Saturday, October 29, 2011

Phone Jitters

Though I probably don't have enough of it to warrant a label, I think I do have some social anxiety.  It's gotten a lot better over the years - when I was a kid it was really so much worse.  Back then, I was often labeled "shy" or "quiet" and hated it because every time someone used one of those adjectives to describe me, it just seemed that much harder to overcome my difficulty of speaking up.  Those jolts of anxiety I got from voicing my opinion were intensified when I discovered that, despite my desire to be talkative and efforts to be outgoing, I was still perceived as being "quiet."   I had a hard time as it was being more vocal when not at ease, but when someone commented on how I was "shy," the self-consciousness would flare up even more, creating an even bigger hurdle to overcome when I wanted to express myself.

Like I said, it's a lot better now.  I think through accidental exposure and repeated confrontation of social situations, I have adjusted.  Just as I have begun to habituate to the fear of "feeling dirty" and other contamination-related concerns, I likewise have habituated to the fear of vocalizing my thoughts (and being evaluated negatively if do) by repeatedly putting myself or by being put in social situations that evoke anxiety.  The thoughts that maybe I'm really obviously "weird" or "different" or "awkward" (or that my comments are somehow "dumber" than those of other people) still linger, but they are less intense and they don't hold as much influence over my choices as they used to.  When I was a kid, I really grappled with insecurity and lack of self-confidence, and I still often do, but these days I am more often able to overcome that fear in order to make the decisions that I want to make and act how I want to act.  In fact, I really like to talk.  I did when I was a kid, too, but back then the fear of being judged and feeling embarrassment just seemed to overpower my eagerness to express myself.

What remains of that social anxiety tends to rear its ugly head when making phone calls for my job.  When I have to make a new contact for the first time, my anxiety shoots through the roof.  I type the number into the phone and just have to press "dial" whether I feel ready or not, because if I waited for the jitters to go away, I would never make that phone call.  I do my best to sound professional and not nervous, but sometimes I get off the phone and still think, "Wow, that was special..."  or "I said that the wrong way" or "I could have explained that better."

I try not to dwell on it, though, or reassure myself in a way that only feeds the fear.  Instead I think:  Maybe I sounded stupid, or maybe I didn't.  Maybe it was a better-than-average phone call, or maybe it was worse.  What's the worst case scenario?  That I sounded unprofessional?  What's so wrong with that?  While it's not exactly the way I wanted to present myself, who cares?  People say dumb things.  People botch phone calls.  People make mistakes.  It happens.  I'm not an exception and can't expect to be.  Humans do things "wrong" sometimes.  What makes me think that I'm any different?  I'm not.

Putting it into perspective helps, as does writing about it here.  I'm still coming down from the anxiety and jitters awakened by a few phone calls I had to make almost an hour ago, but if I have learned anything in treatment for OCD, it's that feelings are just that:  feelings.  They are not always a good barometer for what's a threat and what's not.  I could have made an awesome phone call and felt awful about it, or I could have actually made a phone call that was awful but felt good about it.  It all depends on how I interpret the situation.  To use my feelings as the sole measurement of my performance would be to fall into the trap of  one of those lovely "cognitive distortions" CBT therapists are always talking about - namely, emotional reasoning (i.e. I feel a certain way about something, therefore it must be true).  I know better than believe my feelings all the time, especially when I suspect that my alarm system is a little out of whack.  My body was already pumping with little waves of anxiety before I made the phone calls, so using that anxiety to judge the phone calls as a success or failure would be misleading. 

As with other fears, it basically comes down to accepting uncertainty.  Maybe I did well, maybe I didn't.  I can't be sure and I don't need to be.


  1. Way to go accepting uncertainty!
    When I was younger, I sometimes "talked alot" in my own estimation, but was asured that it still counted as being quiet. Now I know I'm not the only one to experience that.
    I think it still happens to me, but I don't currently care as much about what "they" label me (in the quiet/outgoing way; I still worry plenty about accidental rudeness/offensiveness, how true my words are, and missunderstandings).
    My commenting ability is having trouble, so I'm commenting "anonymously"
    Abigail from

  2. I too had that problem. Making phone calls was agonizing. I'd practice over and over, hoping i'd get it 'right.' And then ruminating over it, to make sure it had been 'ok' after i was done.

    So i know how hard it can be to overcome it. I had to decide that perfectionism wasn't what to go for, but did i get my problem solved or my question answered or my point across. Then it took time for the feelings to mellow out afterwards, too. I was REALLY glad i had made that effort when i got this contamiination ocd. Because now the phone was my best friend. I didn't have to go touch anything. All i needed to do was pick up the phone. Sometimes i still feel anxious making a call, but i'm not ruminating about them anymore.

    Way to go!! Congradulations on acquiring a new, useful skill!

  3. EXCELLENT post.....your insight and understanding of your anxiety and OCD are sure to help others dealing with the same issues.

    I'll post under anonymous as it's not working for wordpress:

  4. I still struggle with phone anxiety! I used to think I was the only person in the world who couldn't have a normal phone conversation. I hated even listening to voicemail. But I do it at work everyday. Sometimes I procrastinate and often I try and convince the people I do business with to use email. I am the best at avoiding using the phone. Text messaging has been the greatest enabler ever. Good thing my texts are unlimited.

  5. I suffer from OCD, and I can relate to anxiety definitely being a part of it. More than anything, I am so afraid of people finding out that I have OCD and then judging me differently because of it. It makes me not want to talk to anyone (even on the phone). Anyway, than you so much for being honest about what it's like to live with OCD. Wanted to share a link I find really useful too: if you're interested.

  6. I had the combination of two things that cause me a tonne of social anxiety: a phone interview.

    Not surprisingly, I didn't get the job. Turned out I didn't want it anyway, so it wasn't so bad. But I dwelt on that phone call for so long afterwards. In fact, it still bothers me to this day.

    I'd much rather speak to someone face-to-face than speak on the phone. I need to be able to see their expressions and body language, I think. Not that I'm comfortable speaking to people face-to-face, either.

  7. Interesting way of thinking on OCD. This post is helpful for people to have better understanding of this problem.



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