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5 Steps to Curing Yourself of Phone Phobia

No one who knows me, via the blog or in real life, is going to believe what I’m about to tell you. At least, no one who’s met me during the past few years, anyway. But the following is a 100% true story about phone phobia and how I cured myself of it (mostly).

As a small child, I was exceedingly shy. I refused to even order food at the counter of a fast food restaurant. I couldn’t tell you what exactly I was afraid of, but even with a parent at my side, I clammed up around most adults and strangers. My parents weren’t going to let that lie, though. Years of forced food-ordering and social interactions eventually cured me of my shyness.

I shouldn't have picked it up... by mrskyce on Flickr Except, it seemed, when it came to talking to people on the telephone. By high school, it was obvious that my shyness’ last stronghold was on the telephone. I wouldn’t call my friends unless I knew their whole family really well, for fear that a strange family member would pick up the phone. I would only order pizza from one shop, because I knew nearly everyone who worked there – even though I had no trouble walking into a strange pizza place and ordering at the counter!

This actually became less of a problem in college, but that was simply due to technology. Cell phones and text messaging meant I could call someone and be reasonably sure that they would be the one to answer. Or I could just send a text message and not have to worry about it at all. Rounding up the group for dinner at the dining hall was just a matter of a flurry of Instant Messages and texts: “6pm. Giant sundial. Meet us there or eat alone!”

When I started reading personal finance blogs in 2006, I noticed something quite peculiar: there are a lot of people like me. People who would negotiate down their bank fees, if only they weren’t terrified of the telephone. We’d call up a discount brokerage firm and ask about investing options, but we hate the phone! So many of our financial problems could be cured with one phone call, but we won’t do it. We could get the ball rolling, if only we could find the courage to dial a number…

Check out this old post from I Will Teach You To Be Rich: Some comments from last week. The mere mention of making phone calls brought out a chorus of cries from people like us:

“I really don’t like using the telephone. really, really stressful.”
“For many people, for a variety of reasons, placing or receiving a phone call is one of the most stressful activities they may encounter in a typical day.”
”That telephone illness is really sad. I suffer it myself, and I find it difficult to order a pizza.”
”I have a phone phobia too…”

I’m not so weird, after all! But this “phone paralysis” is terribly destructive. I can point to specific examples in my past where it has cost me money, jobs… even GPA points. And those are just the quantifiable costs – there’s also the emotional and societal costs of not being able to connect with people through one of the most common communication mediums.

But like I said, I’m largely cured these days. And my transformation is anything but miraculous. Rather, it’s been a series of careful, deliberate steps:

  1. I grew up. I’ll say it before anyone else does and accuses me of ignoring it. A part of my cure has come simply from maturity. I know that’s not very helpful to the adult sufferers reading this, but if you’re a teenager, you can take comfort in the fact that it might get better with age.
  2. I took a job that forced me to make phone calls. I was a hostess at a restaurant, and I needed to call up strangers who had reservations to confirm. At first, I thought I was going to throw up because of it. But, I found a way to make it better, in my mind. I realized that I wasn’t calling on behalf of myself, but rather on behalf of the restaurant. There was something very soothing about the fact that it wasn’t really me calling, it was the restaurant. It wasn’t any skin off my back if the person on the other end got mad at me – they wouldn’t even know my name! There wasn’t much of a chance of someone getting mad at me while confirming their restaurant reservation, anyway.
  3. I made a lot of little calls that didn’t matter much. It’s tough to make an important phone call with phone phobia. Not only is the call important, but you know that you’re bad at phone calls, so you feel like your chances of failure are even higher. You really need to find a way to practice with less important phone calls, before something important comes along. My trick was calling to inquire about the hours a business was open. Find the number, call it, and just say “Hi! I was wondering how late you guys are open tonight?” After they tell you, thank them and hang up. Two lines, easy-peasy.
  4. I kept practicing. Even now, I still do. Whenever my roommates wanted to order pizza, even if I wasn’t going to chip in and eat any of it, I’d offer to make the phone call. Just to get the practice in. This was really helpful in a lot of ways. First of all, it was that “It’s not really me calling, I’m calling on behalf of someone else” thing again. Secondly, knowing my roommates were depending on me to call in the order forced me to actually do it, and do it right away – instead of sitting around debating and talking myself out of it.
  5. Before making an important phone call, I think about previous successful phone calls. It’s really easy to psych yourself out by thinking of failures, or of what “could happen” (in a negative way). I had to actively force myself to remember good phone calls that I made, and think of the positive outcome that I wanted to achieve from the call at hand.

I’m not perfect. I still procrastinate on some big phone calls, and I still manage to psych myself out know and then. But, I’m doing a lot better than I used to. My secret weapon when all else fails? I try to get the person to call me, rather than me calling them. Because I’m pretty good about answering my phone, at least!

Do you suffer from phone phobia?

50 responses to “5 Steps to Curing Yourself of Phone Phobia”

  1. Leslie@spillingbuckets

    I had a phone phobia as well – and have managed to get it under better control. My issue wasn’t just calling, that was alright for the most part, but calling with other people around. I would go into a separate room or outside to make calls for things as simple as ordering a pizza. Somehow I was more “brave” when I was alone. I am not sure what I was afraid of – maybe that I would forget to say or ask something important and those around me would criticize afterward?

    I have mostly gotten over that by starting calls in another room but forcing myself to walk out and talk with people around. I eventually got up the nerve to just dial in a separate room, and now (mostly) I have no problem calling.

    You offer good tips. The best thing I found was to “just do it!” 🙂

  2. Elkaye

    So it’s not just me! Your story sounds so much like mine, but I still hate using the phone. If I need to use it for someone unfamiliar, I do my best to psych myself up for the call (and sometimes I will take notes about the points I want to address before I make the all).

    Thanks writing about this. 🙂

  3. Jacob

    Fabulous article! This isn’t just about phone phobia; but, anything that holds us back. I think your 5 step plan is an excellent outline for tackling any fear head-on and moving forward. I’ll be trying out it immediately!

  4. Tom

    My partner had a mild telephone phobia for a time – she didnt tell me at first and i used to get really fustrated when she wouldnt answer the phone or wouldnt make a phone call, it was always left to me. Eventually it seemed to get better but she was never comfortable with using the phone

  5. Zen

    I worked in the computer industry in 1999, as a computer technician, I used to get tech support calls that were far from perfect. I’ve been yelled at on more than one occasion. At the end of that job I was asked to do cold calls, you know the ones that call you out of the blue and try to sell you stuff. This is the origin of my phone phobia, I managed to go about 3 years with out touching the phone after that, but as I’ve gotten older my jobs have added more responsibility which unfortunately required more phone calls. To this day I have to pause, take a deep breath, sometimes write the entire dialog that needs to take place, pick up the phone. It’s almost like knowing you’re going to going to get shocked if you touch something, so you’re hesitant to touch that object. It hurts a little, but you’ve got to do it. Even though the abusive customer phone calls haven’t occurred in over 10 years, that bad memory has been ingrained.

  6. No Name? @ Computers Eastbourne

    Hi, great article, would be great for Sales people that have to use the phone but get discouraged after some time 😛

  7. Hannah

    I too do not like to talk on the phone. Not because I’m afraid or shy (at least that’s not the primary reason), but because I think of phone calls as archaic technology- you might get voicemail, you might get stuck in small talk, you won’t have a record of what was said… Email, text message, and IM are so much more convenient. I think my generation loves that instant gratification so we shy away from using the phone to the point that we avoid making calls even when they actually are the most convenient form of communication in a certain situation.

  8. Miss M

    Wow I didn’t realize it was that common. I have a bit of phone phobia, I have to work up the courage to call and will put it off as long as I can. But not using the phone would be a huge handicap at my job and I know I just have to get over it. I think I got it from my mom, she has always been shy about phone calls. In a way email and the internet have made it worse cause she can use them to avoid interacting on the phone. Without regular practice and trying to overcome the phobia it only becomes more ingrained. Interesting topic.

  9. MK

    I also was afflicted with a phone phobia. I thought it was horrible that I couldn’t even order a pizza!! One thing I found that really helped me was to write myself a sort of script. When I called the pizza place I made sure I had my address and phone number writeen down (such pressure when they asked for that!) and obviously the order written down. That really seemed to help me a lot and I still do that when I have to make phone calls for work. I make sure I write down all the questions I have and any other details I need to discuss with the person on the other end of the line.

    I knew I wasn’t the only one like this!

  10. Jacob

    I used to agree with you; until I realized that people are constantly misunderstanding what they’re reading … actually, it’s because they’re not reading it. An email of “yes, let’s get together. What day next week is best for you?” results in a response of “Friday doesn’t work for me.” Or, “what color would you like your large t-shirt in?” results in a response of “I ordered a large!”

    Ask these questions on the phone and you get responses like “Tuesday at 6” or “red.”

    People like to communicate on the phone.

  11. Annie @ Credit Dispute

    The toughest part about having phobias is acknowledging that they exist and are, in fact, irrational, stupid, and need to go. Once they have been identified, the process of curing phobias can be fairly straightforward.

    1. Tangie

      Alakazaam-ionfrmtaion found, problem solved, thanks!

  12. marci

    Yes I totally have a phone phobia! And my sister has a big one too. You are definitely not alone, and I’m glad I’m not either. I actually have a phobia answering phone calls too, not just dialing. I’ve gained a lot of anxiety over phone calls, even ones from family members. And I haven’t found a way to fix it yet. Thanks for this post.

  13. Jamie

    My phone phobia is so severe that the idea of using the phone to call someone can force me to hold back tears at the very thought on some days. It hasn’t really gotten better in the past five years, though I’ve had several jobs where phone use is required.

    I think the phobia might have actually influenced my career slightly – I never looked for any industries that required a lot of phonecalls. In my jobs, almost everything can be done by email. Much preferred.

    It’s not bad for some people – I can talk to my friend who lives in another country on Skype with no issue. However, just hearing a phone ring that I might have to answer can trigger a minor anxiety attack.

    I have a minor hearing problem that makes it hard for me to understand people on phones (especially with ambient noise), so that probably started the problem. Unfortunately, it’s not a problem that can be beaten overnight.

  14. Ann

    Phobias actually limit our life at every turn, and we’re all done feeling limited. That is why planing to make the change is what we need.

  15. Kirk

    cool that you shared this little part of your life.. hmm i am not sure if i ‘met’ somebody who suffers from it, now i seem to have found myself amidst people who have it.. i actually didn’t expect to read about a real phobia when i read the title of this entry, i thought it was only some sort of hesitance toward using mobile phones (like how my mom feels about mobiles) or something like that.. anyway it has been a very interesting, educational read, thanks for that.. glad you guys have found a means to overcome it!

  16. Beth

    Leaving a voicemail is awkward because I never quite know how to end it smoothly. Plus, any mistake you make you can’t take back.

  17. winstngwaf

    kept practicing is the key.”One thing to consider;if you get it to go away and get out of practice phone phobia can come back.”

  18. CaliforniaSteve

    One of the most important concepts here I feel is “think of the positive outcome that I wanted to achieve from the call at hand”. It’s always easy to think of just the negatives and nobody looks at the positive enough. This is something that I always tend to do but I need to work on moving away from. Nice post.

  19. matt

    wow… I’m not the only one

  20. Rachael

    I had, and still have to some extent, this same problem for years. Including the in-person-simple-as-ordering-food phobia, I still sometimes get that, but not nearly as often as the phone. I just hate making phonecalls, the very idea makes me nervous and, like you, I can’t explain why. But, realizing that, oh, holy crap, I’m grown up now and my mom won’t make phonecalls for me anymore has kind of pushed me into “either I call, or it just doesn’t get done”. One of the biggest things that helped me was to look at it from my perspective on the other side. When I started working it was always in a customer service setting and in all my positions I had to take phonecalls. While I understand not all people answering the phone were like me, I understood it was my job and was always nice and polite to customers I spoke to on the phone, then after they were taken care of I promptly forgot about them. Using my personal experience and telling myself that anyone I called would be the same – polite, just doing their job, and would probably forget about me immediately – really made making business phone calls and the like a lot easier. Of course, I’m still very relieved every time I get someone’s voicemail instead of them actually picking up the phone!

  21. Nick

    I have this. I am most terrified when I recieve a call but when I have to call someone, waiting for them to answer is so nerve racking. I HATE this phobia. Whenever I feel like I have the courage to answer the phone or call someone it always goes away and I quickly hang up. I also feel really guilty when I tell someone that I will call them, because I never do. And if someone calls me, I click ignore and then turn off my phone so it makes it seem like my phone is dead. I am still looking to how to fix this but nothing seems to work.

    1. Donna

      I had this for 24 years. I have been free of it for about 15 now. It was terrible the other day I picked up the phone and couldn’t speek.

      It is stress related I think Also self-image plays a part in it. When I get over it this time for good I will share how I did it. I refuse to give up…I almost quit a good job yesterday

    2. Dori

      This is so me, it’s been a joke around my family for many years but it is getting worse instead of better. It i snow interfering in my new job as I always have atleast one other in the office if not 3 others. I have called the therapist this morning to finally find ways to change it.

  22. Claudia S

    Thank you for this article. I know I am not alone with this phone phobia.

  23. johana

    yes, i have it too. I’m actually fine making a call to a pizza shop or canceling or rescheduling an apt. I ‘ll talk to family members fine, but it seems I have lost sooo many friends bc i never keep in touch. I am not afraid to talk I just don’t like to sit around talking on the phone. As soon as I hear it ring, i cringe like, ” omgosh who is that calling?” what do they want?” I have this feeling that it’s like some kind of favor or something and that I would have to say “no!” and I really don’t like saying, “no” to people. If its just small talk, that is even worse, I have such little time to just talk about nothing, and I can’t even do dishes with my head cocked to the side trying to hold the phone because then my neck starts to hurt. AHHH it stinks, the worst thing ever is trying to convince your friends you still love them when you never call them. I really love to see them, I just don’t like to talk on the phone, noone ever understands, they just say, ” Hey why don’t you ever answer you phone??” One way or another I understand and I’m glad Im not alone- misery loves company unfortunately right? we could pray that G-d will help us to overcome this phobia somehow….or maybe ban phones, that’s always an option 🙂 If any one my friends read this and see it’s me, all i can say is, ” I’m sorry, I still love you.”

  24. Emily

    I don’t know when this began for me, but it is horrible. People who I love dearly – my favorite people to talk to – when they call, I cannot answer. There is so much irrational anxiety surrounding it. I have a family history of anxiety issues, plus a semi-crappy childhood. I can’t remember not ever being nervous. I think the anxiety manifests with the phone fear because that is one – ONE – thing that makes me nervous that I do have some control over and am able to avoid if I like. And so I do.

  25. Saladin

    Hello Stephanie; I know exactly how you felt. While growing up, I too had a bit of tendency towards shyness on the phone. One of the things that contributed to this was the hearing of my own voice back into my ear. Its similar to when one speaks into a microphone and can hear the echo of one’s own voice. Needless to say, I was able to overcome my shyness using a few proven techniques. It even inspired my to write a blog about it. Check it out:

    Very inspiring blog by the way.

  26. Cam

    I was in a job where basically every phonecall was a complaint, so even now, two and a half years later I don’t answer the phone, only to my partner! I only answer other people when my partner forces me to. So when he’s not around I never answer! My friends know me for this fact… But I will start a business soon and need to answer… I now realize I have a phobia! I always prefer to email or type chat online. I promise I will answer every phone call from this instant! Like someone else said… “grow up”! It’s a baseless phobia that is making me unhappy and I’m gonna be happy from now on!

  27. Kim

    I too suffer from this phobia. I didn’t have it until adulthood. I used to spend hours on end talking to friends when I was a kid. I did have many many years where phones were an integral part of my work life and I did fine, even though I hated that portion of my job. Mainly my phobia has to do with personal phone calls. I can make business calls easier, although if I can get my husband to do it I will. But personal calls are torture for me. I think there are many issues that play into it, such as having been personally attacked on phone calls by my ex-husband, having friends who would literally keep me on the phone for 6 hours or more and even after saying many times “I’ve got to go”, they kept talking, and also I have a hearing issue and I have a very hard time hearing clearly on most phones (especially cell phones). The result is I don’t have any friends because they all want me to call them. I feel stupid telling them I’m afraid of phone calls, so I just let the friendship die. There are only two people I can call without any anxiety, my husband and my mom. Everyone else I sweat, shake, and avoid making the call. It turns my stomach with dread and anticipation if I know I have to make the call. I wish I could fix this because no one understands it and no one is happy with just texting and emailing.

  28. Kim

    I forgot to add that my sister and daughter also suffer from this same phobia. It may be genetic?

  29. Paul

    Hello, i 100% suffer from this phone phobia, it’s not exactly the thought of not knowing what to say, or feeling secure of who I’m talking to, it’s the actual fact I’m talking to a phone. I’m not a shy person, I’m absolutely fine in talking to people when I can see their face it’s just taking to a phone, when you cannot see the person scares the living day light out of me, So much so I actually avoid answering the phone even if it’s best friends or family ringing! The advice given on here seems to be aimed towards working on shyness (which im not) and curing that shyness, rather than the fear of the actual phone! And technically talking to yourself! Any help?! Anyone else crazy like me? Haha peace.

  30. Daysy Suarez

    I suffer from phone phobia also. I recently started a job where it requires me to make cold calls, the ones where you try to sell something. I hope that with time this phobia will go away. I just feel so awkward around he phone. For a long time i thought there was a mental problem with me. Do you guys think its possible to obercome this fear if you confront it everyday?

  31. Jaxyn

    Hello you are not alone I hate when my friends say call me I hate even staying on the phone for a while I hate it I just hate calling people when my mother says call your grandma I say can you please. I just hate talking to people on the phone I would rather text I have no clue what its about

  32. Michelle

    It is incredibly comforting to know that I am not alone with my phone phobia. Mine is part of social anxiety and has been around since my childhood. Like Stephanie, I was afraid to order food. I was even afraid to ask my own mother for things in person! My husband gets terribly frustrated with me when I refuse to order pizza on the phone. I can manage at work, but I am still working on my skills at home. I have used a script on occasion, especially at work. That helps a lot! I will work on applying the 5 steps and see how it goes. This phobia feels like a handicap at times.

  33. dee

    i also have phone phobia,i dont have trouble phoneing for a pizza or making a appt but i have a problem phoning friends or family,i feel like im bothering them or they can tell bye my voice im not into talking,maybe im boring them, i would love to phone someone and just talk but i cant.

  34. grant

    I recently found a way to answer the phone more easily. I have a mantra that I use: “Improve their lot”, that i recite to myself as soon as the phone rings. I believe that I can make things better for whoever is calling me. If they have a question I will do what I can to answer it. If they need help with something I will do my best to assist. If they just want to have a chat then they will feel better at the end of it for having done it.Even if they want to vent their anger at me then I can let them do that and they will feel better. Whoever is trying to call me and for whatever reason I will answer the phone to try to ‘improve their lot’. The mantra is working for me.

    1. Andy

      Interesting. I’m going to try that today! I have a 6:PM call I need to make. I’ve been stressing out about it since 2:PM.

  35. Painter in Toronto

    This “phone phobia” usually does not reflect your personality. I mean if you are shy making orders or interacting with people in real life completely the opposite happens over the phone. That insecurity approaching people usually makes you at ease when you are calling someone just because you don’t have the fear of having that person looking at you face to face.
    I believe the whole thing is psychological more than a personality thing.

  36. Lily

    I have phone phobia and it is not so much talking on the phone but more having to face the thought of another person answering the call. I cannot call a friend for fear of a family member picking up the phone and me having to say “Hello, is such and such in?” it makes my skin crawl. I am always being told by my family that no one else has this phobia that it is silly and irrational and that i need to get over it so it was very comforting to find that so many more people suffer from it. I am hoping I will find away to overcome it.

    1. Andy

      I don’t think we need to get over it. It’s how we are. At some point people can at least TRY to stop criticizing us for it. I have a friend that doesn’t like closed-in spaces. I don’t tell him he needs to get used to it, in fact I care enough about him to keep that in mind and not force him into close in spaces. Unfortunaltey he can’t do the same with my phone phobia and gets insulted if I won’t call him.

  37. Andy

    I HAAAATE using the phone. And I hate people that make me. After a a phone call I need a nap I’m so drained. Even if I talking to a close friend. I hate it. Business-wise I keep demanding and demanding that people text or email me, but still phone phobia is something that others just don’t respect or take seriously and they demand that I talk to the in real time or else. Practice did not help. I tried taking a sales job where I cold called hundreds of people – I made myself do it, and I can fake my way through it where the other party doesn’t notice but I still HATE talking on the phone. It’s to the point where if you don’t respect me enough to email or text me that I CAN’T deal with you. Sadly that makes working really difficult, people DEMAND you be social with them and have real time conversation. As for pizzas, thank God Dominos let’s you order from their website :). All though even then to avoid seeing the delivery guy, I just prefer to get a frozen pizza and use the self checkout ;). I’m tired of us believing that we need “curing” – it’s a pain. In this day and age people CAN respect our desire to maintain arms-length distances from others they just REFUSE TO. “Normees” should meet us half way at least.

  38. Laura

    I need to make a phone call right now. I’ve been putting it of for days. Glad to know I’m not the only one. AND by posting this, even though you don’t know me, I’m making myself accountable for making this phone call.

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  40. Emi

    well didnt know I was phobic about to make phone calls, never liked to make phone calls, but my life turned in a way that i didnt need to make uit, except family, etc.

    So I got a job in telemarketing, ha ha, is 2.41 minuts that i am staring at the phone. I am filling seek, but I need the money and cant fail.

  41. Dave

    This Fear has destroyed me. I know I must answer, very important calls, legal, family, work. I can`t. I am so desperate right now. My voice-mail inbox is permanently full and auto deletes after one month. The real breakthrough I found was a stronger emotion. In my case ANGER!!!! possibly frustration. When I am blowing my top at being frustrated I think, oh why dosen`t that telesales` nut call now…? I would answer. I think my fear came about from complainers through business. It was easier to ignore them and now I can`t get back on the horse. even family calls. I think we need to re learn how to answer, and when we do, it will be OK. I have tried gentle ringtones, quiet ones, comedy ones, and swapped phones, bigger to make me feel better and smaller to take the power away from the caller. I still can not answer, the, phone…

  42. Jonah

    I’m doing some research on phone anxiety. I used to suffer terribly from it, but have gotten better over the last several years.

    I would love if you would reply and tell me a little more about your biggest challenges when it comes to phone anxiety.

    Do you dream about solving this problem and being done with it forever?

    Or mainly just focus on how to accept yourself as you are and how to cope with the anxiety?

  43. Jonah

    Also, what would you do if you no longer had this anxiety? What relationship, career, and life opportunities would you take advantage of?

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