Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 8/10/2022
Hate phone calls? Jump when the phone rings? You’re not alone. Many people dread the awkward interactions associated with a phone call, and today more than ever the arguably aging technology isn’t just a source of awkwardness, but also a source of anxiety. If you struggle to make phone calls because of this, you may struggle with a condition sometimes referred to as phone anxiety.
Phone anxiety is something that many people (and especially younger generations of working adults) name as a source of dread. Whether it’s a planned call or a sudden incoming call from an acquaintance or a stranger, many people would rather avoid the interaction altogether and follow up via text, email or carrier pigeon rather than place a return call.
Unfortunately, phone anxiety can get out of hand if not moderated with some forced calls, and we’re guessing that if you’re reading this, it may be affecting you in just that way.
If you’re seeing your quality of life reduced by avoiding calls or having trouble at work because you’d rather jump off a cliff than “jump on a call,” you’re probably wondering what you can do about phone anxiety before it causes some real harm to your or your relationships.
Worry not, worried wireless warrior: phone anxiety is treatable — but to treat it, you need to understand what’s really going on. Let’s start with the basics.
Phone anxiety could be easily explained by saying that it’s anxiety centered around a particular circumstance: the phone call.
Everyone experiences anxiety at one point or another — the tight chest, quick breaths, the racing heart — an anxiety disorder is a disorder in which anxiety and the symptoms thereof create a problematic impact on your ability to live your life, function normally and have a quality of life at a minimum standard.
Phone anxiety, arguably, is just an anxiety disorder centered around the use of the phone, for placing calls or for answering calls. It’s the symptoms of anxiety disorders, but with a theme.
The problem is, there’s a more complicated and accurate way to look at phone call anxiety, as well.
Certain experts consider phone anxiety or phone phobia to be a form of social anxiety. Social anxiety disorder is a relatively common form of anxiety that affects people’s feelings toward social interactions.
For people with social anxiety, conversations, eating in front of others, using public restrooms, public speech and performance are all causes of anxious feelings.
Feelings and thoughts of the negative — what could go wrong — can essentially paralyze people with social anxiety, and over time that can lead to isolation, depression, substance abuse and missed opportunities for income, connection and enjoyment.
With phone anxiety, the same fears of what could go wrong are the motivating factor, but they’re specifically tethered to the human interactions associated with a phone call.
The belief is that those afflicted are often made anxious by the lack of facial or nonverbal cues to better understand the content of the phone conversation. In other words, not being able to see somebody (and their facial expressions) makes it more difficult to read their tone, intentions and the other things they’d get from a person in front of them.
With phone anxiety, the most obvious symptom is problems with making calls, the avoidance of the calls and the anxious reaction when a call happens.
This can lead to avoidant behaviors — a person actively refusing to take calls, using other forms of communication to dodge calls and procrastinating on the calls that must be made.
Over time, this can lead to isolation, anger friends and harm relationships. It can also damage important relationships in the workplace with clients, colleagues and your boss.
More broadly, phone call phobias can lead to restlessness, edginess, irritability, feelings of worry, sleep problems and more as part of a broader anxiety disorder.
Even if the person on the other end can’t see you, you might experience the social anxiety emotional symptoms and physical symptoms of sweating, blushing, trembling, stomach aches, difficulty with eye contact, feelings of self-consciousness and a racing heart.
Phone anxiety is caused by Alexander Graham Bell, Apple and Verizon, but they’re not really to blame. The root causes of phone anxiety are actually fear of judgment, fear of being judged negatively, lack of self-confidence, fear of being watched, and a certain degree of performance anxiety.
It’s unclear why a person may be afflicted with phone anxiety — this is a relatively new area of study, and from what we can tell, there seems to be no significant difference between social anxiety itself and this particular form.
It’s just a specific scenario in which ambiguity and a fear of being judged are more acute.
Anxiety is more broadly associated with shyness, feeling distressed or stressed as a child by new situations, early stress, early negative experiences or genetics — a family history of anxiety.
You may very well have been building a family tree of phone anxiety for generations, and only noticed the pattern as phone calls became more ubiquitous in daily life.
Maybe it can help explain why you haven’t called your mother in three weeks *cough cough*.
Treating phone anxiety isn’t exactly like treating anxiety disorders like generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder.
While some elements of the treatment for those conditions may work, there is one glaring difference that sets the treatment for phone anxiety apart — and that’s exposure therapy.
Exposure therapy and practice are among the best ways to address and solve the phone anxiety problem, in part because the more time you have on a phone, the more exposure you’ll naturally get to those negative scenarios you worry about.
Eventually, you’ll begin to see that they’re not as bad as you believe.
As for the fear of judgment thing, well, experts believe that as you get more comfortable with the phone, you’ll find a “phone persona” that feels comfortable and makes you feel confident.
Essentially, the more used to being a phone talker you get, the better you’ll become.
As for the other treatment options, if your phone anxiety is part of a larger concern of anxiety disorder symptoms, it may be beneficial to consider anxiety medication in severe cases.
But mental health professionals believe that therapy and relaxation techniques like deep breathing can be more effective in the moment you’re encountering call anxiety to help you work through those feelings.
Behavioral therapy can likewise help you get back in control when the shortness of breath sets in.
When your heart rate picks up, behavioral therapy can help you learn to observe and resist those packed feelings, remind yourself to assume that all incoming calls are not bad news and learn to push past that avoidance of phone calls by reasoning away those feelings.
Phone anxiety, ironically enough, may be what’s preventing you from picking up a phone and getting the help you need. Luckily, these days, you don’t even need the phone to get started tackling this problem.
Whether you’re looking for therapy or just some initial support, online therapy is one of the many resources that can help people with social anxiety (and other forms of anxiety) regain their quality of life with time, patience and practice.
Overcoming phone anxiety might not be keeping you from enjoying yourself, but if it’s starting to create extra work, endless hassles and friction in your life, it may be time to take that next step and talk to someone.
If you’re struggling with this or other forms of social anxiety, you may want to read more before starting treatment. Social anxiety, anxiety disorders and treatment for anxiety are all subjects we’ve covered extensively.
Get educated, but don’t let education take the place of the treatment you need to get back to living your life. Make the right call today, so that making calls stops causing you problems.