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I am kinda ashamed to say this but I use to have truly bad phone anxiety that I went a few years without going to the dentist. I know, disgusting. The thought of making a phone call would make my stomach drop and my heart race. I would think about everything that could go wrong, imagining myself gibbering through awkward silence and embarrassing myself.
If I could avoid making a phone call I would do it. If I really had to do it, I would avoid making the call until the very last minute. Once it was over, I would think: ‘’Well it wasn’t so bad, why was I so anxious all this time?’’. But I would still go the same process for the next phone call.
If I received a phone call from an unknown number I would not answer it.
Phone calls are still not my favorite way of communication but over the years I have found some strategies to overcome my phone anxiety.
Before the call, I make sure to breathe deeply. When my anxiety is high, my breathing becomes heavy.
The breathing technique I use is called ‘’tactical breathing’’. This breathing strategy has been used by first responders, the military, and athletes to focus, gain control, and manage stress. It helps me control worry and nervousness.
Breathe in counting 1, 2, 3, 4
Stop and hold your breath counting 1, 2, 3, 4
Exhale counting 1, 2, 3, 4
Repeat until your breathing is under control.
If I have to make a phone call I jot down the main point I want to talk about. Try to anticipate what the other person is going to say. For example, if you call to schedule an appointment with the dentist, you will have to give your name, whether or not you have insurance, significant dental issues, whether you are a new patient or already have a dentist, the reason for your appointment.
Write down you first sentence and have a list of all the other pertinent information that the receptionist might ask you. Rehearse your opening before the call to be more comfortable.
You could start with:
“Hi, my name is Katy Morin and I would like to make an appointment for a routine cleaning with Dr. Jones.”
Something that has helped me in general with my anxiety is visualization. Imagining a successful conversation instead of thinking about awkward silence.
Visualization is a great technique to help reduce stress. It involves the practice of creating a detailed mental image of your desired outcome.
Visualization help you feel relax. It distracts you attention away from what is stressing you and towards an alternative focus. This technique suggests to your body and unconscious mind to act ‘’as thought’’ what you are thinking is real.
You can use this technique as a form of guided meditation.
Here’s an example of how you could use visualization to help with phone anxiety.
- Find a private calm space and make yourself comfortable.
- Use the ‘’tactical breathing’’ to calm yourself.
- Close your eyes.
- Imagine yourself being calm, relaxed, and smiling while talking on the phone.
- Imagine that you feel confident and are enjoying yourself having a nice conversation with someone.
- Focus on the different sensory attributes present in your scene so as to make it more vivid in your mind. For instance, where is the call taking place, who are you talking to, how do you feel.
- Remain within your scene, touring its various sensory aspects for five to ten minutes or until you feel relaxed.
- While relaxed, assure yourself that you can return to this place whenever you want or need to relax.
- Open your eyes again and then rejoin your world.
Be Present on the call
Smiling during the call can help you genuinely decrease your stress and make you happier as research showed.
Then listen carefully to the other person so you can respond easily.
Try to keep yourself calm and not over-analyze what you want to say.
Refer to your notes if you need to.
Don’t hesitate to ask the other person to repeat themselves if you did not understand them.
Mindfulness can help you stay present in the moment.
Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.
While mindfulness is something we all naturally possess, it’s more readily available to us when we practice on a daily basis.
Whenever you bring awareness to what you’re directly experiencing via your senses, or to your state of mind via your thoughts and emotions, you’re being mindful. And there’s growing research showing that when you train your brain to be mindful, you’re actually remodeling the physical structure of your brain.
The goal of mindfulness is to wake up to the inner workings of our mental, emotional, and physical processes.
Calm Anxiety in Three Steps with mindfulness:
- Open your attention to the present moment. The invitation is to bring attention to our experience in a wider and more open manner that isn’t really involved with selecting or choosing or evaluating, but simply holding — becoming a container for thoughts feelings or sensations in the body that are present and seeing if we can watch them from one moment to the next.
- Focus on the breath. Let go of that widescreen and to bring a focus that’s much more concentrated and centered, so narrower, on breathing in one region of our bodies — the breath of the belly, or the chest, or the nostrils, or anywhere that the breath makes itself known, and keeping that more concentrated focus.
- Bring your attention to your body. move out to become aware of sensations in the body as a whole, sitting with the whole body, the whole breath, once again we move back to wider and spacious container of attention for our experience.
Every time I have to make a phone call I do it right away instead of avoiding it. It helps me stop overthinking and feel nervous for days.
I started by calling my mother or a close friend to get comfortable talking on the phone then overtime I was able to handle calling to make an appointment or calling a business and ask what their hours are. “Hi, I was just wondering what time you close today.”
Work your way into doing calls that require longer openings, and more back and forth.
To go even further you can try exposure therapy either by yourself or with a therapist.
Exposure therapy is a technique in behavior therapy to treat anxiety disorders. Exposure therapy involves exposing the target patient to the anxiety source or its context without the intention to cause any danger. Doing so is thought to help them overcome their anxiety or distress. Numerous studies have demonstrated its effectiveness in the treatment of disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, PTSD, and specific phobias.
To find an exposure therapy specialist, start by asking your family doctor for a referral, or contact organizations like the American Psychological Association or the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies that can help you locate one.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a psycho-social intervention that aims to improve mental health. CBT focuses on challenging and changing unhelpful cognitive distortions (e.g. thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes) and behaviors, improving emotional regulation, and the development of personal coping strategies that target solving current problems. Originally, it was designed to treat depression, but its uses have been expanded to include treatment of a number of mental health conditions, including anxiety. CBT includes a number of cognitive or behavior psychotherapies that treat defined psychopathologies using evidence-based techniques and strategies.
If you don’t want to talk to a therapist, Anxiety Canada, a world leader delivering evidence-based mental health relief through digital channels, has released MindShift™ CBT for iOS and Android, free to download and use for all Canadians. It employs scientifically proven strategies based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to help users learn to relax and be mindful, develop more effective ways of thinking, and use active steps to take charge of their anxiety.
You can also use books like Mind Over Mood, to help you discover simple yet powerful steps you can take to overcome emotional distress — and feel happier, calmer, and more confident. This life-changing book has already helped more than 1,100,000 readers use cognitive-behavioral therapy — one of today’s most effective forms of psychotherapy — to conquer depression, anxiety, panic attacks, anger, guilt, shame, low self-esteem, eating disorders, substance abuse, and relationship problems.
I hope these tips help you to take action as they did for me. Practice is an important part of overcoming fear.
Katy Morin, Certified Wellness Coach