Telephone Calls and Social Anxiety

Phone call anxieties are a very common fear among those with social anxiety. Despite spending most of our time within arms reach of our phones, many of us dread actually making a call, taking a call or even just listening to the recorded messages.

Phone anxiety – or telephobia – is the fear and avoidance of phone conversations: both receiving calls or making them. Things can be doubly hard if other people can overhear us in work or social situations.

Making Phone calls at work

Making and receiving calls at work can be intimidating for those with social anxiety. There are useful pages for making sales related calls at Please also see the links at the end of this web page.

So why do people with social anxiety find phone calls difficult?

  • A phone call can come out of the blue or when we are not ready or prepared for it
  • We may get asked a question we weren’t expecting or asked to make a decision we are not ready for
  • When we initiate a call we fear we are “bothering” the other person
  • It’s easy to worry what the other person is thinking of you
  • We fear may dry up or sound boring or unintelligent
  • Or worry that we sound odd, nervous or weak, may stutter, mix up our words or just fall silent
  • Or that we may inadvertently cause offense
  • A lack of facial expressions and body language cues means we can’t see if the person is angry or smiling or teasing or questioning
  • It’s harder to know when it’s your turn to talk or how to end the call
  • It’s easy to obsess about what we did or didn’t say after the call ends
  • The fact that “just a phone call” can bring such stress can make us feel all the more foolish and lost.
  • It’s easy to put off making calls – even important ones. How do we get the impetus to actually make the call rather than wait a little longer (see our tips and tricks for some ideas)?

When people with social anxiety do talk on the phone, they may well experience similar anxiety symptoms as if they were there in person – racing thoughts, tension in muscles, increased heart rate – the all too familiar anxiety feelings even though the other person cannot see us.

Modern life with its texts, emails, social media and instant messaging mean that it’s all too easy to avoid making or taking phone calls . Like so many social anxiety challenges, the less we do, the more doubts and fear can take hold.

What can be done about it?

As anxiety provoking as it is, some phone calls are unavoidable, especially in a workplace or when having to solve an issue that can’t be done online or by email or text.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can help – it’s possible your therapist will help you work through some phone call issues as part of the work you do together. For example, if you constantly worry that you will bother the other person when making a phone call, you could consider evidence for this being true. For example, “would the person really pick up the phone if I was bothering them?”

Although not directly aimed at telephone conversations there are great articles on how to build rapport, keep conversations going and how to end them at

One of the ways to get more confident when talking on the phone is to practise, although this is easier said than done for people with social anxiety and sometimes it can feel just as hard as the real thing.

Start gently: a few ideas

  • Practise talking on the phone with someone who knows about your social anxiety (If you haven’t talked to anyone about your social anxiety please see here). This helps you get used to the feeling of talking on the phone – especially if you haven’t done it for a while. You could even call within the same household – go to another room or out in a corridor and practise talking mobile to mobile.
  • Although it sounds silly, actually put the phone to your ear and role play simple telephone conversations by talking to yourself (e.g., pretending to call a friend to tell them you’ll be running late).
  • Try ringing some local shops to ask “can I ask what time you close today?”
  • Ring up a restaurant and ask if they do deliveries. Don’t order anything but just ask the question and whether they charge.
  • Make calls to people you know, but ask a quick question, and with a built-in excuse to keep things short.
  • If you can, role play phone call situations with a trusted friend.

Gradually get in the habit of using the phone for more and more things, even when a quick email or text would do the job. Just get that exposure in.

Have someone there with you when you make a difficult call – for moral support and so someone is there to prompt you if you get stuck. It will need to be someone you trust and knows about your social anxiety and nervousness on phone but if you have such a person it can really help.

When you call people – or people call you – try gently pushing your boundaries – make small deliberate mistakes to learn how to cope if it happens for real. Deliberately mispronounce a word – just to get used to that flush of embarrassment – then say “I can’t get my words out” or “so sorry – I get so nervous on the phone”. Allow a silence and get used to actually saying phrases like “sorry – I completely forgot where I was”.

Forewarn people – if you are feeling nervous try and say so – say “I get a little nervous on the telephone” – its hard to be open and honest but “we” with social anxiety need to be more able to say “our truth” – its really not uncommon to find telephone calls difficult. A 2019 survey of UK office workers found that 40% of baby boomers, and 70% of millennials, experience anxious thoughts when the phone rings.[1]

Use one of our thought record sheets to write down your doubts and fears. Afterwards write down all the positives from the call. What went well? What didn’t go so well? Were things better than you expected? Keep these notes as a log of your journey in overcoming your anxiety and look back on them when you need reassurance.

Go somewhere private. Not always easy if you work in a busy office, but taking the phonecall away from other people’s ears can reduce some of the pressure. It means you can focus totally on the caller and not have one half of your mind on those who may be listening. A lot of our anxiety stems from the fear of being exposed – of making mistakes that people can overhear. Removing that obstacle should help feel more confident and comfortable in making the call.

If there is a difficult question or decision ask if you can have some time to think about it – be ready to say “can I call you back later?”. This can stop you feeling forced into decisions you don’t feel ready to make. Say “I need to think about this – is it ok if I call you back?”. Having the option of calling back can take the pressure of the call itself.

If you get stuck – buy yourself some time and say “my minds gone blank” or “can you remind me where we were?”. Try and feel more free to seek clarification and double check – say “can you say that again just so I am sure what you said It’s so much better to sort out any issues there and then rather having to make a second call – think of the trauma you will safe yourself if you can just get the call done “in one”.

Write a brief list before you make the call – either a list of conversational topics if it’s a social call or a list of specific questions if its something more practical. Lists help as there is something to fall back on if you forgot what you are saying. Have a pen and paper handy to make notes or tick items off as you go.

If its a practical call – rather than social – it’s often helpful to think what questions the person may ask. If it’s a medical appointment might they ask about your symptoms? Is this an urgent need or a general appointment need? Do I need to bring anything? If its an order they will need mobile phone numbers, payment details, addresses. Thinking about practical things you need to have to hand helps you feel prepared.

If you are worried you may be bothering a busy person check with them “is this a good time to call?”. If they say no try and ask them when is a good time? Depending whether you find making or receiving calls harder you can give them your number so they can call you. Either way try and agree a specific time – this stops excessive waiting and gives you at least some chance to prepare.

When its time to end a call

If it is time to end the call use phrases like well “I really must go now” or some people say “well I better let you go”. Use natural gaps to say things like “well it was great catching up” or “Anyway I have really got to go, good talking to you” or “anyway, take it easy then”– most people will recognise phrases like this mean its time to end the call.

Practice the dreaded voicemail

The thought of having to leave a recorded message can be daunting. However leaving a voicemail can be practised. Dial your own phone from another phone and let it go through to voicemail. Leave a message, then listen back to it. What did you like and dislike? What can you do to improve it?. Remeber don’t fret about the sound of your own voice. We all sound super strange to our own ears!

Answering calls

It is harder to create a hierarchy to deal with the fear of answering calls. If you typically avoid answering the phone, one strategy would be to use a caller ID to identify who is calling. You could then start by answering calls from people that you are most comfortable with and letting other calls go to voicemail. Eventually, you would progress to answering more difficult calls.

Making telephone appointments

Many times, people with social anxiety issues just take the first appointment that they are offered. Sometimes we forget it’s normal and ok to ask if other times or days are also available? Be ready to ask if there are any alternatives. Before calling to make an appointment, try mapping out your schedule. Are there days that won’t work for you? Times that are always good? It helps to make a list of general time windows, such as “Thursday evenings work well for me,” or “Mondays after 1pm are never a good fit.”.

Further thoughts

Try making calls when you are feeling good about yourself. Self esteem and self confidence are so tied up with our motivation and anxieties. If you are “stuck” – getting tied in knots about a call – try exercise or going for a walk or talking to a friend – you will probably feel energised and more able afterwards.

When you feel at least partly able to make the call just try go for it – there may never be a moment when you don’t feel at least a little nervous – there is never a “perfect” time. It definitely helps to have the number saved on your phone so you can just press one button rather than have doubts as you press each and every digit.

Most of all be gentle with yourself – phone calls are difficult – many people – with and without social anxiety struggle with them. If you find you are struggling or something goes wrong try and say “Sorry – I get a bit nervous on the phone” – just saying those words usually helps.

Give yourself a reward when the call is over – coffee, cake, tv, a game, a walk, whatever works for you!


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