Telephonophobia Is the Intense Fear of Talking on the Phone, and It’s Real

a red telephone represents telephonophobia, the fear of talking on the phone

For people who experience telephonophobia, having to make or receive phone calls is really scary.

The telephone changed how humans communicate. Distance can no longer separate family and friends. The phone helped knit together the global community and remains invaluable for personal use. Its invention also saved countless lives.   

I’m well acquainted with the benefits of this nifty device. Indeed, I cannot imagine a world without phones — I just don’t like them in my world. Many introverts loathe talking on the phone, but my issue runs deeper. I have a peculiar fear known as telephonophobia. Yes, it’s real; it’s related to social anxiety. Having to make or receive calls is really scary for me. 

As a child, I struggled to communicate because I lacked confidence. I was often sick and had to call a classmate to get the day’s homework. These are some of my earliest memories of experiencing panic over making a call.

As an adult, I worked several desk jobs that dealt with difficult customers over the phone. You know, the type who calls your boss on you, or blows up because they’re frustrated about the service. A few years of this convinced the gremlin in my head that phones came with anxiety and trouble. 

That gremlin is still alive and well. Sometimes, the goober jangles my nerves so much that I bumble messages and fail to get the information I sought from a call. I’ll be honest: There are times when I don’t get past the dialing part.

To be clear, I’m not saying all introverts suffer from telephonophobia, and extroverts can experience it, too. Through my research and experience with telephonophobia, I’ve realized that some introverts develop symptoms of it, and want to know how to deal with it. This is my story, and what I’ve learned about managing it.

How Telephonophobia Makes Life Difficult

What’s wrong with emails and text messaging? Inherently, not much. However, sometimes a speedier mode of communication is required. For example, an emergency call can summon help almost instantaneously. 

Managing telephonophobia also simplifies normal situations. Recently, I had to move. Rentals in my area were scarce, and everybody else seemed to be moving, too. When a house became available, it was first-grab, first-serve. People called the house agents to reserve the properties while I walked circles around my phone. I even became upset when agents called me after I emailed them my details. Since my phobia was out of control, the house-hunting was laced with intense effort and agony.

In a similar way, if you suffer from telephonophobia, you likely have a disadvantage during job interviews, in personal relationships, or in expanding your own business.

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How I Manage My Telephonophobia

There’s no magic potion that cures telephonophobia. As fantastic as a bottle of fizzy confidence would’ve been, I can only offer insights about how to approach, accept, and heal from this debilitating fear:

1. Replace shame with acceptance.

Your fear is real. Telephonophobia is recognized by psychiatrists and other professionals as a subset of social anxiety. Let that be your anchor in a world that often fails to understand (and even ridicules) sufferers. Sometimes people mistake my anxiety as attention-seeking, lying, or an attempt to avoid my adult responsibilities (like making appointments or work calls). 

Many telephobes, myself included, struggle to explain the truth. In certain situations, I know the chances of being believed are zero. In the past, the shame would blossom and the gremlin would say, “There’s something wrong with you. Everybody else picks up their phone.”

Shame has no redeeming qualities. It cannot correct phobias. As powerful as the emotion feels, trust me when I say it’s utterly useless to you. Here’s how you can put shame on the shelf:  

  • Get used to the idea that social opinion about telephonophobia is wrong, not you.
  • Accept that social opinion cannot be positively changed in every situation.
  • When you embark on your recovery journey, work on being pleased with your own progress and not to please anyone else.
  • It’s okay to realize that a full “recovery” is not meant for everybody. In some cases, myself once again being an example, telephobes must manage their anxiety for life.

2. Educate yourself.

There’s a legion of free information available on the internet about telephonophobia and treatments. Once you start browsing, you’ll realize you’re not alone or crazy. This fear is more common than people might think. If you’re looking for a place to start, here’s an excellent article with an overview, symptoms, and treatments.

The great news is telephonophobia responds well to self-therapy. That being said, avoid anything that grates on your nerves and choose a path that feels right and brings positive results. Also, make sure the advice comes from experts. 

In my case, I opted for an effective treatment for many social fears — slow exposure. My phobia was so intense that the only person I could talk to over the phone was my mother. So that’s where I started. When she called, I acknowledged the stab of anxiety but focused on hearing her voice and loving the fact that she was alive and well. Afterward, I spoiled myself with a cup of tea. Over time, I accepted other family members and even cold callers trying to sell car insurance. 

Once I reached that point, I upped the stakes and initiated calls. Following the same pattern, I started by calling my mother. When I progressed to making appointments, I deliberately looked for something “safe” and held on to that. For me, that was knowing that small talk (another personal anxiety trigger) wasn’t going to happen. The conversation would be limited to a greeting, booking the date and time, saying “thank you” and “good bye.”

I’m definitely not cured, but repeated exposure in small doses taught me how to endure phone conversations.

3. Make it your own unique journey.

As a human being, you’re a complex creature. A blend of experiences, thoughts, and circumstantial factors makes everyone respond differently to therapy. Make your own unique situation work in your favor by throwing the following out a window:  

  • Comparing yourself to others who are on their own journeys.
  • Forcing yourself to do anything that’s highly uncomfortable.
  • Perfection. Recovery is about progress and maintenance, not doing everything perfectly the whole time! Mistakes and setbacks are a part of overcoming any anxiety.

4. Move at a comfortable pace.

Isn’t any progress valuable, regardless of speed? Not really. I’m sure you’ve had goals that started out great — any goal, not just those related to a phobia. Perhaps this was a New Year’s goal you were really excited about. Attacking a goal with gusto brings a pace that’s quite addictive. When the inevitable large obstacles arrive, they cannot be smashed with speed. This sudden pause is so frustrating that most goals are abandoned shortly afterward.  

Unfortunately, new habits are vulnerable to this kind of instant gratification. But when you slowly navigate your choices and feelings, you might find that behavior changes are not only positive but lasting. Just nudge your telephonophobia in the right direction, and you’ll be thrilled how the nudges add up to major changes. 

I found it helpful to acknowledge my limits. When I started making those calls, I first sat down to find my panic button. I imagined dialing and realized that the mere thought of making a call set the dominoes falling. That became my thing to nudge. During the days that followed, I thought about ringing someone up. Eventually, the fear weakened because nothing horrible happened. 

I was free to tackle my next nudge — picking the person. Since I was comfortable talking to my mother, this step was easier. The next nudge was to call another family member. Once again, I searched for my panic point and surprisingly, it was the fear of looking ridiculous because I had nothing to say. To counter this, I chose a topic and phoned my sister. The conversation went splendidly, and she was happy to hear from me.

Always take a small step forward, discover why it’s so scary, then find something that counters or diminishes the perceived threat. 

Do you ever struggle to know what to say?

As an introvert, you actually have the ability to be an amazing conversationalist — even if you’re quiet and hate small talk. To learn how, we recommend this online course from our partner Michaela Chung. Click here to check out the Introvert Conversation Genius course.

5. Track your goals.

If you’re not the journaling type, that’s perfectly fine. However, this is a powerful tool to investigate every corner of one’s anxiety. Since nobody experiences telephonophobia in the same way, it’s a good reason to write down where yours began and what triggers it today. 

The rest of the journal can record things like any beneficial steps you achieved and new situations that caused distress and why. Before long, you’ll have an intimate understanding of what you’re dealing with. A tracking journal trains the mind to stop avoiding the phobia and instead empowers you with understanding and seeing the progress you’ve made.  

You’ll Be All Right

Whether you overcome this social anxiety completely or learn to manage it, always remember that you’ll be fine in the end. Dealing with telephonophobia isn’t about being perfect, living up to others’ expectations, or suddenly loving it when the phone rings!

Do what you must, comfortably, to move into a place where you can make and take calls to improve your daily life. Do it for you. Just make a small change today.

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