Tips for Managing Phone Anxiety

Tips for Managing Phone Anxiety

Millions of people dread using the phone. Full blown “telephonophobia” is characterized by feelings of panic, terror and anxiety attacks when faced with the prospect of talking on the phone. A lesser form of this, telephone apprehension, can still be nerve-wracking. The bad news is that you can’t cut out your dealings with the telephone entirely. The good news is that you can manage your anxiety and mitigate the effects of phone anxiety. Here are six tips for reining in your phone panic:

Examine Why You’re Afraid

Why are you really afraid of the phone? Is it part of a larger generalized anxiety disorder? Is it social anxiety – are you afraid of upsetting or being upset by the person on the other end of the line? Is it fear of miscommunicating? Is the sudden, unexpected and jarring sound of the ringer a trigger for your anxiety? Figure out what really bothers you about the phone and take steps to mitigate it, either alone or with your mental health care professional. Knowing exactly why you’re afraid can help you more easily manage your anxiety.

You Control Your Interactions

Reminding yourself that you are in complete control of your telephone interactions is a useful way to help quell phone anxiety. In today’s world where phones are ever-present and multi-functional, it can be hard to remember that phones are a tool for communication and nothing more. Because the phone is a tool, it only gets used when you want or need to use it.

You should be no more afraid of your phone than you are of your screwdriver. You can hang up at any time, call back at another time, silence the ringer if you don’t feel like answering calls or simply turn your phone off altogether. Voicemail and answering machines are also useful tools: if you don’t think you can face the phone at any given point, let the call go to voicemail and return it when you’ve gathered your willpower.

Practice What You’re Going to Say Before a Call

If your telephonophobia stems from the fear that you’re going to say the wrong thing, freeze up or be unable to communicate clearly and effectively, practice what you’re going to say before you pick up the phone. Grab a pen and paper and jot down some notes or talking points. Keep these notes in front of you when you’re speaking.

If you’re really worried, you can write out an entire script. Try to anticipate questions and how you’ll answer them. Practice saying the words out loud or in your head to give yourself more confidence in your phone interactions.

Make Yourself Comfortable

Stress takes a toll on you and avoiding the phone isn’t an option, so take control of the things you can. When you must speak on the telephone, sit in a place where you feel comfortable and at ease. Surround yourself with positive cues, like your favorite picture or object. Grab a glass of your favorite tea to calm your nerves and sip on while you speak. Wear comfortable clothes and light some incense or a candle or open a bottle of your favorite scented oil to soothe your nerves.

Increase Your Phone Use

One of the best ways to banish phone anxiety (or at least lessen it) is to face that fear head on as often as you can tolerate. Make more phone calls. If you have the option of phoning in an order for pizza or booking an appointment instead of entering the information online, do that. Call people you love regularly and engage in pleasant, uplifting conversations to increase your telephone confidence. The more successful conversations you complete, the more in control of your fear you’ll become.

Fake It ‘Til You Make It

Your emotions show through your voice. If you’re scared, nervous or anxious about talking on the phone, it will be apparent in your voice and the person on the other end of the line will pick up on it. It can set the tone – usually negative – for the interaction. If you can’t be calm, cool and confident on the phone, fake it.

Put on a smile, even a fake one: the act of smiling changes the way your voice sounds. Pause when you lose your train of thought instead of relying on filler words like “um,” “uh” and “like”. Enunciate clearly. Speak slowly and if you feel yourself speeding up, slow it down. Remember, you’re in control.

Look at the Big Picture

When you feel yourself getting anxious about the phone, look at the big picture. Your anxiety has probably already given you a million ideas about the worst possible scenario that could come of poor phone interactions. But in the long run, does it really matter if the pharmacist doesn’t like the way you talk on the phone?

One bad phone call or even multiple bad phone calls, are not the end of the world. Everyone fails from time to time, even those without phone anxiety. Even if the phone call is important, say for a job interview, what matters is that you’re getting better at controlling your anxiety, facing your fears and working on the skills you need.

The Bottom Line

While it’s not practical to avoid the phone entirely, there are ways to manage your anxiety or apprehension. Taking the steps toward self-care and self-soothing while talking on the phone can help you relax and mentally preparing yourself before and after phone interactions can help.

The more you face your fear of the phone, the easier it becomes to make and receive calls. Don’t give up – if you find your anxiety escalating, speak to your mental health care provider.

Overcoming Social Anxiety at the Gym

Overcoming Social Anxiety at the Gym

Getting regular exercise is an important component of staying healthy. However, when you have social anxiety, the thought of putting on workout clothes and heading to the gym can be enough to make you decide not to bother with going out to exercise at all.

If you have concerns that people at the gym may be looking at you and judging you as you are doing your routine, you are definitely not alone. Many people feel overwhelmed when entering a gym – especially if it appears to be full of members who look as though they don’t really need to be working out – people who are obviously in great physical shape.

Maybe entering a gym is intimidating because you don’t know how to use the equipment efficiently. With these types of thoughts rolling around in your mind, the thought of actually speaking to someone you encounter at the gym is even more off-putting. The good news is that there are steps you can take to help you overcome social anxiety at the gym. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

Keep your Focus on Improving Your Health

When you step into the gym, try not to think about the other members. Your focus should be squarely on you and your health and fitness goals. You’ve made a choice to improve your health, improve your muscle tone, relieve stress, lower your blood pressure or lose weight (if that is part of your plan).

Increasing your level of physical activity will also help you to feel less anxious over time, which is an additional bonus on top of the other health benefits you’ll get from making trips to the gym part of your regular routine.

Schedule a Session with a Personal Trainer

As a new member, you’ll want to get some instruction about the best type of workout to help you achieve your fitness goals. The gym may give you a preferred rate on one or more sessions with a personal trainer.

You can use this time to map out a workout routine and get to know how to use the equipment properly. When the time comes to work out on your own, you’ll feel more confident about stepping up to the machines on your own.

If you can’t afford a session with a personal trainer, ask whether an employee can take you around and give you the rundown about how each piece of equipment works. The management wants you to be happy as a new member and you’ll get the added benefit of getting to know a staff member you can greet by name the next time you go in for a workout.

Sign up for an Exercise Class

The good thing about an exercise class is that you’re working out with a group and that everyone is learning something new together.

You won’t be expected to be an expert and the instructor will be happy to help you if you get stuck. Once the class starts, the participants will be too busy focusing on following what’s going on to be thinking about what anyone else is doing, so there’ll be no reason to worry about how you’re doing.

Do Smile at Staff and Fellow Members

Even if you find it challenging to speak in social situations, you can try smiling at the gym staff and fellow members when you’re at the gym. In most instances, the gym staff will be quite friendly and may even say, “Hello” or ask you how your day or workout is going.

Most of the staff will be aware that you’re a new member, so one or more will probably make an effort to ask whether you’re enjoying everything at the gym or if you have any questions. You may find it easier to communicate if someone else initiates the conversation. The first few times you speak to someone at the gym, you may decide to keep these encounters short.

Once you start to feel more comfortable in the surroundings, you can start to make conversations longer by asking questions, such as asking a staff member about other classes you could take or how to determine when to increase the number of repetitions (reps) of a certain exercise. If you’re talking to a fellow member, you could ask what they think of a particular piece of equipment or whether they have been a member for a long time — adding that you’re trying to get a feel for the place.

Most people are happy to give new members both encouragement and helpful opinions and suggestions without much prompting, so this can be a good way to start a conversation without having to do “all the work.”

Using Social Anxiety as a Motivator

Using Social Anxiety as a Motivator

Social anxiety can be a motivator to avoid situations you find uncomfortable. At its core, anxiety is a gripping, all-consuming feeling that can feel impossible to overcome.

Accepting that anxiety is part of your life and turning it on its head to become a motivator to do the very things you find uncomfortable is a valid coping strategy that some people find effective.

Why Can Some People Use Anxiety as Motivation?

Not all people can use motivation to push forward through the very discomfort that the anxiety causes. The reason for this may be a genetic variant.

A 2006 study published in the journal “CNS Spectrum” explains that there are two basic types of people: those who adopt a “warrior” strategy and those who adopt a “worrier” strategy when coping with anxiety.

Those with the “warrior” genetic variant don’t just push through when stress is present: they need it to thrive. For example, if you do your best work when you have a deadline looming over your head, you probably have the “warrior” variant in your genetics.

“Worriers”, on the other hand, shut down when confronted with stress. Those with the “worrier” genetic variant find stress unbearable and can’t cope with it, nor can they be productive or make anything productive out of it when it is present. If you need time to plan out your projects and must have them done well before the deadline, your genetics may have the “worrier” variant.

The “worrier” or “warrior” explanation of genetic variants is extremely simplified; however, it may account for the reason some people are able to use social anxiety to their advantage.

Variables that Affect the Ability to Use Anxiety Effectively

The type of anxiety you experience, as well as the anxiety intensity, can affect your ability to use social anxiety as a motivator. For example, if your anxiety intensity is so great that you can’t even pick up the phone for fear of something horrific happening and you feel sick to your stomach every time it rings, the chances that you’ll be able to use your anxiety as a motivator without intensive cognitive behavioral therapy are slim.

If your social anxiety is mild and you are still able to get out and about – if you want to bolt when shopping at a crowded supermarket but don’t – you might be able to start viewing and using your anxiety as a motivator.

Your therapist can help you sort out the type of social anxiety you’re experiencing and how best to use it to your advantage. It’s worth talking about in order to figure out if using your anxiety as a motivator is a valid coping strategy for you at this point in time.

Using Fear to Your Advantage

When you’re anxious, you’re afraid. When you’re constantly afraid, you start fearing the fear, so you avoid things that make you afraid.

By using the very thing that’s holding you back in order to motivate you, you can earn a great sense of accomplishment and start beating the disorder little by little. While social anxiety might never totally go away, turning it into a tool in your life arsenal can be a powerful thing.

By taking little steps toward doing the things that make you afraid (and having positive experiences that refute the notion that it’ll be horrible), you gradually become less afraid. A good therapist can walk you through the process of exposure and re-exposure or tell you if this is the right course of action for you and your individual anxiety.

Anxiety and fear are subjective – and so are coping mechanisms. What works for one person might not work for another. You may find that trying to use your social anxiety as motivation creates another type of anxiety, making it nigh impossible to try again. Don’t get discouraged.

Anxiety as a Path to Success

Harnessing your anxiety can be a direct path to success. When feeling anxiety, you overcompensate and do your best work and try your hardest to overcome it. By trying hard, you gain successes in various areas of your life. By having successes, you gain confidence to keep trying. As you keep trying, you gain more success and confidence.

Just like the fear cycle of having a bad experience after a bad experience reaffirms your anxiety, having good experiences as the direct result of working with your anxiety can push you to keep going, keep trying and to try harder, leading to positive experience after positive experience. Once you have a few positive experiences under your belt, the negative ones might (not always, but might) not feel so negative.

Anxiety is Highly Individual

Social anxiety is very personal. What works for you might not work for others, just like the level of feelings you experience may be very different. You may find that you’re able to use your anxiety as a motivator to succeed or even to overcome the anxiety itself – it’s dependent on the type of anxiety you experience, what caused it, its intensity, genetics and many other variables in your life.

Working with your therapist, you can determine whether it’s possible or even advisable to try using social anxiety as a motivator and how best to go about doing so.

Turning Gift Anxiety on its Ear This Year

Turning Gift Anxiety on its Ear This Year

Christmas is a time for gift giving, but it can also be responsible for gift anxiety. The pressure to have a Hallmark Holiday is rampant, and choosing the “perfect gift” can leave people living with social anxiety feeling distinctly uncomfortable.

Does the thought of tackling your shopping list leave you feeling symptoms like sweaty palms, a nervous stomach, heart palpitations or a headache?

Do you tell yourself that you “should” be feeling joy at the prospect of giving and that these feelings are bad or wrong?

Feelings Are Valid

How you feel about giving gifts is never bad or wrong. Your feelings are valid. If shopping for gifts or the idea of giving them feels awkward, then that’s how you happen to feel. It doesn’t mean you can’t do anything to help yourself feel a bit more comfortable, though.

Identify what Makes You Feel Uncomfortable

Your first step in feeling less anxious about gift giving is to identify what it is about this activity that makes you feel awkward.

· Are you concerned you won’t be able to pick out an appropriate gift?
· Do you think that your gift has to be unique or creative to be appreciated?
· Would you feel awkward about handing someone a gift?
· Are you worried that you don’t know what to say if someone gives you a gift?

Take Steps Toward the Situation Causing your Anxiety

Once you know what’s making you uncomfortable, you can start to take baby steps toward approaching the situation. Closing the gap between yourself and what causes the anxiety is how you will eventually control the panic attached to choosing Christmas gifts. If you’re concerned about your gift-giving abilities, you could ask someone you know for suggestions for the people on your list.

Look online for lists of suggestions for Christmas gift giving. You’ll find plenty of lists for Dads, Moms, kids, teens, geeks, etc. Check out reviews of popular games, movies, CDs, toys, gadgets, small appliances and wines for more ideas.

Gifts don’t have to be creative or unique to be meaningful. Practical gifts are appreciated too – and many people actually anticipate receiving similar gifts each year as part of their Christmas tradition.

If you’re concerned about how you’d feel about handing someone a gift, practice this situation in your mind: Think of what you could say when giving someone a gift. Prepare more than one simple phrase to use. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy; A simple “Merry Christmas” will suffice.

In a situation where you’re concerned that you’ll have a problem because you won’t behave appropriately if someone gives you a gift, practice saying a few short phrases before Christmas. “Thank you.” “This is great.” “I really like it, thanks.”

You can say one of them at the time and then send the giver of the gift a thank you note if you find that you can express yourself more easily in writing. This will give you more time to think about what you would like to say without the pressure of feeling as though you have one or more people looking at you and waiting for a response.

Try to Focus on the Recipient When Giving Gifts

Keep in mind that people like receiving gifts because it’s actually fun to open a brightly colored package (you know this). They enjoy the surprise factor and the fact that someone cared enough about them to get them a gift.

When you give someone a gift at Christmas, watch how they react when they open it. Try to calmly observe their expression without adding your own internal dialogue about what you think they’re experiencing. Try not to judge what you’re seeing; just let the experience unfold.

More than likely, you’ll see someone enjoying themselves. The other people in the room will be excited to see what’s in the package, too. No one will be judging the gift or the giver (you) at all.

Remember the Joys of the Season

The true joys of the Christmas season have a lot to do with spending time with family and friends and hopefully, making memories that can be treasured long after the day itself has faded away. Many people would be hard pressed to remember exactly what gifts they received at Christmas from one year to the next.

They do, however, remember the warm feelings they got from knowing that someone thought enough of them to give them one.

10 Tips for Navigating Holiday Parties with Social Anxiety

10 Tips for Navigating Holiday Parties with Social Anxiety

The winter holidays are a gauntlet of awkward social situations and none are quite so panic inducing as holiday parties. Whether it’s an office function, a family party, a neighborhood event or a charity gala, the thought of navigating a holiday party when you experience social anxiety is akin to spending a night in hell. But it doesn’t have to be so bad. With these 10 tips, you’ll be navigating your holiday parties like a pro.

1. Commit to Going or Bow Out Early

Before you ever even commit to going to the party, make sure you aren’t overbooked. Anxiety means you might need a day or two to prepare mentally for a party and might need a few days to recover. If your schedule is clear, commit to going. The worst that happens is that you end up not going.

If you can’t talk yourself out of your anxiety over going to the party, call the host or the person who invited you sooner rather than later. Explain politely that something has come up, but that you truly appreciate the invitation and would love to catch up with them in the future, perhaps in a more intimate get-together.

2. Mentally Prepare Yourself

Chances are good that you’ve already learned a number of coping mechanisms for easing your anxiety. The day of the party, prepare yourself. Treat yourself well. Exercise, take a bubble bath and eat your favorite treat. Indulge in all the little things that make you feel good so that you’ll be less likely to stress about the upcoming event. Even if your brain has you convinced the party will be a disaster, at least you treated yourself to a stellar day.

3. Bring a Friend

If you’ve got a friend who knows about your social anxiety, bring him or her with you. They can help ease you into conversations, help navigate the tough parts of socializing at parties, include you in activities and if need be, lend a supportive ear if you need to vent. A friend who understands social anxiety can be a lifeline in a terrifying situation like a holiday party.

4. Arrive Early or On Time

When a party is in full swing, it can be overwhelming. People already have their groups and are chattering away without a care in the world. Where do you start? How do you interject yourself into the situation? Aim to arrive at the party on time or even a little bit early so you can ease yourself into the action as other guests arrive.

5. Ask Questions

If small talk terrifies you, ask people about themselves. People are almost always willing to talk about themselves and you’ll have to do little more than listen to them. If it goes well, the conversation will flourish. If not, you’ll learn a little something about someone else.

Stick to innocuous topics like how they like the food, compliment them on their outfit and ask where they got it or even discuss the weather. Keep a mental tab of conversation starters and try to get your fellow party-goers to open up about themselves so that none of the pressure is on you.

6. Avoid Stimulants and Depressants

It’s already hard enough to cope with social anxiety, you don’t need extra chemicals clouding your judgment and making you doubt yourself (because you CAN do this and WILL get through it!).

Avoid coffee and caffeine which can add to your jitters. Nicotine, too, can exacerbate anxiety. And as tempting as it is, stay away from the alcohol. It won’t loosen up your inhibitions and you’ll spend the rest of the night worrying about whether you’re too tipsy or making a fool of yourself.

It should go without saying, but any illicit substances need to stay out of your body as well. The best way to control your social anxiety is to keep your wits about you and you can’t do that if you’re inebriated or otherwise under the influence.

7. This, Too, Shall Pass

Very little in this world is permanent. Even the largest rocks eventually erode into sand. This experience will pass at the end of the night and whether you’re glad you went or miserable because of it, it’ll be over. Keep in mind that everything is impermanent and that each moment is a chance to improve your social skills and have some fun.

8. Participate

If you see someone playing a game or having a conversation, join in. Even if you feel awkward, trying to get in on the action is better than just standing there wondering what to do. If you’re busy playing a party game or chatting about the latest blockbuster release, you’re less likely to worry about everything under the sun. Ease yourself into interactions with others at your own pace.

9. Take Breaks

There’s no shame in stepping out for a breath of fresh air. Slip out of the party as needed to find a quiet place to calm your nerves, but resolve that you’ll go back in when you start feeling better. There are no rules that say you have to be in the middle of the action 100% of the time.

Take a few deep breaths, calm yourself, don’t replay any perceived social boo-boos in your head and walk back into that party with your head held high.

10. Have an Exit Plan

You know your limits on social interaction, so set yourself a time limit and leave by that time. Have an exit plan in mind if you need to leave sooner. You could arrange to check in with a friend who could provide an excuse if you need to leave urgently because you’re too overwhelmed. However, most of the time finding the host and simply saying “Thank you for inviting me, I’ve had a lovely time but I have to get up early tomorrow,” is enough to allow you to make a smooth exit.