Domino’s online to pick up. After submitting my order, I realized that I’d told them I was going to pick it up right away, instead of in 45 minutes when I was actually nearby. Therefore, I had to make a phone call to the store in order to change the pickup time, because I decided that I’d rather get it over with than (a) pick up cold food, or (b) ignore the fact that I’d ordered completely and be out $10. And guess what? The call was short and painless.
  2. The underlying problem is more that I’m not the biggest fan of talking to people. The only people I can talk to on the phone without being relatively terrified are my fiancé, parents, and sister. Other friends and family? I will if I have to, but I’m more happy when it’s over. This isn’t even a dig at the people themselves, I would just really love talking to them in person more than calling them. (And strangers? Much more comfortable talking to them in person – see #4).
  3. I also trust phones quite a bit less than other forms of communication. Sure, it’s just like talking to someone in person, minus their physical presence. Except it’s not. I have good hearing, but it’s much easier to hear someone the first time in person than on the phone. And when their words are right in front of you for you to read in an e-mail or text message, barring a typo, you get to see exactly what they’re saying without having to ask them to repeat themselves. Sure, meeting up with a person or having a much slower conversation online or via text message sometimes isn’t ideal, but at least you won’t be interrupted by static – or, perish the thought, a dropped call – that makes it more difficult to carry on a conversation.
  4. If given the choice, I would even prefer seeing someone in person to video chatting with them. This shows me that it’s not the face-to-face aspect that makes me slightly more comfortable talking to someone in person, but the fact that they are right in front of me, so I can try to read body language and have a better sense that the person is giving me their full attention. And when I say “giving me their full attention,” I don’t mean that I necessarily want to be the center of attention, but being able to tell whether a person is multitasking or has something else on their mind helps me act appropriately in our conversation. The overwhelming example I can think of is job interviews – having one in person, as opposed to over video chat or the phone, makes it much more personal and helps me show more of myself to a prospective employer.

When I experienced phone anxiety as a kid, I always figured being forced into the situation as an adult would help me become more comfortable. Clearly, I’ve taken every available opportunity to put this off, and I recognize that I need to not do that in order to become the person that young-me envisioned. But I feel like writing about this has helped – even a small amount – to the point where I’m at least objectively driven to change things.

In other words, it’s probably about time I make a sizable dent in my 5,000 rollover minutes. Because having nary a financial excuse to avoid making phone calls, and yet avoiding them at all costs*, is pretty obscene.

* If you get one positive thing out of this post, let it be this horrific pun.

This post was inspired by my friend Andrea’s entry on this topic. Her article actually contains useful information about how to address phone anxiety and start to conquer it.

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