So what is telephobia?
Telephobia, in the simplest terms, is the fear of the telephone. No, that doesn’t mean a telephobic individual will run away screaming at the sight of a phone. Well, I suppose they might, but it isn’t because the phone resembles some big scary monster or fanged creature, you see. In actuality, the fear stems from having to utilize the terrible, torturous device, otherwise known as a telephone. If you think this sounds like you, you may have telephobia-also known as telephonophobia, phonophobia, or simply “telephone phobia.”
For those who can relate, take a sigh of relief; you are not alone! And you’re not doomed, either. Have hope, and read on.
For those of you who don’t suffer from this kind of fear, you may be thinking to yourself right now, “is this even real?” Lucky for me, I can tell you from personal firsthand and secondhand experience that “telephone anxiety,” as I prefer to call it, is very real and very distressing for its sufferers.
Take it from Trudy*, a very close friend of mine who has had an aversion to telephones for as long as I can remember. In the past, there were times when I was desperate to get in touch with her, but whether it was to dish the latest gossip or to ask her about a song whose name was escaping me momentarily, my efforts always proved fruitless. After countless phone calls and dozens of voicemail messages, Trudy wouldn’t answer the phone for me, or for anyone. Not unless she was feeling really gutsy on that particular day. And that “particular day” didn’t come very often.
But how can anyone be afraid of using a phone? It’s a normal part of everyday life!
I can’t tell you for sure why Trudy was too afraid to pick up a ringing phone (see, I’d call her to ask but… well, you see where this is going). What I do know is that at one time or another, I too have suffered from phone anxiety! Fortunately for me, this fear seems to come and go depending on the general state of things in my life. (Example: More stress means more anxiety and therefore, you won’t catch me using the phone when I’m feeling particularly overstressed.)
Even today, I really don’t like the phone one bit, though I do use it when necessary. I think it was during my first office job that my telephobia reemerged with a vengeance, straight out of my awkward teenage years. As you could imagine, it was not too convenient. My boss probably couldn’t fathom why I had seemed to give up on answering the phone altogether, but eventually, I figured out exactly what it was: a fear of saying the wrong thing. In all the months I had been there, I had jumbled my words and stumbled over incoming questions over the phone lines so many times, that it had finally gotten to me. In fact, my telephobia had begun interfering so much, that I was unable to perform my job adequately at that point.
This is only one example of how telephone phobia can interfere with ones’ life. In my case, it was the fear of embarrassment that created distress for me, and eventually stifled my ability to work at that particular time and place. For others, the causes and symptoms of telephone anxiety will differ slightly.
The following signs may indicate that you have telephobia:
1. You show physical signs of anxiety when a phone rings and/or you have to make a phone call. If your hands tremble, your heart races, and your stomach seems to do back flips when you know you’re about to use a phone, then there’s a good chance you have telephonophobia.
2. You avoid using the phone at all costs. Maybe you avoid the dreaded work phone (much like myself), and perhaps you avoid that awful ringing sound at home, too. In fact, if you are truly telephone-avoidant, you probably ask others to answer the phone and say you’re out for the day (guilty!), or you ask other housemates to make important phone calls on your behalf (scheduling doctor’s appointments, things of that nature).
3. You experience distressing psychological symptoms when on the phone, or when you anticipate taking a call or making a call. This one is pretty self-explanatory. Intense worry, feelings of dread, panic, unexplainable fear, and confusion may come over you when you need to use the phone.
4. You suffer from an anxiety disorder, especially social anxiety disorder or social phobia. In fact, if you have one, there’s a good chance you have the other, or at least some overlapping symptoms. People with social anxiety are afraid of and tend to avoid social situations. And because the telephone is indeed a social situation (albeit not face-to-face), telephobia and social phobia/anxiety often go hand-in-hand.
Anxiety disorders are not the only mental health disorders that co-occur with telephobia. Often, those with bipolar disorder exhibit signs of telephone phobia as well. Just keep in mind that having telephobia does not mean that you have a mental illness, but it can point to a bigger problem for many individuals. Remember that only a licensed mental health professional can give you a proper, formal diagnosis.
What are the most common causes of telephone phobia?
The causes of telephobia are quite similar to those of social anxiety. Usually, the phobic person has a fear of being ridiculed or embarrassed in some way. Maybe the individual has been ridiculed over the phone in the past, or was made to feel “stupid” by a stranger during a telephone conversation. Just like with any bad experience, sometimes we will brush them off without much effort, apparently unaffected. But other times, those experiences may stick with us even long after we’ve consciously forgotten them. All it takes, in some cases, is one negative experience on the telephone to create an aversion to using it again in the future.
Other causes of telephonophobia include the fear of confrontation and the fear of misspeaking or being misunderstood, and vice-versa. Those with low self-esteem often take issue with talking on the phone as well.
OK, I am definitely telephobic! What can I do about it?
The obvious answer for many is to seek the help of a mental health professional. Sometimes medications are prescribed to help ease anxiety, including certain anti-depressants (SSRIs, such as Zoloft or Prozac), most of which also work on anxiety. Benzodiazepines (including Xanax and Klonopin) may also be prescribed for anxiety. In many cases, it is ideal to have a licensed psychiatrist prescribe these types of medications, rather than a general physician.
Different types of therapy may also be beneficial to the telephonophobia sufferer, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy.
Is professional help not an option for you? Relax! If your telephobia is on the mild side, you can certainly learn to ease your fears and anxiety about using the phone on your own, without having to shovel out the cash for expensive treatments or hypnotherapy (which can actually help a lot!).
Keep an eye out for my next article on telephobia (“Telephobia: Part 2,” perhaps?), in which I will cover more in-depth the treatments, tips, and tricks for overcoming telephone anxiety.
*Actual name has been changed to protect my dear friend’s identity.
“Social Anxiety | Do You Have Telephonophobia?” Suffering From Anxiety?
“Social Anxiety Disorder.” WebMD.
winstngwaf, “Phone Phobia /How to Cure Phobia of Phone.” Squidoo.