This article originally appeared on VICE Italy.
There are two types of people in this world, and two types only: people who don’t mind talking on the phone, because whatever, and people who just physically gagged at that concept.
“It’s a matter of preference,” says Gabriele Raimondi, President of the Board of Psychologists of Italy’s Emilia Romagna region, adding that there’s a generational divide in the way we communicate with our phones. "People aren’t really used to it anymore. Young people replaced calls with social media posts, texts and voice notes.”
Raimondi says the fear of speaking on the phone is connected to other social anxieties, and provoked by the difficulty of anticipating the rhythms and contents of the conversation.
“The reply time is different from when you’re texting,” he says. “Not necessarily slower, but more connected to the other person’s expectations. The feedback is immediate, so we always run the risk of interpreting it incorrectly and reading our mistakes as the confirmation of our fears.”
When you’re on the spot, you might not be able to articulate your thoughts as well as you’d like. While texting might lack some key elements of verbal communication, like tone of voice, emphasis, or pauses, it does give you time to process information and tailor your response.
Disliking phone calls is not an issue in and of itself, but it can become one if you think you’re missing out on important work or social opportunities because of it. Working remotely during the pandemic, many people have had to make more voice and video calls than ever before. “The fact that we can be contacted at different times of the day, often outside established office hours – because working times have expanded, they have invaded personal spaces – is one of the great issues giving rise to psychological fatigue in today's labour market,” says Raimondi.
That’s why it is important to establish rules where possible. Whether you want to mute and totally ignore your phone in the evenings, or feel that you must be somewhat available 24/7, the key is carving out a space in which you have full autonomy when it comes to using your phone. In those periods, defined according to your needs, you should try to avoid reacting to notifications.
“It’s important to validate your own choice of whether or not to answer the phone,” says Raimondi. “You also have to evaluate how important the call is. You don’t have to answer every single one.”
Just like at school, when you were a little nervous before a test or a presentation, being prepared about what you need and want to say can make a big difference when anticipating a phone call.
“I try to go over and prepare the requests I plan to make, especially when it comes to a work call. Being aware of my bodily reactions also helps me,” says Raimondi. “I know that when the phone call comes, my heart beats faster, for example. Anticipating your body's reactions is an important part of managing them better, and allows you to be less affected by them.”
But if you don’t feel the jitters disappear, even if you prepare and rehearse your communication skills in multiple phone calls a day, you’re not alone. “Doing the same thing over and over again can desensitise some people, but not everyone is like that,” says Raimondi. “Indeed, for some people, [the repetition] makes them even more fatigued.”
If you’re seeing a therapist, you should talk about these anxieties with them. If you’re not, and phone calls really do make you incredibly anxious, you should consider seeing one. You’ll probably never like phone calls, but you might be able to work towards a point where you can consciously consider them as a tool to get what you need, without caring too much about their social aspect.
“[This will allow you to] select the stimuli you want to engage with because they are interesting. That’s healthy,” says Raimondi. “When we lose this ability, and we feel compelled to respond to everything, then we can get anxious.”