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Tough calls: overcoming phone anxiety

At a time when most well-being services have moved online, it is hard for those who would not normally choose to chat on the phone. Phone anxiety is common. And it might be preventing young people from talking about their mental health and well-being, at a time when they need to talk most. 

Here we take a look at phone anxiety and how we can help young people pick up the phone during lockdown.


what is phone anxiety

young woman on bus scrolling on mobile

How many of us prefer to book a table online rather than call a chaotic restaurant? Or rely on that friend who is a ‘phone person’ to deal with any difficult taxi drivers or takeaways?

For some people, picking up a phone is easy. For others, it takes a big effort. It involves sweaty palms, shaky hands, a busy heartbeat.

For a young person who is already feeling anxious or stressed about something, the prospect of having to talk on the phone about it seems counterintuitive. It is just easier not to.

Why the sweaty palms?

Why do some of us get phone anxiety? Well, on a phone call, all we have is our voice. Usually we can also use gestures, body language, facial expressions. Without these, it's harder to communicate. That's a lot of pressure on our voice. It can be stressful, especially if you don't trust your voice to do the job. 

If we are talking about something difficult, we often need encouragement – a smile or a nod. For a young person opening up about their feelings, a smile goes a long way. Without these human responses, a conversation can feel more like an evaluation. And those inevitable pauses don't help. Silence carries a lot more weight over the phone.

Perhaps the simplest reason some find it hard is they don't make phone calls that often. For a young person used to talking face-to-face or messaging mates, suddenly having to make phone calls to get support is nerve-racking.  

how to help with phone anxiety

mother arm round daughter's shoulder both happy and looking at phone

Getting better at talking

So, how can we make it easier for young people who might want to talk to someone during lockdown? We asked our Beam Sandwell well-being service, who recently moved online, how parents can help children who get anxious over phone calls.

  • Reminders:  If a young person has a call scheduled in, then give them a heads up near the time, just so it does not feel sprung on them.
  • Privacy: Make sure they have a quiet space where they feel comfortable talking on the phone and no one will interrupt.  
  • Practice: Encourage them to call you more, or people they feel comfortable with. Like most things, the more we talk on the phone, the easier it is. 

tips for talking on the phone continued

  • Rewards: It can be a huge achievement for a young person to open up on the phone so make sure you recognise it and set little rewards.
  • Run-throughs: If the child would like to prepare what they say, then be open to running it through with them.
  • Alternatives: If it's too difficult to talk on the phone, that's fine. Many services will have alternatives. Our well-being services will sometimes send resources via email or offer video calls.

Making the call

We know how hard it is to talk on the phone. It's not just phone anxiety, many young people won't feel safe making phone calls in their house, others don't even have a phone they can make calls on. We must do what we can to make it as easy as possible for young people to talk about what they're going through. 

Through all areas of our work, our services have adapted in the pandemic to make sure we can still be there for young people who need us most.