Anxiety is such a familiar feeling for me that I sometimes don’t even notice a small background level of it. But I’m feeling it right now. It’s manifesting as the usual tension throughout my body together with the “butterflies in the stomach” – it’s a rather distracting sensation, it’s very tiring and it affects my ability to concentrate on my normal activities.
Why am I feeling anxious? Because I’ve got to make a phone call – personal business – and deal with somebody I don’t know on the other end. I know from experience that I can get it done but that doesn’t stop me getting the feelings every time. That’s why I prefer when possible to use the internet or speak with people face to face, one-on-one.
I used to be much worse – I was mentally and physically unable to speak on the phone to people I didn’t know. The anxiety would be so intense that it would cause me to shut down. Yes, I know it’s irrational. Most phobias are (I have arachnophobia and acrophobia as well). I’ve found that I have to be alone when I make phone calls – I can’t speak in front of anybody unless the person on the other end is well-known to me. In fact I can’t even make a call in front of my wife – I have to go into another room.
Other strategies I’ve developed to help me handle these situations include rehearsing the call beforehand – running through it in my mind and planning exactly what I’m going to say. This works best when I’m performing some structured task such as placing an order or paying a bill. Some things I just avoid – I never ring back on a missed call unless I recognise the number as belonging to somebody I know. I’m reluctant to answer the phone if it rings – voicemail is priceless in this regard. If it’s important they’ll leave a message and I can just listen to it and decide whether to follow up without being forced to interact with some stranger.
Doing all these things still doesn’t make it easy for me to use the phone. It makes it possible. People who don’t suffer from anxiety in these situations will find it hard to appreciate just what an achievement that is.