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Why are you calling my texting device?

I have massive phone anxiety.

I feel a bit silly saying that, since using a telephone seems like the simplest task possible. But thanks to my brain cranking my anxiety up to 11, a phone call can be pretty daunting. I’ve tried to encourage people in my life not to randomly call me, but most quickly go back to their own telephone habits and my phone is ringing soon enough. They think I’m just part of a younger generation who prefers texting and email, and a little phone call won’t hurt. Part of the problem is this particular anxiety makes me feel fairly pathetic due to how simple and universal the task is, so I’ve never wanted to explain precisely why I’d prefer texts or emails. But I’m trying to be more open about mental illness, including anxiety, so I want to explain exactly why I hate the phone so much.

What my anxiety boils down to is basically this: Social situations terrify me because I’m certain I’ll be rejected or mocked for saying something embarrassing or foolish. I’m overly concerned with how others judge me (thanks childhood bullies and overly demanding adults!). Phone calls are a particular source of anxiety for a couple of reasons:

  • I have a difficult time understanding what someone is saying from their voice alone (which is the same reason why I tend to hate podcasts). I think it’s partially not having the greatest hearing, and partially relying on some lip reading to fully understand people. Add the usual static and terrible reception of my cellphone, and I feel like an idiot. I feel like a burden asking people to constantly repeat themselves, and like a fool when I reply with a non sequitur because I thought someone said something totally different.
  • I prefer written communication because it gives me time to think about what I want to say, and to digest what others are saying. A phone call has the pressure of instantly responding to what you just heard. I can never fully understand and process what I’m hearing, and I’m never eloquent about what I’m saying. It makes me feel ignorant and like I’m bumbling through a conversation. The anxiety is even worse when I’m talking to someone who knows I’m a writer, because all I can do is wonder if they’re thinking “This person is actually a dumbass, maybe they’re a fraud.”
  • When the option of writing is taken away from me, I will try to imagine the conversation ahead of time, scripting out all the potential things that may be said. This is a neurotic waste of energy, since I can rarely predict what will actually be said and will just feel anxious anyway. The only reason I can order take out is because I mentally practice “I would like the carne asada tacos” a dozen times before dialing the number. Most conversations are not so simple. And even with the simple ones, an unexpected “flour or corn tortillas” is enough to fluster me for a moment, and then I’ll hang up stewing over how stupid I sounded stumbling over a simple question.
  • Most people prefer phone calls to discuss more detailed, difficult, or involved topics, but to me that is the very worst time to use the phone. Everything I said about preferring writing is multiplied here: I need time to process and think. I also find it extremely irritating to use for organizational stuff, since then you’re left with no written record of what everyone said and it’s easy for details to fall by the wayside. Board meetings with the SSA were especially stressful for me. A dozen or more voices speaking at the same time is like phone hell, as is the need to vote on stuff that you’ve only had a half hour of phone debate to think about. But the absolute worst situation is when someone wants to call me to aggressively discuss something we disagree about (I’m sure you can imagine how often that happens to this blogger). Putting a hostile situation over my baseline anxiety has literally given me panic attacks and will leave me feeling miserable all day as I wait for the angry call. I don’t feel like I can articulate my views well in a quick, verbal argument, which leaves me feeling totally unable to defend myself.
  • As an anxious introvert (no, that’s not redundant) I usually have to psyche myself up for any sort of social interaction. From going out to dinner with friends to giving a talk where I know I’ll be expected to mingle afterward, it takes mental preparation for me not to totally stress out or feel immediately drained. Getting an unexpected phone call is like someone saying “Drop whatever you’re doing – you must interact with me right now.” I don’t know what that person is about to talk about, and that lack of preparation makes me panic, not answer the phone, and then wait for a voice mail to see what they wanted to talk about. That voice mail has four main options:
    1. Specific message about what they wanted to talk about. Now that I’m prepared for the discussion I’m about to have and I can think ahead about some of the things I will probably say, I call back fairly quickly.
    2. Vague message saying to call them back. It may take me days or a week to psyche myself up enough to call back, or I may forget to do it before I gather the mental energy.
    3. Vague message saying they’ll call me back. I stare at my phone in terror every time they call and wish they would just leave a goddamn message.
    4. No message. I obsessively wonder why they called in the first place if it wasn’t worth leaving a message, and wonder what I have yet again missed out on because of my stupid irrational anxiety.
  • And that’s all talking about phone calls from people I actually know. Unknown number? Yeah, I’m never answering those.

Now, I do think there are times where a phone call is way more useful than a text or email. Emergencies are obvious exceptions. It’s also way more convenient to call someone when you’re trying to meet them or find them somewhere, but those situations don’t trigger my anxiety because I’m prepared for the brief calls in that context. Surprisingly, I’m slightly less anxious doing interviews, mainly because I know the topic beforehand and the questions are either known to me or highly predictable. At this point I have canned responses for most questions, so there’s no fear in thinking up something on the spot.

I wanted to write about this because I want people to better understand where I’m coming from. This anxiety does interfere with certain aspects of my life, and it’s extra frustrating when alternative tools (text, email) are super common but some people refuse to use them. Ironically, this anxiety is the reason why it took me so long to find a therapist. Most therapists require you to call them as the very first step, which felt like an unconquerable step. The only reason I was able to meet with my current therapist was because he allowed email inquiries. Phone anxiety was also one of the reasons I stepped down from the SSA board: they had a new requirement that all board members would have to call a certain number of donors, and I just couldn’t do it. The board meetings were hard enough. Calling strangers and asking them for money? Even thinking about it made me feel like puking.

I fear that I often come off as unreliable when I’m ignoring or putting off phone calls, but in reality I’m fearful or trying to psyche myself up. I’m worried that my friends think I’m avoidant or just don’t like them when the truth is it’s the phone call I’m scared of. I feel annoying constantly asking for the conversation to be switched to text or email. I wonder how weird people think I am when I reply with a text to a missed call. And then there’s a whole layer of meta-anxiety where I feel bad that I have this problem at all, even though I know I shouldn’t be ashamed of symptoms of mental illness and that I’m probably not the only one with this problem.

I hope writing this will encourage my friends to stop calling my texting device by helping them understand where I’m coming from. And I suspect this will resonate with some of my readers who also deal with anxiety. If you relate, I hope you’ll share your stories in the comments so people can better understand living with anxiety.

Comments

  1. says

    I just want to write a little me too. For many of the reasons you list it can be trying to psyche myself up to calling someone for days at a time. So much more comfortable and easier to email, text, or talk in person which is in someways silly as when i finally make a call it never seems worthy of all the stress I put into it.

  2. says

    While I don’t have anxiety about phone calls for the same reasons you do, I have anxiety about phone calls as well. On top of that I find them intrusive and bothersome from others.

    Fortunately or unfortunately in my business life I’ve ended up having to learn to cope with that anxiety. I wouldn’t ever say I’m over it (I still get palpitations dialing someone new), but years of having to do so have helped. One of my first days at an internship way back when I had to call the music sales department of every HMV in Canada and sell them on product. Still one of the more nerveshattering experiences I’ve had, though few people seem to understand.

  3. exterus says

    I can relate to this so much. It’s a huge hindrance when you have to deal with daily life, such as calling employers, authorities and things like that. I’ve had several setbacks in life because of this in combination with other issues. Having social anxiety combined with a phone anxiety has caused me to miss or stupidly (it feels like) avoid a lot of possibilities that would have made my life considerably better than what it is now.

  4. Dave, ex-Kwisatz Haderach says

    QFT, this whole article. I need to send this to everyone I know.

    As a result of being sort of guilted into a favour for a friend, someone will be calling me at some point in the next two weeks. I don’t know where they are calling from, which means I have to answer every unknown and blocked number call that comes in. I am mentally prepared for that conversation, but all of the others I may be forced to have while waiting for it are freaking me out.

  5. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    Yeah, that’s me as well. Calling somebody is a major anxiety trigger for me. Even if it’s somebody I know and want to talk to. Or my doctor(s). Or pizza delivery. Heck, even calling my own mom can be difficult.

  6. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    I also get anxiety about phone calls. My main reason is just fear of hearing something bad. That could be some bad news about someone I care about, or a call from work telling me that I forgot an important meeting or event or something, a call from family or friends about my own failure to call them back or respond to texts (which I put off for some of the reasons you outlined above.

    I am a procrastinator, somewhat disorganized, and very forgetful. I am aware of these problems and anxious about finding out about another instance where I made a mistake on account of them. So, when the phone rings, my first reaction is always “oh god, what have I forgotten to do?”; and my mind runs through the hundred things I am slightly anxious about.

    Often I don’t answer. Often I don’t listen to the voicemail because of the same reasons I don’t answer, and also because I usually have a backlog of scary other voicemails that could cause more anxiety. I never really thought of myself as an anxious person until the last year or so (I quit law school and was/am stressing about finding a new path in life)., but now that I really think about it, I do think I have some anxiety problems that I need to think about more.

  7. piegasm says

    I’m much the same way with talking on the phone….hell with dealing with people via any medium other than text. I am so not a social creature.

    What my anxiety boils down to is basically this: Social situations terrify me because I’m certain I’ll be rejected or mocked for saying something embarrassing or foolish.

    This is me in a nutshell. I wasn’t bullied but I’m an only child of extremely detached parents whose favorite phrase was “children should be seen and not heard.” I’m not so much worried about being mocked as rejected because I just don’t know where the line is that gets me rejected. Like rejected is my default state: my parents didn’t want me (or so I feel; that may or may not be true from their perspective, couldn’t tell you) for no reason at all so why would other people want me around? When other people seem to like me, I always have this nagging feeling that they’re really just being polite; that if I do or say the wrong thing I will have outlived my welcome. But I have no fucking clue what that wrong thing might be. I have zero frame of reference because, as I said, my own parents needed no reason at all. So I avoid interaction. I keep people at arm’s length because, if they get close enough to me, they’ll see I’m not worth their time (or so I fear).

    I’m also awful at reading social cues. Facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, insinuation: WHOOOOSH!! Insinuation bites me in the ass constantly. I don’t tend to pick it up from other people and I don’t do it myself. I tend to state things rather more baldly than most people do and it often gets read as snark. When they gasp I usually can recognize what caused the reaction but I never anticipate it.

    On the internet, on the other hand, there’s no pressure. Like you said, I can think about what I’m going to say. I can process things others have said in my own time. I can write and re-write my thoughts as many times as necessary until I’m satisfied with the result. I can re-read what I’m responding to as many times as necessary to satisfy myself that I get what someone is saying.

    Which leads to another issue I have: when I’m speaking out loud to someone, I’m often dissatisfied with how I’ve worded something and I can’t just leave it be. I keep talking trying to get it right, much to the exasperation of the person who has the misfortune of listening to me.

    So uh yeah…totally get you. A lifetime of failed social interaction has left me greatly preferring to deal with people in text.

  8. pvnrt says

    I relate completely as well. I despise talking on the phone for many of the same reasons, especially because my ears can’t pick up human voices very well at all (yet I can pick out the seven distinct guitar tracks in “Kashmir,” go figure). Any more, I view phone calls as essentially rude. Why should I have to drop everything I’m doing to concentrate completely on you while you blabber about shit I don’t care about? Send an email or text and leave me alone.

    Fortunately, few people other than my wife ever actually call me, so it’s not much of a problem. Even then, I want the conversation over as soon as possible, because I don’t really care for idle small talk.

  9. says

    Yes. Most of what you said. Above me @6 also resonates. Part of the reason I hate getting a phone call is because I automatically assume it’s an emergency because it is such a jarring disconnect from whatever was going on before the phone started screaming. I let almost everything go to voice mail then respond as the need arises. The exceptions being if I expect a call or if it’s from family and there’s a finite, non-zero chance it might actually be an emergency.

    Much worse for me is dialing. If it’s not a number that’s programmed into my address book I need to call I will be a hot mess. I always go over the number three times before committing to it just to make sure I have it right. I am terrified of dialing the wrong number, not understanding the mumbled greeting, and going on as if I’m talking to the right person. Working in a field where conference calls are just a part of life can make for some rough times.

  10. remyporter says

    This is why I’m a friendless drone. Nobody *ever* calls me. Or texts me, for that matter. I get spam calls, but if I don’t recognize the number, I don’t answer.

  11. says

    I laughed at some of these things because I see them in myself. At least one of these surprised me because I did not know anyone else had such issues (namely, having difficulty ordering food items from a menu).

    I’m mostly over telephone issues (honest self-assessment requires the qualifier “mostly”, at the very least). My perception is that my problem is more with the calling than the receiving calls but, in retrospect, some of this perception is shaped by the fact that during much of the time when I have had this issue most strongly I have been around other people who would have picked up a ringing telephone (in other words, the reason I have a history of being less stressed by incoming calls is that I have often ignored incoming calls). If I do have to make a telephone call to deal with a specific issue or if I have to leave a voice mail I will often write down what I wish to say (even if only on a document displayed on a monitor) so that I will be able to read it out and so that I will thus know that I will know what to say.

    Ordering from menus has also been an issue for me. This reduces mostly to the stress of choosing among many options such that many are likely to be equally acceptable. The greater part of the stress, though, comes from the stress of knowing that an expectation of such a decision being made reasonably quickly (on the part of dining companions as well as from the wait staff) exists and of not wishing to be a burden on others (again, dining companions & wait staff) by taking too long to make such a decision.

    As for people not leaving messages on your voice mail, I’m sorry Jen, but that was me* :-( . Though I am better now, I have issues leaving a message on voice mail. When voice mail picks up a call it kind of freaks me out. So me not leaving a message is most likely due to my irrational anxiety.

    * Meant as a humorous hypothetical, as I have never actually called Jen (the hypothetical part being only the bit about calling Jen rather than the bit about freaking out about voice mail).

  12. FiveString says

    Well, now I feel better that I’m not the only one with this problem. My own issues probably come from (or were exacerbated by) a few occasions, some as a kid/pre-teen and others more recent, where I managed to land directly in the middle of a massively embarrassing misunderstanding during a call. These still are vividly impressed on my memory and I cringe whenever I think about them.

    For me the biggest issue by far is initiating a phone call. I somehow manage in my professional life to make calls when necessary but otherwise I avoid the phone like the plague. Receiving a call isn’t as bad for me but, like you, I have poor hearing (tinnitus) and that, combined with my rather poor social skills make communication a problem. The latest nightmare is when my boss (with a thick Indian accent) calls me on my cell phone from his cell phone. Yow.

    I think the part that may be the saddest is that as long as we’ve been married, my spouse still seems to think that I just can’t be bothered to make calls and doesn’t really grok that it’s a legitimate source of anxiety for me. Even calling to make a doctor’s appointment requires a big psyche-up in advance. I’d probably take better care of my health if I could make appointments on-line!

  13. Kevin Schelley says

    I don’t have the general anxiety about phone calls, but I had a job that for a short time required me to make cold calls to people… It made me feel so anxious and horrible and all kinds of other bad things. I was much relieved when they decided I didn’t have to do that anymore.

  14. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    My diagnosis is an autism spectrum disorder rather than anxiety but I relate heavily to most of this. I’d add the wrinkle that, thanks to some combination presumably of male socialization, dysfunctional family dynamics, and childhood bullies, I tend to respond to anxiety in a way that outwardly codes as anger or frustration, if I don’t check myself carefully. That, and I’m easily distracted, and if I have anything I could in principle read or visually study in front of me I cannot focus on a phone conversation.

    I check my voicemail about every month and a half because 90% of it is worthless “Hi Alex, I’m trying to get ahold of you, please call me back, bye” messages which a “missed call” notification already conveys. Also, the usual source of them is guaranteed to call back, if it’s important, or especially if it isn’t. >.>

    Dear “must phone”rs: GTFU.

  15. Praedico says

    You are SO not alone.
    It took me years to get help for my anxiety cos calling the doctor was so uncomfortable; it eventually took a massively uncomfortable skin problem to get me to call for an appointment, where I brought up the anxiety/depression as well. I am utterly incapable of calling employers looking for a job, or even to volunteer for stuff.
    And telling people about it is stupidly embarassing. I’ve actually contemplated feigning deafness so I could ask for non-phone contact options without people thinking I’m weird. I can tell people I suffer from anxiety and depression at the drop of a hat, but I still feel ashamed of having trouble with a task people seem to think is easy and enjoyable

  16. Mister Grumbles says

    Jen, thanks for posting this.

    I am a big-time voice mail ignorer. My brain: “What if that message is important? I really should listen to it. Ooo, Civ V! That’ll make me forget that anyone even called…until later when the knot in my stomach reminds me.”

    My phone anxiety is partnered with my anxiety about answering the front door. The buzz of the doorbell sends me right into panic mode, and none of my windows are placed such that I have a good view of the person without them seeing that I’m home. I need some kind of text-based door screening device, or I suppose a camera would do the job.

  17. maudell says

    I have the same problem too. I succeeded in pretty much eliminating phone calls from my life (it’s down to about one call a month). However, I am also anxious about checking my voicemail. I could not do without call display to at least have some idea of what’s going on.

    My worst anxiety is with e-mail though. It happens differently, I can check my personal e-mail in general. If I skip a day or I am waiting for something important, I just can’t check. It hurts, in a ‘physical pain’ way. Once I succeed, I need to rest, as if I did something incredibly physically demanding. It’s weird and embarassing. My university e-mail is *always* daunting. I haven’t opened it for a couple months now. I know I miss a lot of important communication with profs (I sometimes get around this by giving them my personal e-mail). I look like a flake all the time, and it’s damaging to my studies. Somehow, telling people that you haven’t read the e-mail they sent 2 weeks ago because of anxiety sounds ridiculous.

    Thanks for writing about this. I suspect it happens to more people than we think. It’s good to remember that it happens to other awesome people like Jen.

  18. says

    Bookmarked, to pass on with my next abject, “so sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner.” With every bullet point, I am saying, “Yes! This!”

    Board meetings on the phone stressed me so badly that I eventually had to resign my position in an organization that I really love.

  19. says

    Piegasm wrote:

    Which leads to another issue I have: when I’m speaking out loud to someone, I’m often dissatisfied with how I’ve worded something and I can’t just leave it be. I keep talking trying to get it right, much to the exasperation of the person who has the misfortune of listening to me.

    Yup. I do this too.

    In my case my dissatisfaction with how I have worded something is generally related to a (sometimes correct but possibly exaggerated at times) perception that I may not have expressed myself clearly enough to accurately convey my intended meaning. Of course, I often have the same misgivings about my clarification of meaning and therefore find myself in need of clarifying my clarification. Such a process sometimes keeps iterating and can thus become tiresome for the unfortunate listener.

    This can carry over to the written medium.

  20. Musca Domestica - on your wall, pooping on your freeze peaches says

    Feeling your pain, even though receiving calls from friends is only stressful at the moment because of depression making me so uninterested in speaking with people, even though I love them, and want to want to interact with them. Unknown numbers are always ignored. Calling has always been really hard, except when I was working as a vet, because I had to do it all the time, and the calls didn’t really have anything to do with me (then again, the stress of the phone ringing got really bad because of the job – being on-call is a special kind of hell). Now it’s been a couple of months when I should’ve called about doctor’s and dentist’s appointments… My boyfriend isn’t happy about calling either, so I get to call the take-out orders (’cause he’s paying). We should do that more often, so I’d get more used to it, but at least it’s pretty easy: they expect people to call about orders and reservations, so all I have to say is my name and that I want to order take-out, tell what I want and say, thank you & bye. At the moment the only easy person to call is my mom (and BF, but we mostly text :) ).

  21. kyoungers says

    “I hope you’ll share your stories in the comments so people can better understand living with anxiety.”

    Well, I would, except you stole them all word-for-word. Seriously.

  22. 5Up Mushroom says

    YES! THIS EXACTLY! Unless it’s my wife or my dad, I will not EVER pick up the phone. Furthermore, I HATE listening to voicemail. Thankfully, on my personal phone, I have google voice to transcribe messages for me. At work, I simply avoid the phone on my desk and forever ignore the people that leave me messages.

    My wife and I have worked it out, for the most part, that she makes phone calls to order food, yell at the cable company, call a contractor, etc. I just don’t have it in me. Life is too short to spend my time freaked out over having to call someone on the phone, so I just don’t. Too bad for everyone else.

    The funny thing is that I am considered to be a super nice person and I’m totally into my work, but when it comes to the phone, I am an asshole. Send me a damned email or IM people… is it that hard to type?

  23. kelecable says

    I have the same problem to some extent, although I have no problem answering/calling/talking on the phone with my dad and sister. If it’s a number I don’t know, I will very rarely answer it. And I rarely call people, but if it’s a friend I can usually do it.

    What’s annoying is when there are services that I think could be handled online, but have stuck to the phone. The two biggest ones being getting a new bank PIN and canceling/changing cable subscriptions. Ugh. the last thing I want to do is call a cable company and deal with them when I should just be able to click/unclick what I do and don’t want.

  24. MrFancyPants says

    Oh, this is totally me to the 9’s. I hate Hate HATE the telephone for exactly the reasons that you outlined, Jen! I seriously never answer the phone, ever, and when I was in college and we roommates would order pizza delivery, I absolutely refused to be the one to call in the order. It’s awesome that so many other people have this same personality quirk.

  25. says

    I kinda feel the same way. Actually, I mostly feel the same way. Actually, I feel exactly the same way with that second one.
    Maybe that’s why I bought a wizard hat, so that I can already look ridiculous, so if I say anything stupid it is all part of my plaaan.
    Oh, wait, that doesn’t help on the phone, does it? Okay, new plan, say everything in a ridiculous accent!! … Because I sure can even speak my own voice well to begin with.
    I mean, anxious introversion is the one thing keeping me from being the oddtastic goofball that I am online but can’t seem to escape into the world of direct conversation. That oddtastic side of me can only get out through my fingertips.
    … And then somehow I got myself in a call center job. Um, whoops?? Remember the second one? “I can never fully understand and process what I’m hearing, and I’m never eloquent about what I’m saying”?? That’s been the story of my job training for the call center. I have to write down the person’s name just to remember that. And that gets into multitasking, on the phone, having to understand and process and USE the information. All while being eloquent because, hey, I’m supposed to be an expert or something.
    Oh yeah and the call center is for a health insurance providor. “Detailed, difficult, and involved”? How about a thousand different ways to end up in a compliance violation?
    Still, I somehow got through the training. Plus I have a script so it’s not ALL bad. I’ve got it! Just write out a phone script, and whenever the conversation goes off-script, you can just fake your own death!
    So, basically, the only way I’m able to do this is we did a hundred practices in the training, all of which I will forget when I start working in a few weeks, but that’s besides the point. Maybe actually practicing phone calls could help. Maybe actually that’s a ridiculous idea. But who knows??
    Aside from that, the Coalition of Phones Suck should be formed, wherein members swear off phones. Except in emergencies. Which will be the only phone calls members get because phones have been sworn off, which means everyone will respect that and not call unless it’s an emergency, right?? That’s how people think, right???
    So, still working on it. Doing better. And it helps that I want to be ridiculous, just ridiculous of my own volition. WE CAN DO IT! WE CAN CONQUER THE PHONE DEMON!
    Oh Gourd, I said a lot more than I probably should have. I’m… I’m gonna go look over this several times before commenting now.
    All right, did that. Now to sit here for several minutes pondering if I should submit a comment of this size- NO REGRETS *click*

  26. A Hermit says

    Thank you so much for this…I dread answering the phone, and making a call myself is an ordeal, for all the reasons you list.

  27. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Jen, this is so, so, so good and sensible. I have much of this, though not to the degree that you do.

    I wish people would consider that, even aside from specific anxieties personal to one’s self, that indiscriminate use of the phone is an annoyance and yes, a stressor, even to people who don’t have an anxiety problem. Those of us 35 and older grew up before texting or email. Since its widespread adoption in the early 20th century, the telephone was seen as a sort of “force of nature,” the inevitable and first choice for communication. Since it was the only practical means of instantaneous communication, we naturally saw it as part of the background and just accepted that the phone could ring at any time, and one answered it.

    But that’s not really how it is. In fact, the late Victorians were alarmed at the idea that one would be obliged to install a device in the home that could demand your immediate personal attention at any hour with no warning. They weren’t wrong about that! Just because we universally acquiesced to it for so long doesn’t make it a reasonable expectation in the private sphere.

    It took me until the advent of email and texting to understand that. At first I was a naysayer—“Oh no, I’m not texting. That’s just one more dumb thing.” Boy was that wrong. You quickly realize how many phone calls you never have to have because of texting. Annoying, trivial calls out of nowhere. Calls where you have to modulate your voice and be in “public talking mode” right in the middle of a quiet afternoon. It’s gotten so that my initial reaction to hearing my cell ring is one of extreme annoyance. It feels like an imposition. And when it’s something that could have come by email, that’s not timely, or could have been texted, it is an imposition. It’s the caller claiming the right to your immediate attention without regard to your schedule or preferences.

    So, yeah, it’s bad enough,. But for someone with phone anxiety it’s a fucking nightmare.

  28. Blattafrax says

    This is me too. I don’t have all the issues, but enough of a panic when I have to call someone to know exactly what you mean. So then why did my employer put me in a completely different building from the rest of my department? Why did I choose to live in a country where I can only communicate in basic sentences? I tell you, this really, really amplifies the anxiety. I make all my calls in one burst and try to plan the conversation ahead – writing down things I need to say helps too.

    I don’t even enjoy speaking with my girlfriend (or parents or anyone else I’m normally very comfortable with) on the phone. How is it possible to have any sort of communication with someone that you normally hear; smell; touch; watch move, their facial expressions, the way they hold themselves. It’s ordering a steak dinner but only getting the fries.

    Email and messaging – thank you, thank you thank you.

  29. says

    Probably the one good thing that happened under the George W. Bush administration was the creation of the Do Not Call Registry.

  30. rilian says

    I often call and don’t leave a message. Sometimes it’s because I just felt like talking and there’s nothing to say in a message, or sometimes it’s something I want to say when I can get an immediate reaction. Sometimes I do have something very specific to say or ask, but leaving messages is what’s scary to me. I mean, I’d rather do everything important in person, phone is second choice. Leaving a message is scary if I don’t really know what I’m talking about and I need to ask them a million questions and so it’d just make more sense to actually talk to them, because one answer could end up cancelling other questions I might have asked. E-mailing in those cases is just as stupid as leaving a phone message. Either I ask a million questions to cover all the possibilities, and they will probably just misunderstand anyway and not actually answer my questions, or I ask just the opening question, but they only check their e-mail once a day so it takes me 40 years to get my questions answered. Calling is better. Texting is ok if the person will actually sit there and have a texting conversation. If I have to wait a day between each response, it’s just the same problem as phone message and e-mail.

  31. Katie S says

    This is me exactly. Don’t ever leave me a voice mail because I can’t get myself to listen to them. Fortunately my sister is the only one that calls to talk, my parents don’t like to make phone calls either. My phobia comes from having no money and bill collectors calling. So now even though that isn’t a problem now, I still can’t get myself to answer the phone because it might be something bad. Making phone calls is not something I like either.

  32. says

    I hardly get any calls from anyone, maybe 1-2 calls a month from healthcare, that said, phones are so invasive and anxiety producing =(

    I hope someday to have someplace to live where I can get a cheap landline, put the phone in the basement with an voice message recorder thingy, like in the ‘old days’ and just turn the phone’s volume way down or something, and encourage people to use email. Phones are so invasive, I hate them, even if I almost never get called by anyone ever. Email is really nice though ^.^

  33. Anthony K says

    This is me exactly. Don’t ever leave me a voice mail because I can’t get myself to listen to them.

    Me too. Also, my cell deletes messages after one or two days, so this issue resolves itself*. But I have a coworker who is insistent on using the phone over email (even though she’s now working from home due to this summer’s floods in southern Alberta and her internet at home makes VOIP or whatever totally unreliable). Drives me batty. Fortunately, I’m even better at driving people batty, so I’ll send her an email telling her I’m not going to answer after I’ve let it ring three or four times. But we have fun, so it’s okay.

    Anyway, even though I’m not an introvert in the least, I wanted to add my two cents worth of complete agreement with this entire post.

    *I just discovered a month or three ago that my land phone has died. So I don’t know how many calls I’ve missed, but I’m pretty sure I haven’t heard it ring in something like a year.

  34. robyn slinger says

    Thank you for posting this Jen! Every word of it, all the feelings, everything is spot on.
    It’s also a big relief to see other people with phone anxiety (and a quality crowd, too!).

    As for why people call and won’t leave a message: that could be me. If I finally overcome my distress and pick up the phone (having carefully scripted “all” possible conversation outcomes, obviously), and then the other side doesn’t answer, I usually freak out and hang up before the ominous “leave a message and I’ll call you back” threat sentence is complete.

  35. says

    This is *exactly* how I feel about my phone as well. I’ve been looking for replacement flatmates for the past few weeks, and having my mobile phone number listed online has led to constant anxiety that a stranger will call me. At one point I explicitly asked in the ad that people do not call me, but still I got one phone call from someone who had seen the ad.

    Were it not for its use in emergencies, I’d love to simply be able to disable the calling feature of my phone. The biggest cost of having a smartphone for me isn’t the money, it’s having a device that I carry around with me that anyone can call at any moment.

  36. says

    I have the same thing. Pretty much the only one who doesn’t set it off is my mother; everybody else, especially an unknown number, and I go “Oh, now what?” and I have to really force myself to answer the phone.

    I swear, sometimes I wish I could just toss the damn thing, but then I’d have to deal with the possibility that people might show up at my front door to find out why I wasn’t answering. *shudder*

  37. Dave, ex-Kwisatz Haderach says

    Its surprisingly reassuring to see so many people say they feel the same way. I always kinda figured I was the odd one out for hating the phone. Turns out, I’m in good company.

  38. lokicleo says

    This is exactly how I feel about the phone! Especially the sound quality issues adding to anxiety, and the irritation of being required to drop whatever I’m focussing on to interact with the caller RIGHT NOW. (BTW, getting a newer/better phone helped a little due to better sound quality.)

    I totally sympathize with your trouble finding a therapist. At one point I lived with a painful, treatable medical problem for months rather than calling to make an appointment with a new Dr. Not good.

    One more thing to add to the list of reasons why phone calls should be avoided: If someone insists on talking rather than emailing, especially if I am the customer, I wonder what they are unwilling to commit to in writing. Highly suspicious behavior in my mind.

    My spouse is the same way, which is not ideal for getting things done, but really good for moral support. ;-)

  39. says

    The only thing that I hate more than talking on the phone is checking voice mail. I’ve been meaning to do, but this post has inspired me to change my voice mail message to something like, “Hi you’ve reached Sally. If you want to communicate me, send me a text or email me, in order of the likelihood of me getting the message. Do NOT leave a message.”

    Add the usual static and terrible reception of my cellphone

    Sadly, in the USA, we aren’t allowed to choose phones with high quality audio, because phone companies have been too busy beefing up their data services, since they make way more money off people using their phone to access the internet than they do from people talking.

  40. Malachite says

    I hate phones for the intrusion reason that Josh describes.
    No-one has the number of my Android device – not even me – I don’t even call it a phone; to me it is a miniature computer.
    In the settings the ring tone is set to never ring, and that takes care of the wrong numbers and spam.

  41. jillpoke says

    Yes, phone anxiety here too. I’ve always had it. As a shy kid in the pre-internet, pre-texting days, I was lonely a lot simply because I couldn’t call anyone, not even close friends. Thankfully, I had one friend who understood me and worked around my anxiety.

    I have gotten better about talking on the phone and can call to make appointments or do battle with the insurance companies. I had a job where I had to talk on the with clients on the phone and that was always stressful and miserable.

    And now that I have children, I panic at how I’m suppose to be their social connection to the world. I’m still a shy, anxious, introvert who doesn’t like to use the phone. Trying to set up playdates via text with someone seems awkward though. I have to get over this though, my oldest is entering school this year and he still hasn’t had any proper friends. I don’t know if that’s due to my phone anxiety, shyness, being an atheist in a small conservative town, or any myriad of reasons.

  42. Dana Hunter says

    Oh, yes, scripting phone calls. There are times when I’ve gone hungry because I haven’t had the energy to face speaking to someone and trying to make them understand what I want. So with you right there. As for answering the phone, unless I’m expecting people, forget it. And don’t leave a voicemail – checking that is sometimes an insurmountable obstacle, no matter how important the message may be. Text or nothing, folks. It’s infuriating that so many businesses refuse to correspond via email.

    Then there’s the mailbox. I haven’t checked it since June. I get into these fugs where checking the mailbox is absolutely beyond me – I’d rather face a rattlesnake. And it’s not like there’s anything terrible in there, it’s just basic stuff, not even bills most of the time because everything’s autopay. But it’s the last damned thing I want to do. That habit of going months between fetching mail infuriates my mailperson, but too bad.

    And responding to important stuff? Unless I’m on an upswing, I may never get back to you whether by text, email or semaphore. If it’s one answer to one question, or someone I don’t know well, it can be fine, but if I have to dedicate time and energy into doing something more because I care about the person and want to give them a proper response, it can be months before I reply. Just can’t face it. Yet I can function in other aspects of my life. Go figure.

    Wellbutrin has helped with all of that, but not enough. The first SSRI we attempted to supplement with did jack diddly. So it’s that long haul of tweaking meds until magic happens, or getting the hell out of my job, which is what triggers 90% of the depression and anxiety I have.

    I wonder if there’s good money in wrangling rattlesnakes for Pentecostal churches…

    Anyway. That’s my neurosis. Thank you, Jen, for being open about your anxiety – and I promise I’ll never ever call you unless it’s to ask where I can find you in a crowd.

  43. kaleberg says

    I don’t like making cold sales calls, though I’ll do it to get out the vote, but I’m either so old that telephones don’t bother me or just lucky never to have gotten horribly anxious about using them. I’ve had my share of kick in the gut phone calls, usually someone dying unexpectedly or bad job news or getting sued, but I figure that I’m going to find out sooner or later anyway; I might as well take the call. No one ever came back from the dead just because I didn’t answer the phone.

    Has phone anxiety become more common now that there are more alternatives? Or, could it have to do with the god awful quality of the audio on cell phones? We still have a land line, and we can always tell when the other party is on a cell phone, and when we call on a cell phone, it’s often a challenge understanding the other party. We have a friend who is losing his hearing, and, before he got a hearing aid, he was drifting out of conversations when we got together. Could a similar thing be happening with cell phones?

    I’m not making light of the problem. It’s one thing to dislike phone calls, but another thing not to be able to order take out or field a response to an advertisement. Has anyone tried cognitive therapy? I know it has helped friends of mine deal with a variety of problems by fighting bad mental habits. Often recognizing the pattern is the start of subverting it. I have a fear of heights and often catch myself rehearsing fear and panic as I approach certain parts of certain trails. Over the years I have developed ways of maintaining perspective and focus. I’ll never do technical climbing, but I’m not as pathetic as I used to be.

    P.S. An awful lot of the symptoms here seem to indicate depression. Definitely try to get help. Maybe more psychiatrists need to work with text, chat and email. It’s the connection that’s important.

  44. says

    This is an *****EXCELLENT***** post. Thank you so much for writing it! I don’t have exactly this kind of communication anxieity (I tend to be very comfortable speaking in most contexts, while having severe anxieity about writing (in a few specific contexts)), but the general descriptions of anxiety mechanisms and communication preferences really was familiar. Plus many of my friends and loved ones have pretty much exactly these issues, so it’s great to see them written up so well. THANK YOU AGAIN.

  45. says

    kaleberg, I can’t speak for anyone else here but at least for me the problem isn’t restricted to mobile phones and I don’t think it has anything to do with the sound quality. Even if it’s on a landline and I’ll have perfect clarity of sound, I’d still experience the same anxiety. Were it not for my understanding family and partner, I’d never be able to organise so many things that require a phone call, even though that call would be made from one landline to another.

  46. Ryan Moran says

    I have the exact same problem. I’ve done all the same things, avoiding using the phone like the plague and when I did have to use it carefully scripting out the whole conversation in my head. Which of course made things worse because if the person I was talking to went off script I would totally panic and thus never want to make a phone call again. This has caused all sorts of other problems for me over the years. It’s cost me a lot of money because I couldn’t call businesses to sort of any sort of disputes or overcharges, and it hurt my health a lot as I have a chronic illness and had incredible anxiety about making doctor’s appointments to deal with it.

    I finally saw a therapist for it last year. I should’ve done it years and years ago, but when you can’t make phone calls, it’s hard to exactly get a therapist. While I’m certainly not the best as it even now, it certainly did help a lot. Just learning things like how to challenge the automatic thoughts (I’m going to sound stupid! The person I’m calling will judge me) that caused anxiety helped. And then I would just spend hours on end sitting in my therapists office calling every retail store in the date to ask in things were in stock just to get practice and train my brain not to freak out so much. Not fun times but totally worth it.

  47. aveacuppa says

    Jen, thank you so much for posting this! For much of my life I have been terrified at the prospect of having to use the phone. I would script conversations, but when somebody said something that I had not anticipated, it was like they were speaking a foreign language, and try as I might, there was no way I was going to understand them.

    I started to use a pizza place (national chain) that took orders online so that I would have to talk on the phone. Their pizza wasn’t even good, but it was better than having to face the phone.

    The most nerve wracking phone call I made was after the person who I was interested in wrote to me to tell me that if I wanted to ask her out, she would say yes. She sent a good old fashioned snail mail letter, and it took a lot of courage for her to write that letter. My initial reaction was to write a letter back asking her out, but I realized how worried she must be, so I knew I had to call her. It was so difficult even though I knew she wanted to go out with me. I’m glad that I made the call, and she has thanked me for not making her wait, but it would have been my first choice to write to her. I should mention that we have now been married for years.

    Even with the positive result, the phone is something I can almost never use, and I will always email, write, or text if that is at all a possibility. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in this.

    Thank you again!

  48. F [is for failure to emerge] says

    …a phone call can be pretty daunting. I’ve tried to encourage people in my life not to randomly call me, but most quickly go back to their own telephone habits and my phone is ringing soon enough.

    Aaaaah!

    texts or emails

    Aaaaaahhh! <runs>

    (“That’s how I mostly react,” he said, whispering pseudonomously from a corner of the internet into a likely unnoticeable comment.)

  49. says

    Just wanted to say, my wife and I are scared of the phone too. We almost never initiate calls, and we never pick up either, preferring to wait for people to leave a message.

    When you spoke about calling donors… Ouch. Just the idea makes me sick too.

  50. Dunc says

    Yeah, phones are horrible. Unfortunately, I have a job that requires me to spend quite a lot of time in telephone conferences, usually with people for whom English is a second language. It’s quite challenging… I am getting better through practice, to the point where I can use the phone in a professional context without too much trouble, but I still find it very challenging for personal calls.

  51. Amarantha says

    I don’t have the rejection anxiety, but can relate to every one of your bullet points. Especially the hard-to-hear-and-be-heard part, due to auditory integration issues as a complication of autism.

    In the past I’ve taken well-meaning advice like “You should phone the course co-ordinator before applying, to ask some intelligent questions and make a good impression,” only to find out that said co-ordinator prefers email anyway due to teaching hours. So now I’m all “fuck the phone” and will only use it if unavoidable.

    I don’t understand why smartphones/tabletphones don’t offer any way to turn off the phone “app” so you can use data without having to worry about the possibility of getting a call. The only options are data+calls, calls only (data disabled) or offline completely (flight mode).

  52. Cunning Pam says

    Thank you, Jen and everyone else, for everything you’ve written here. For years I thought I was the only “weirdo” (said by people when talking about my phone issues) in the world who couldn’t stand to talk on the phone. It’s gotten so bad that I’ve gradually cut off just about all my relationships because the fewer people I know and am close to, the fewer people there are who will call me. That leaves me feeling sad and alone, but the alternative is to talk on the phone…ugh.

    I just can’t relate to the whole calling someone “just to talk”. “Hey, what are you up to?” sends my stomach into a fit of knotting itself. I put off making the simplest calls, which complicate my life and make it much more difficult than it should be, because phones.

    Off to link this article to everyone I’m still remotely on decent terms with, in the hopes they’ll understand at least a little bit more.

  53. says

    I remember seeing Stephen Fry talk about use of the word “Hello” and where it came from on the TV show he presents called QI (it came from needing something to say to announce that you had picked up the phone so the person calling would know you were listening). He made the point that I had never really noticed before that calling someone is effectively like walking into their room, banging on their desk and wailing “talk to me now… talk to me now… talk to me now…”. We have come to accept this as if it’s normal but it is actually spectacularly rude. I have found myself naturally inclined to text or email people in advance of a phone call or only using the phone to check that they did actually receive my email or to mention some off the record clarification. Preferred mode of contact is still email though. (And I just got interrupted by a phone call writing that last sentence).

    Also interesting to note, for any people managers out there that research in the US showed that it took the average worker 25 minutes to regain full focus on a task after being interrupted. Even if you only get a work phone call every half hour that’s very little work done in a day! I don’t have a linky but if anyone does have one (or can correct me) please reply.

  54. Ysanne says

    I’m fine with talking on the phone except… to voicemail. It will be a jumbled useless mess full of “um…” and I’ll forget the main pont. Sorry, there can be things that I can discuss coherently but not summarise. (That’s usually why I want to interactively talk about them.) But if it’s important, I’ll probably write a text follow-up where I can think before I write.

    I wonder how weird people think I am when I reply with a text to a missed call.

    Anecdotal evidence, i.e. me: “Oh, she can’t talk on the phone right now for some reason, how nice of her to take the time and answer nevertheless.”

  55. latsot says

    I have massive phone anxiety.

    I have a massive phone.

    I have a massive phone because I have no intention of actually speaking to anyone on it. I too prefer to think through my answers, not because I’m anxious about them, but because I know perfectly well that the minute I hang up I’ll think of a dozen good points, which I’ll then have to email anyway. Plus, I don’t tend to think in straight lines. Half way through discussing the next point, something will suddenly occur to me about the previous one and I’ll derail the conversation and ruin the other person’s train of thought.

    But I mostly resent talking on the phone because it’s not on my terms or timescale. When I was a kid and the phone rang, my parents would practically injure themselves in their race to answer it. I just see it as someone invading my time and space. If they want to talk to me, they can damn well do it when I’m ready. There’s a place for remote synchronous communication, of course, but for complicated things you’ll only get my best work if you leave a question for me and then leave me alone while I think about it.

    Of course, this means that nobody *does* want to talk to me. But I’m happy with that, win-win!

  56. Christoph Burschka says

    I used to have this, particularly when calling strangers. It’s a lot better now, but I still have to go through odd little rituals to work myself up to calling some organization or office or even tech support. Like writing down exactly what I need to say, taking a bathroom break fist, getting a glass of water, locking the door to avoid interruptions, etc.

  57. icehawk78 says

    Have you looked in to using Google Voice? You can give out your GV number, but set it to never actually *ring* your phone, while simultaneously giving you a notification when you have a new voicemail (with mediocre transcription, but at that point, it’s more like a voice text message), and also allowing you to access your texts from a computer.

    There may be other issues with doing this, but it seems like it might be helpful, at least on the “receiving” end.

  58. embertine says

    I’m with you on the phone-related anxiety. The only thing that has gotten me partially over it is that I have a job where I have to call people, and I have to answer my work phone when they call me. I just have to do it, there is no choice. And the more I do it, the easier it gets, although there will probably always be that moment of BRACE FOR IMPACT just before I press the green button.

  59. Robert B. says

    I often have to resist the urge to hurl my phone into the sea. The actual talking part isn’t so bad, but picking up? Worrying afterward about what I said? The horror of checking my voicemail? Augh. Presently I’m working on keeping in touch with people in other ways so that they don’t try to call me. And when I do need to talk on the phone, I plan out the conversation beforehand, especially if it’s remotely important.

  60. Ysidro says

    Wow this sounds familiar. My problem is mostly with making calls, especially cold calls. Fortunately I don’t receive many calls and getting calls from work only bothers me if it’s specific sorts of calls, just because they can be difficult to deal with over the phone.

    I’m glad to know I’m not the only one out there who has a phone phobia!

  61. A. Noyd says

    Yayyyy, anxious introverts who hate telephones, unite!

    I had to leave a job I otherwise found tolerable because after one of the receptionists quit, the boss kept assigning me a lot of her duties rather than hiring a replacement. Wasn’t what I’d signed up for and caused me way too much stress. My phone anxiety isn’t quite as bad as yours. Like, I was fine calling around to get records and x-rays delivered or asking the lab where the report for X patient was.* Contacting new clients or handling needy clients, though? Talking with referring vets (half of whom are trying to get a patient seen sooner than triage allows and some of whom your docs are buddies with and will actually cheat the triage list for, but you don’t know which those are)? Noooo!

    In daily life, I often write out a script for myself before calling someone. And if I get sent to voicemail, I have to hang up, debate whether it’s worth leaving a message, write out what I want to say to the machine, and then call back to leave the message. Or I psyche myself up to wing it and end up sounding like a fucking idiot. Always. Then there’s the times when I don’t want to leave a message so I keep calling back every hour or so to get a live person and they have caller ID so they think there’s some sort of emergency when they look at the list and see my number come up 5+ times. Oops. I also have anxiety about email, though, so I don’t want to encourage people to email me.

    Oh, and hearing issues, yeah. I watch TV shows and movies with captions on because, while I can hear things at a normal volume (ie. a hearing aid wouldn’t help), I have some sort of processing issue. It’s not quite so bad when I’m having a conversation and can ask for a repeat, but scripted stuff on the screen doesn’t allow for that. (Podcasts and audiobooks? Thank goodness for 10 sec rewind buttons.) Also, I can’t separate background noise from nearby noise very well.

    ……….
    *I think some of my comfort came from the borrowed authority you get as the representative of a veterinary specialist. Nobody wants to fuck with the sole specialist for half a state.

  62. says

    I have a similar discomfort, to a lesser degree. I prefer to communicate via email, because then each party can hold up their end of the conversation at their convenience, and you can give an receive more thought-out, informed responses. Phone calls seem like huge time-wasters – even people you don’t have any connection to will rarely get right to the point, there’s always a bunch of chitchat first.

    I don’t even have a cell phone, because if I did people would call it, and I’d either have to answer, or they’d leave a message – and I already have enough trouble keeping up with VM from my landline. Texting is even worse in a way because people expect you to respond to a text message right away.

  63. Sophia, Michelin-starred General of the First Mediterranean Iron Chef Batallion says

    Yes yes yes!

    I have exactly the problems you’ve described and they present in exactly the same way. I get the “startled deer in headlights” response when someone says something I haven’t meticulously scripted. I also have a lot of trouble starting a phone conversation, say when I have to ring a technician or office of some kind. I always feel so completely stupid because I’ll stumble over something as simple as my name or address because I’m so anxious.
    I also hate people calling just so they can talk at you about nothing. Then again, I hate that in any conversation. As an introvert I’m the kind that tries to use as few words as possible. Maximum word efficiency!

    I’ve always thought of phone calls as horribly rude anyway – there was a stand-up routine I saw once that said phones were basically the equivalent of someone appearing suddenly in your room shouting “OI! OI! LISTEN TO ME! SPEAK TO ME! I HAVE STUFF TO SAY! OI!”. I’ve always thought that as well. The noise of a phone sets off my anxiety even when it isn’t a real phone – like on TV or people’s alarm tones. I have my mobile tone set to the Mario theme so at least I can be startled by something pleasant and catchy that I don’t hate. Doesn’t work, the vibrating still sets me off since I’ve always got the damned thing on silent mode. Sigh.

    I don’t even have a landline anymore… well, I do technically but I disconnected the phone from it and use it only for internet. I had the phone connected for one day before receiving a spam call. I immediately unplugged it. I had enough of that crap, and since nobody I actually knew has the number – including me – there’s no point in having one at all. Email works! It’s easier to get a hold of me that way anyway. Blah.

  64. says

    I still have phone related anxieties, myself, but I also used to have really bad text/IM anxiety even worse. The problem for me was that, as little info as you get over the phone, you at least have vocal inflection to go on. I would end up writing a pamphlet to communicate anything via text (and this was before phone keyboards) in order to explain exactly the context of my statement, the emotions I was trying to convey, etc. Then I’d get a response: “Ok.” And I’d be like… “What does that even mean?” I got over it after a few years, thankfully.

  65. Knabb says

    I’m lucky enough to avoid phone anxiety for the most part (though phone-banking type stuff involving the cold-calling of strangers is well beyond what I’m comfortable with). That said, I still dislike talking over the phone – mostly because high frequencies just get lopped off in transit, which makes understanding what was said more difficult at the best of times, and near impossible if there is much ambient noise.

  66. says

    Jen, thank you for this post. I’m dealing with some anxiety issues myself, and it’s nice to hear another voice speaking of their struggles. I hope your new semester goes well for you, also.

  67. Trebuchet says

    Add me to the chorus of “that sounds like me”, with what I hope is an encouraging addition:

    It gets better. At least it did for me. After 40 years in the workplace, most of that anxiety is gone. When you have to use the phone to communicate with co-workers, vendors, and (worst of all) customers, you do eventually get accustomed to it and the anxiety subsides. (Again, at least for me.)

    The caveat, of course, is that most of that adjustment happened before the age of e-mail or text so the phone was the only alternative to snail-mail.

    I did develop a couple of phone habits that were possibly related to the anxiety, and which I find myself rather proud of. First, I didn’t make a call to someone sitting on the other side of the room, preferring to walk over and talk face to face. Second, if someone was at my desk talking to me, that took priority. Don’t interrupt a live human to answer a phone call.

  68. Shplane, Spess Alium says

    Jen, are you me?

    Ok, well, technically I have more of an issue with making calls that receiving them, but all the stuff about “I’m afraid I’ll say/do something embarrassing” and “I have trouble telling what people are saying” is me a billion percent. Of course, with me a lot of the fear of embarrassment is amplified by my brain’s inability to let any goddamn thing go. “Oh, hey, mispronounced someone’s name? Enjoy feeling like a worthless piece of shit when you remember it two years later!”

    Fuck brains.

  69. says

    this. all of it.
    And when I found out I’m not a unique weirdo, and that phone anxiety is apparently a thing, and a thing that’s turned out pretty common among my acquaintances? That was a mix of anger that no one ever suggested that was a thing one could be “legitimately” anxious about, and relief at finding out there are others.

    I’ve tried to encourage people in my life not to randomly call me

    I’ve solved this problem by not having a phone.

    Getting an unexpected phone call is like someone saying “Drop whatever you’re doing – you must interact with me right now.”

    this, for me, includes IM and chat functions. There are only 2-3 people who use those “right”, and understand that I’ll respond when I am up to it; with everyone else, it feels like that “hi” is an obligation to be social when I’m doing something else and don’t have the spoons for socializing much. :-/

    Vague message saying to call them back. It may take me days or a week to psyche myself up enough to call back, or I may forget to do it before I gather the mental energy.

    way back in the dark ages when i did have a phone, this resulted in me being anxious for days, and never calling back.

    4. No message. I obsessively wonder why they called in the first place if it wasn’t worth leaving a message, and wonder what I have yet again missed out on because of my stupid irrational anxiety.

    in case you’re wondering: a possible reason is that the person who called you also has phone anxiety.

    It’s also way more convenient to call someone when you’re trying to meet them or find them somewhere,

    my boyfriend, who also has phone anxiety, handles even those over text, at least when he’s meeting friends.

    This anxiety does interfere with certain aspects of my life, and it’s extra frustrating when alternative tools (text, email) are super common but some people refuse to use them. Ironically, this anxiety is the reason why it took me so long to find a therapist. Most therapists require you to call them as the very first step, which felt like an unconquerable step.

    QFT. I talked about this on the Lounge at Pharyngula back when… but when I was trying to do something about the overwhelming anxiety-and-depression attack I suffered last winter, I was having an extremely hard time making an appointment at counseling because they specifically say not to e-mail them. cuz confidentiality.

    And I’d add that being put on hold is pure torture, and the longer that takes the more discombobulated I end up beign once someone finally picks up the phone. I’ve hung up while holding a number of times, simply because I couldn’t handle the extended state of elevated anxiety anymore.

  70. says

    Ah, Jen… I liked you lots already, but now I like you even lotser ^.^

    I’ve had phone-phobia my entire adult life, which (if you start with the assumption that I did in fact become an adult at the usual time) would mean since approximately 1980, though I have a record of an incident as early as ~1970.

    Here, have a web site. (I also have telephobia.com, but apparently forgot to redirect it after the Great Hard Drive Crash of ’12… will get on that as soon as I finish supper.)

  71. says

    I purposely have a cheap, voice-only plan for my smart phone, because I don’t like to text. To me, it seems this odd, millenial thing that is better served either by email, skype messaging, or voice call.

    I guess I’m just retrograde.

  72. jakc says

    What was it Warren Zevon sang – I’m hiding from the mailman/and praying that the phone don’t ring

    You don ‘t need to have phone anxiety to prefer texts to phone calls. You don’t have an obligation to answer phone calls or return them. There is no need to ever set up your voice mail or check it.

    I’ll talk to people on the phone but I let them know if I don’t answer and they need to get a hold of me, they ought to text (or send an email).

    This idea that a person ought to be available by phone at all times is a rather modern idea. Life will on if you don’t always answer the phone, but more importantly, use the phone the way that you want to use it, not the way that other people want you to use it. It’s rude for people to expect anything else. Set the rules for using your texting device that make you feel less anxious. Just imagine you’re back in the 19th century when people had to send letters.

    Oddly enough, I do answer the phone for my almost deaf mother for what will normally be 5 or 10 minutes of an incomprehensible conversation but who rules are that she refuses to learn how to text or email. Sigh

  73. says

    Wow. Are you me? Seriously this is exactly how I am with phones and other voice communication. I’d rather trek across town to talk to someone face-to-face (where I can at least see their reactions) than call them on the phone. And now half my phone calls are in a second language I haven’t quite mastered, in a region where that language isn’t even spoken in the “standard” way. AGH. I’ve gotten a little better at it out of necessity, but it’s still a serious problem.

  74. wilsim says

    Wow. I haven’t checked back in days and now I see I have tons of comments to read up on. Thanks. I wanted to say that most of what Jen describes the way I feel almost exactly. Having it put into words so plainly, I no longer have to explain why I prefer texting to talking, or how come I do not answer most calls directly, I can just point them here, and request they ponder to themselves why.

  75. says

    I could have written this post exactly, if I weren’t a terrible writer. Medication has helped somewhat. It now only takes a few minutes to psyche myself up to make a phone call, instead of hours or days. Rehearsal is still a requirement beforehand though. I still don’t like receiving phone calls except from immediate family but I can deal with them more easily. Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, I don’t receive or make many calls. I don’t know if more exposure might help with the anxiety or make it worse. All I know for certain is anxiety disorders are terrible things.

  76. medivh says

    And I’d add that being put on hold is pure torture, and the longer that takes the more discombobulated I end up beign once someone finally picks up the phone. I’ve hung up while holding a number of times, simply because I couldn’t handle the extended state of elevated anxiety anymore.

    It’s not just me? Oh thank the non-existent gods. Does the actual sound of a phone dialling out and then ringing (and ringing and ringing…) get you too?

  77. wendy says

    i’m so anxious on the phone that i write MY number on a piece of paper, in case someone asks. Nothing looks cooler than having so much performance anxiety that you forget your own phone number.

  78. says

    I completely relate to everything written in this post, not necessarily because I have anxiety issues (if I do, they’re minor), but because I’ve always known I’m better at communicating through the written word rather than the spoken one.

    It’s actually quite reassuring to think that someone as intelligent and educated as Jen has these same issues, because for years I’ve thought that my inability to think on my feet in live conversation as well as others was a sign of my inferior intelligence rather than an aspect of my personality and introversion. I hate phone conversations as well, even more so than face to face interactions, and can rarely get my point across in the way I had intended. I’d say that after nearly every serious phone conversation, I spend the next half hour thinking about how much better I could have conveyed my thoughts.

  79. says

    It’s like looking in a mirror.

    I get the same cold-pit-of-terror feeling in my stomach when I’m told I have to make a phone call as I do when I’m told I’ve been laid off from my job.

    I don’t get that reaction when I know to be expecting calls, but it’s thoroughly distracting. I have a trainer on-site for three days this week after a software conversion, so I know I can be expecting her to call whenever she needs assistance. It’s been very difficult to focus on other work in between the calls, and it’s been taking me 15 – 30 minutes to recover my equilibrium after hanging up each time as I run the conversation around and around and around in my head.

    Which is why I’m commenting on a blog right now instead of working.

  80. =8)-DX says

    I only have anxiety problems about phoning someone, when it is work-related and I feel I’m behind schedule. Then I get psyched out. But otherwise among friends I love to enjoy a call, and always take other people’s calls (because I hate calling people who don’t take them).

    Anyhoot, this comic is for you Jen =), and I’m making a mental note (promise) to be sure to only use people’s preferred communication channels.

  81. says

    The audio quality of modern cell phones sucks ass and this makes them unacceptable for mission-critical use. Further, we all have these goddamned things for our convenience, not the other way around! Yes I can I will and I do screen my calls and if I don’t want to talk to that person, too bad. And one of the surest ways to not get a call back from me is to not leave a coherent message. If the call isn’t important enough for the caller to leave a message (even if I know and love them dearly) then it clearly isn’t important enough for me to call back.

    Long story short: We invent shit like this to make our lives better. DO NOT let the shit get the better of you. If it’s not making your life better, throw the damned thing away!

    Cheers,
    Sparks

  82. Tina Olsson says

    Oh, I can SO relate to all of this! I have a couple of close friends that I can talk to for hours on end over the phone without any trouble at all, but other than that even calling friends or family members is a pretty huge deal. And people I don’t even know… ugh. I _can_ call for pizza and such things nowadays, but I have to mentally prepare for it (sometimes for hours or even days) and write down exactly what I’m going to say so I won’t blank out, and often feel stressed out for hours afterwards. An annoying thing is when I ask if someone else could do a phonecall for me (or talk to salespeople in a store), and they just think I’m lazy. “It’s not such a big deal, is it?” No, not to you, that’s why I thought you could do it so that I could spend this huge amount of energy on something more constructive.

    Hooray for text-based communication!
    Cheers from a fellow anxious introvert

  83. Markita Lynda—threadrupt says

    One can order pizza, perhaps even other foods, online these days.

    Perhaps you can record an out-going message that says, “Please leave a detailed message so that we can move this conversation forward and leave your cell phone number so that I can contact you.”

    Then text them, with luck, about whatever they actually want, but if not to ask for details.

  84. Rob Seaver says

    I wish I had seen this a year or so, and I feel silly commenting so late! It’s as if I were reading my own thoughts. I’m so glad to see I’m not the only one. I learned about you from the book “Generation Atheist,” which I’m about halfway complete. It’s nice to be able to see so much of my own story in other atheists. Thanks for putting your story out there; I’m looking forward to keeping up with your blog. although I’m pretty terrible at keeping up with just about everything!

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