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How To Cope With Telephonophobia: Social Anxiety On The Phone

Social anxiety affects 15 million people in the U.S.

There are two different types of phone phobia: nomophobia, the fear of not having your phone nearby, and telephonophobia or phone apprehension, a fear of taking and making phone calls.

While phone anxiety is not a medical term, doctors say the condition is, in fact, a part of social anxiety which affects 15 million people in the U.S. "Social anxiety is an intense feeling of fear about one or more social situation in which we can possibly be exposed to possible scrutiny from others," Dr. Katy Kamkar of the Psychological Trauma Program/ Work, Stress and Health Program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) tells HuffPost Canada.

For people with phone anxiety, fears include responding to the phone, leaving a voicemail, and making phone calls, but it's different for everyone.

With more than 7.19 billion phones being used around the world, you'd think people were spending time having voice-to-voice conversations, but surveys show mobile phone users decreased the number of calls they made and received by half between 2011 and 2015, Joyable, a website promoting mental health awareness, reports.

Though mobile phones may not be helping with phone anxiety, it's important to recognize that it isn't the cause of the condition.

If anything, smartphones have made communicating without talking on the phone more convenient. “Younger folks have some coping mechanisms and compensatory strategies like texting that may obscure phobia in a way that’s not as available to older generations... The phone is devoid of a lot of [non-verbal] methods of communication that encourage people to move forward and feel safe,” Dr. Selena Snow tells Headspace, a wellness app focused on guided meditation.

"There are many reasons why people have phone anxiety. Some include not knowing what to say, not being able to recognize the other person’s facial expressions, fear of being judged, humiliated, saying something wrong, looking stupid," says Dr. Kamkar, who also points out that phone anxiety can occur unexpectedly as a result of trauma or stress.

Phone anxiety can be so severe it can result in feelings of dread and panic. It can also spur negative thoughts, leaving those with the condition thinking the person on the other line may become annoyed or frustrated with them. People with phone phobia may also demonstrate physical symptoms of fear such as nausea, overheating, heart palpitations, the sweats and a dry mouth, reports Joyable.

These sensations, Dr. Kamkar says, can lead many to respond with avoidance. Unfortunately, most people can't avoid the phone forever, so if you're looking to get over your fear, Dr. Kamkar recommends Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Exposure Therapy.

"Depending on the level of anxiety it could start with picking up the phone, then dialing a number, then leaving a message," she suggests. "Eventually you can make your way up to making a phone call to a person you know, a friend or family [member] — someone you are comfortable with."

Below, Redditors and forum users on who suffer from phone anxiety share the tips that helped them face their fears.

Create A Script

"When it comes to placing calls where the conversation is fairly predictable (doctor's appointment, calling in sick, asking for a favour, etc.), try writing out a script of what your lines could be and keep it in front of you for reference during the call. It's good for practice until you get more comfortable with talking." Via TheSarahj.

Get Prepared

"I always make sure I have all the necessary information before I call a place. If I'm calling for additional information, I'll first write down what I already know, and what I'm hoping to accomplish with the phone call. My supervisor made me start doing this when she realized I was avoiding phone calls." Via You-Are-Not-Correct.

Practice Makes Perfect

"Once you get into the mindset of placing a call it becomes second nature... I can just relax and speak into the phone, I don't have to worry about what my hands are doing, I don't have to worry about making eye contact." Via watermouth.

Remember The Person On The Other Line Is Just Like You

"The person on the other line is usually a genuinely good person and if you can't formulate a sentence or you get nervous, just tell them you're having trouble trying to explain something. Let them know that you need a little help or a minute to catch your breath and think about what you need to say." Via watermouth.

But You Don't Have To Worry About Becoming Friends

"You have to remember that the purpose of talking on the phone with strangers is not to have a social conversation and become friends. Most likely you are asking them for something (a service or appointment?) or they are asking you for something. The dialogue between you both is NOT personal at all. What you should focus on is asking for what you need if you are calling or making sure that they are getting what they need if they are calling. That's all that matters." Via fire mage64.

"Whenever we suffer from concerns, mental health related concerns, it is important not to sit in silence," says Dr. Kamkar. "When we are able to be open and talk about it, it is definitely a sign of courage, strength and resilience and that is important."

Many people suffer from the same fears and anxieties when it comes to social interactions both on and off the phone. CAMH offers both short and long-term mood and anxiety services. Consult with your doctor to determine if you are eligible for a consultation.

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