Telephonophobia is reluctance or fear of making or taking phone calls, literally, "fear of telephone". is considered to be a type of social phobia or social anxiety. It is often compared to glossophobia, in that both require engaging with an audience to a certain extent, followed by the fear of being criticized, judged or made a fool of.
As is common with various fears and phobias, there is a wide spectrum of severity of the fear of phone conversations and the corresponding difficulties. In 1993 it was reported that about 2.5 million people in Great Britain have telephonophobia.
The term Telephone Apprehension refers to a lower degree of telephonophobia, where it is the anxiety derived from telephones, but less severe than that of an actual phobia.
These people may have no problem communicating face to face, but have difficulty doing so over the telephone.
Fear and cause
The fear of telephones can range from the action or thought of answering and receiving calls to the actual ringing produced by the telephone. The ringing sound can generate a string of anxieties, characterized by thoughts associated with having to speak, perform and converse.
Many of those suffering from this phobia may perceive the other end as threatening or intimidating, or may worry about finding an appropriate time to call, in fear of being a nuisance. Another source of anxiety can arise from concerns about poor sound quality, and a fear that the person on the receiving end won't understand what the calling end is saying, or vice versa. A sufferer calling a household or office in which they know several people may be concerned at the prospect of failing to recognize the voice of the person who answers, with resultant embarrassment. Another source of anxiety may arise from the absence of body language over a phone line, resulting in the individual losing their sense of control. Some sufferers may be concerned about having to "perform" in front of a real or perceived audience at their end of the line: this is a particular problem for those obliged to use a phone in the workplace. Past experiences, such as overhearing something traumatic or an unpleasant and angry call, may also play a part in creating fear. Sufferers typically report fear that they would fail to respond appropriately in a telephone conversation, and fear finding nothing to say, which would end in embarrassing silence, stammering, or stuttering.
Anxiety about receiving calls may be triggered by a belief that the caller will bear bad or upsetting news, or may be a prank caller.
A variety of symptoms can be seen in someone suffering from telephonophobia, many of which are shared with anxiety. Some symptoms include nervous stomach, sweaty palms, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, nausea, dry mouth and trembling. The sufferer may experience feelings of panic, terror and dread. Resulting panic attacks can include hyperventilation and stress. These negative and agitating symptoms can be produced by both the mere thought of making and receiving calls and the action of doing so.
The telephone is important for both contacting others and accessing important and useful services. As a result, this phobia causes a great deal of stress and impacts peoples' personal lives, work lives and social lives. As a result, sufferers avoid many activities, such as scheduling events or clarifying information. Strain is created in the workplace specifically because work with telephones may play a crucial role within the career.
Associated avoidance behavior may include asking others (e.g. relatives at home) to take their phone calls and exclusive use of answering machines. The rise in the use of electronic text communication (the internet, email and text messaging) has also given many sufferers alternative means of communication that they tend to find considerably less stressful than the phone.
Coping strategies may consist in planning the conversation ahead of time and rehearsing, writing or noting down what needs to be said. This may be helped by having privacy in which to make a call. Practice may also play an important factor in overcoming fear. It is helpful to the sufferers to increase phone usage at a slow pace, starting with simple calls and gradually working their way up. For example, starting with automated calls, moving to family and friends and then further extending the length of the conversations and with whom the conversations are being held.