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10 Tips for Combatting Telephobia

Natterbox Team

Phone Fear (#53338622)

How often does your home phone ring? Do you even still have a landline? I do. However, until a few weeks ago, I honestly very rarely answered it! Mainly because it was either someone trying to sell me something or one of my in-laws trying to reach my husband. There was a time when the home phone was my lifeline. A way to connect with friends, arrange something, book an event, or just catch up with family – now it’s almost obsolete.

Mobile phones have since taken over. But looking back to early March, I rarely used my mobile for actually calling someone for a chat. Taking business calls out of the equation (not that there were many of those anyway), I didn’t use my mobile phone for what it was originally meant to be – a phone. I ignored calls from any number that I didn’t know and would text my friends and family to catch up, rather than keeping that personal, heartfelt conversation going.

This has of course changed somewhat in recent weeks. The exceptional circumstances we’re in mean that I have had to change my relationship with my phone somewhat. A quick phone or video call has had to replace going for a drink with friends or dinner with my family – but when things return to ‘normal’, to what extent will that still be the case? Will I continue to make these calls? Or will I just go back to my old ways of avoiding them where possible?

Technology is great in many ways, but at the same time I am sure it has made me somewhat introverted when it comes to real-life conversations. Perhaps that’s because technologies that enable communication without directly speaking to someone have in fact made it easier to mask the problem of telephobia, or phone fear.

Phone fear has become a real thing, recognised as an offshoot of social anxiety disorder, and it afflicts people across countries and generations. I’m really not surprised. Technology has taken us into the realms of science fiction, I can speak to people via my Apple Watch (if I have to) and text on demand. I used to be asked about my typing speed – now I wonder whether my texting speed is actually faster. Ofcom research entitled “Digital Dependency” from 2018 stated that the British public check their phone every 12 minutes (surely it’s more now). It’s such an addiction. But what about the people out there that suffer real anxiety when their phone rings or they have to make a call?

Many people in crisis will pick up the phone – if your boiler breaks down, you’re not going to wait for chatbot assistance, you want an immediate response. But those people may be taking their ability to do it so easily for granted. For some people, making that call can cause real, physical symptoms like severe anxiety, shortness of breath, or a racing heart. So what do we do?

A Natterbox survey, conducted in January 2020, found that a staggering one in five Brits suffer with phone fear all the time. That’s a lot! Phone fear is increasing in the UK with a third of us agreeing that we feel more phone fear than we used to.

So, from someone who is making a conscious effort to call people more, here are my personal top tips for combatting telephobia. There are a number of them out there, but this is what works for me:

  1. What Are You Afraid Of? Take the time to seriously consider what you need to get out of the conversation and what you’re worried about. Write down all the things that you feel are going to make the phone call so scary and then look at each one individually.
  2. Breathe – Sounds simple, however, making a call can cause hyperventilation, so getting your breathing under control before you make that call may help to put you more at ease. There’s no rush, so just take a few minutes to breathe slowly in and out to calm your breathing.
  3. Prepare – Before making the call, write out what you want to say. It’s often the opening line that gives us most anxiety. Am I bothering the person? Will they understand me or will I look stupid? Writing out some of what you want to say takes away some of the unknown or worry about stumbling over your words.
  4. Smile! Before making and receiving calls. This may sound silly, but it helps you to relax and conveys a sense of pleasantness to the person you’re speaking with.
  5. Visualise – See yourself getting a successful, fast outcome. Imagine a positive conversation and feeling good afterwards.
  6. Be Positive – If you are concerned about bothering the person on the end of the line, ask them, “is this a good time?” If it’s not, recognise that that doesn’t have anything to do with you, so don’t read too much into it. It gives the person the option to call you back when it’s a better time.
  7. Acceptance – It’s perfectly ok to not answer the phone! It’s not always a good time for you and it is perfectly acceptable to let a call go to voicemail. That way, you can prepare properly when you’re ready to call back.
  8. Practice – Set yourself goals to make a number of calls per day, even if it’s just one to begin with. Phone a friend or family member instead of texting, then go on to the calls that you find hardest.
  9. Personal Space – If you’re concerned about making calls in front of your colleagues, find somewhere else to practice. It can help to take all your notes and information to a room where you can get comfortable with making calls alone, before you do it in front of others.
  10. Reward Yourself – You did it! Reward yourself by doing something that you enjoy and recognise your achievement.

First step – order a pizza – by phone. Nice and simple and gets that muscle working again.

I look forward to speaking with you soon.

–Tracy Ryan, Chief Marketing Officer at Natterbox