How to Overcome Your Fear of Talking on the Phone

Panicking when the phone rings, and experiencing paralyzing anxiety when you need to make or answer a call. If you identify with these feelings, we explain how to overcome this common phobia.
How to Overcome Your Fear of Talking on the Phone

Last update: 05 June, 2022

There’s no exact data on the incidence of telephobia (irrational fear of communicating by phone), but it seems many people suffer from it. Indeed, anguish when hearing the sound of the cellphone, and feelings of panic at having to pick it up and starting a conversation define this really widespread type of anxiety.

We shouldn’t imagine that telephobia is unique to the 21st century. In fact, Robert Graves, the renowned British writer, poet, and scholar, experienced deep fear at the thought of having to answer or make a phone call. He expressed these feelings in 1929.

Nowadays, we have multiple technologies that allow us to communicate without having to speak directly to someone. This has made it easier for telephobia to develop further and also to camouflage itself. That’s because many can manage their day-to-day life by sending emails and not having to show their fear or anguish. Nevertheless, at some point, it’ll happen. It doesn’t matter if the cellphone is on silent, sooner or later an incoming call will appear on the screen or they’ll have to call someone.

Is there any mechanism or strategy to address this type of phobia? Let’s take a look.

Sad man looking at mobile thinking how to overcome fear of talking on the phone
The fear of talking on the phone is extremely common in people who suffer from social anxiety.

The fear of talking on the phone

In 2019, a survey was conducted with a large sample of UK workers. They found that 76 percent of millennials and 40 percent of baby boomers suffer from telephobia. The same happens with Generation Z, the population sector that, for the most part, clearly prefers to communicate through other types of channels rather than by phone.

It isn’t hard to imagine what this type of anxiety implies on a personal and professional level. In fact, many people lose job opportunities due to the anguish generated by having to pick up the phone. Indeed, although it’s true that WhatsApp messages, emails, and voice messages dominate a good part of our communication, receiving and having to make calls is also part of our daily lives.

If you identify as having this type of problem, you need to know two things. Firstly, you’re facing a type of phobia and, therefore, an anxiety disorder. It’s a really widespread type of fear. You’re not the only one nor are you some kind of weirdo. Secondly, you can overcome it.

The symptoms of telephobia

Your continued use of resources that replace direct communication can sometimes mask your telephobia. In addition, you may not give it the importance it deserves as you can always silence your phone and let your calls go to voicemail. However, this isn’t the right thing to do. You need to become aware of whether or not you’re suffering from this disorder.

These are the symptoms:

  • Panicking and freezing when ringing or seeing an incoming call.
  • Giving excuses to avoid people calling you or for you having to call them.
  • Letting calls ring until they cut off so you don’t have to pick them up.
  • Feeling high levels of stress when you have to make a call.
  • Not feeling competent while speaking during a phone conversation.
  • Babbling or speaking in short, hesitant sentences during conversations on the phone.
  • Mentally going over your conversation after the call and feeling bad about yourself.
  • Experiencing palpitations and even dizziness when your phone rings.
  • Being unable to think about anything else when you know that you’re going to receive a call.

What causes the most anguish for those who are afraid to talk on the phone is the interaction with the person on the other end of the line. Indeed, not feeling competent and not having control of the situation is highly stressful for them.

The causes of telephobia

If you want to overcome your fear of talking on the phone, you need to know what’s behind it. As a matter of fact, telephobia is almost always explained by a social anxiety disorder. The University of Plymouth (UK) conducted research that claims people with this type of psychological trait always prefer messages to calls.

Nevertheless, if you have this phobia, you’re not afraid of the phone, you’re afraid of the interaction. You’re terrified of not being competent, of saying the wrong thing, of not knowing what to answer when you’re asked something, and, above all, of being judged.

Phone for psychological teleconsultation to overcome the fear of talking on the phone
People who suffer from telephobia fear appearing silly or incompetent during interactions over the phone.

Tips to overcome your fear of talking on the phone

The most appropriate approach to overcome your fear of talking on the phone is cognitive behavioral therapy. More specifically, the most effective strategies are cognitive restructuring and progressive exposure. Let’s take a look.

Make a hierarchy of your fears

The first step in managing this phobia is to clarify those situations that generate the most fear in you. Start with the most intense and list them in decreasing order. For example:

  • Fear of someone calling you with whom you have to talk about something important.
  • Having to call someone you don’t know to talk about something serious.
  • Waiting for a relevant call and not knowing when it’ll be.
  • Feeling anxious when you see your cellphone ring.
  • Calling somewhere to ask a simple question. For example, opening hours.
  • Talking on the phone with a friend or family member.
  • Making a call and knowing that a machine will answer you.

Face the least distressing situations first and move on to the most paralyzing ones.

The idea is to work through the less stressful situations until you reach the most paralyzing ones. To do this, you can follow these strategies:

  • Practice phone conversations in private and with yourself. Role-playing exercises will allow you to practice how to answer calls for job offers or any other situation that paralyzes you.
  • Get into the habit of talking on the phone with people you know and trust.
  • Make simple calls. For example, ordering take-out food or asking for business hours.
  • Ask a friend to call you unannounced at any time of the day and with their number hidden.
  • Reward yourself every time you manage to pick up the phone and answer it.
  • Visualize yourself on the phone with a company. Imagine doing well and feeling proud of yourself.
  • Practice deep breathing and relaxation exercises.
  • Prepare scripts and put them into practice. If you expect an important call, have the script to hand.
  • Have a ringtone that’s relaxing and positive for you.
  • When the phone rings, tell yourself that it’s going to be okay, that you’re competent, and you’re going to enjoy the conversation.

Final note

Sometimes, you can’t overcome this kind of fear alone. As a rule, behind it, lies social anxiety. In fact, if you find that this condition is completely limiting your life, and is even making it difficult for you to access the labor market, don’t hesitate in requesting expert help.

Finally, telephobia is a really widespread condition that can be overcome. The best idea is to consult a professional.

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  • Reid DJ, Reid FJ. Text or talk? Social anxiety, loneliness, and divergent preferences for cell phone use. Cyberpsychol Behav. 2007 Jun;10(3):424-35. doi: 10.1089/cpb.2006.9936. PMID: 17594267.