How I Got Over Phone Anxiety
In my last post, I mentioned how I had a hard time understanding people who can’t order at drive-thrus or ask for help in a store. I also mentioned people who can’t make phone calls, and noted that a lot of the time, these people can’t really explain why they feel the way they do. At least, that’s the experience I had many years ago when I was plagued with phone anxiety.
For as long as I can remember, up until I was sixteen, I couldn’t make phone calls. The idea was so horrifying to me. I didn’t get a cell phone until I was twelve, but even before that, I couldn’t use the landline to call friends or talk to family members. What if I dialed the number wrong and a stranger picked up? What if there was a bad connection and I couldn’t be understood or heard right? Eight-year-old me was simply petrified.
I distinctly remember my mother being dumbfounded by this idea that I had difficulty calling people. One time, when I was eleven, I wanted to know if the roller rink was open, so my mom told me to call and ask their hours. I remember my heart racing as I dialed, and when I got an answering machine, I hung up abruptly and cried. Looking back at it, I really don’t understand why I did that. Wasn’t a recording that stated the hours and address better than talking to a person? Why did I freak out? What was my problem? I didn’t know at the time, and I’m still not sure.
I remember another instance of this happening when I wasn’t so little anymore. I was sixteen and had just been given a credit card, and had to call the company to register it. Dealing with the automated bot was easy enough, but when it asked me to speak my social security number out loud, it couldn’t understand me for some reason, and I ended up getting connected to a real person. I couldn’t respond to the person on the other end because my throat immediately closed up and tears came to my eyes. I literally couldn’t talk because I was freaking out so bad.
So what happened to change this phone anxiety? Well, a few months later, I got a job at Jay and Mary’s Book Center, a book store two towns over. Little did I know that in retail, you have to answer the phone a lot.
At first, it was beyond difficult. I had to make calls to people whose books came in, I had to answer the phone and be ready for any kind of question or request. It was stressful. But then, after a few weeks, it just went away. Completely faded. Being exposed to it every day for a month really just kind of made me better.
Nowadays, I’ll call literally anywhere. Every restaurant has online ordering, but most of the time I just find it easier to call and give them my order. Oftentimes it’s faster! Not sure if a store is open and Google has unreliable information about their hours? Call ’em! I don’t know what I was so afraid of.
Exposure therapy does not work for everyone, and it can sometimes make things worse. But it helped me. And I’m thankful for my retail experience. Which is not something I ever thought I’d say (though my book store job was great and I’m happy I had the opportunity to work at the best bookstore this side of the Mississippi).
I know how hard it can be to live life with this debilitating anxiety of talking to people, whether it be through a phone, a drive-thru screen, or simply a grocery store worker. If you have this kind of problem, I hope it gets easier for you someday, whether it’s through exposure therapy or otherwise. In this hectic world of nonstop communication, I know it can be tough. Stay strong, and have a great day.