It started two years ago. A friend of mine would come to my building and call me from there asking me to come down and meet him. He was persistent, and I didn’t want to go. I stopped answering his calls, and from then on it just started happening with others.
When I don’t know why someone is calling, I get very anxious. It happens even when I’ve met someone the day before. And this isn’t random unsaved numbers, as those I get excited to answer. It’s people I know and what they might say, which is scary, or I might say something stupid or they might want a favour which I cannot do, which would make me a be a bad person. So I just don’t answer the calls and let the phone ring out. Those 60 seconds are terrible each time.
During this time, my heart starts to race. I get nervous, jittery, intensely uncomfortable and I am physically unable to answer the phone. I feel irritated also because if someone knows it, then they still didn’t give me a chance to prepare myself. I struggle to focus during that time and feel nauseated. I never cut the call because it is impolite and people don’t like to be hung up on, so I text them asking what they wanted to speak about after the call. If people just text me before, I’m better prepared.
The content of the call doesn’t really matter, as most of them are mundane everyday things, like someone asking me to meet, or what dress they should wear. The anxiety goes away in 5-10 seconds into a call. I get very anxious during interviews though. Even while speaking with you, I’m sweating through my clothes.
I’ve told some people about it, but some of my friends think this isn’t a real thing, that I’m being dramatic. They get upset about why I still can’t pick up their phones. I’ve gotten used to their behaviour now, though I still don’t answer most calls. Initially, I felt alienated from them and very misunderstood as they couldn’t understand this one thing which was happening to me everyday.
Many of them started believing this to be a real problem only after I started therapy. But my therapist didn’t treat this separately, as he told me it’s a manifestation of my general anxiety, along with lack of sleep at night.
Now I have developed a system to combat this phone anxiety where I’ve told people to text me before calling, so we can discuss what we will speak about, and I can articulate and prepare myself for it. When people ask me to call others, I also prefer to text before to give them the chance others don’t give me. We don’t know who could be going through phone anxiety.
Tanisha Sinha is a financial consultant based in Mumbai. As told to Parthshri Arora.
We asked Ila Kulshreshtha, a counselling psychologist, on how best to deal with phone anxiety. Here’s what she recommends:
When you get a call, try breathing. Get breathing apps on your phone or smartwatches. If you feel like you’re going to throw up, keep a glass of water with you. Cold water is a suppressant to nausea.
Anxiety causes restlessness among some people who then start pacing up and down. So if you feel dizzy upon receiving a call, try sitting down and speaking on the phone.
One important thing someone dealing with phone anxiety can do is just practicing calls. Ask your friends and family who you’ve told about it to call you once a day, then increase the volume of calls gradually. Pace yourself through it. Start with 5 to 10 minutes, maybe go to 20. And practice being silent on the call, as silence on calls can trigger anxiety. This will train your nervous system to not treat the call as a danger.
If you’re speaking with someone you’re familiar with, visualize how the conversation will go on. Rehearse the points you want to discuss, how you will speak with clarity and confidence, while the person on the other side replies adequately.
Try taking notes during and after the conversation. Taking down notes distracts you from the dynamics of the relationship between you and the other person on the line, while making sure you keep focused on the content of the call.