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Fear of telephoning: what helps people with phobia

Order a pizza quickly or make an appointment with the hairdresser – just give us a call. No big deal, you might think. But for some. For Stephanie Cao, for example. She is young, fluent and has more than 3000 subscribers on YouTube. The 23-year-old Berlin student has no inhibitions about uploading a video of herself lasting several minutes on the Internet. But she is afraid to make an appointment on the phone.

Like other people affected, she prefers to type on the smartphone or take long journeys to make an appointment. The main thing is not to make calls. This is called telephone phobia. There are many indications that the phenomenon could affect more and more people in the future.

So far, telephone phobia alone has not been clinically recorded, so it is not a reliable diagnosis. However, it could well become a new form of social phobia, says Nadine D. Wolf, senior physician at the psychiatric clinic at Heidelberg University Hospital who specializes in phobias. The reason is the changed communication behavior.

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Philippe Wampfler, media educator and lecturer at the University of Zurich, describes the change as follows: “In the past, you had three options if you wanted to borrow the neighbor’s lawn mower: phone, write a letter or go over. Today you can quickly write a WhatsApp. That is the path of least resistance. “

According to the 2018 JIM study – JIM stands for youth, information media – 95 percent of young people between the ages of 12 and 19 in Germany regularly exchange information alone via this communication platform – they receive an average of 36 messages per day. Only one in five people still used their smartphones to make phone calls every day.

“I think people used to have inhibitions about calling someone,” says media educator Wampfler. “But after school or after studying and at work, they learned to make calls. Simply because they had to. It is more pleasant today.”

If telephone phobia increases, in his opinion this is also due to the so-called affordance, the nature of the media. It doesn’t have to be a problem. But it can. The internet is full of reports from affected people, blogs on the subject and good tips against the fear of the telephone.

Fear of the phone call – “the heart beats up to the neck”

Stephanie Cao’s video, in which she describes why she hates making calls, apparently speaks from the heart of many: “OMG – I am so relieved,” writes a young woman. She thought she was the only one with the problem. Even if her boyfriend wants to talk to her on the phone, she consoles him and says “that it is currently not possible”.

And in “GLAMunity”, a glamor forum for women, a woman reports: “Even before the handset is picked up, the heart beats up to the neck.” The time she ponders the necessary call almost always takes longer than the actual call. Another, who says it is the same, does everything by email or blames it on her husband.

Also a Karlsruhe student, who otherwise sings solos without problems in front of a large audience, confesses: “For a while I was so afraid of telephoning that I persuaded a friend to call me somewhere. Now it works.” She is annoyed that she sometimes gets so scared: “Because you know that it is totally stupid, that you simply cannot call.”

For the Heidelberg psychiatrist Wolf, there are a number of reasons why someone has inhibitions before making a phone call: “Fear of being rejected, fear of being embarrassing or demeaning on the phone, or simply that you are completely on the phone The center of attention is standing and talking to unknown people. “

She sees telephone phobia as a type of social phobia that is particularly widespread among young people: “There are indications that up to 17 percent of young people between the ages of 14 and 20 suffer from it.” Young women more than men. From blushing, trembling, stuttering to fear of vomiting or wetting – the symptoms of dreaded situations can be serious for those affected, in the experience of the doctor.

When to speak to a doctor

From the medical practitioner’s point of view, the new behavior pattern should not in principle be pathologized. You should seek medical advice if the fear is so great that it restricts everyday life. “Then you should learn to call again under therapeutic guidance,” she says. Resident psychiatrists or psychotherapists could help – and additional self-help groups in which you can exchange ideas with like-minded people.

According to media pedagogue Wampfler, telephone phobia occurs primarily in the professional and administrative area or among strangers. But what makes calling so difficult? “Inhibitions and fears about telephoning are increasing because the practice of using the technology of telephoning is lost,” he suspects.

In addition, according to the psychiatrist Wolf: “In written communication, more than 90 percent of communication patterns such as facial expressions, gestures or emphasis on statements are hidden.” You are not visible – and so less vulnerable. On the other hand, you have to react flexibly and spontaneously on the phone. “This is closely linked to social skills.”

According to her, it is first of all important that those affected break the vicious cycle that can result from a constant avoidance strategy. She recommends to face the fear and to practice practicing on the phone. “For example, you can write down key words or write down an introductory sentence. And very importantly, smiling helps!”

According to the experts, anyone who sends others to telephone calls only acts cleverly in the short term. And actually young people also enjoy making phone calls: “You still want to chat with your girlfriend,” says Wampfler. “It only works differently from a technical point of view – via video telephony or for hours on a smartphone with headphones.”

Youtuber Stephanie Cao continues to make calls only when absolutely necessary. If possible in the morning immediately after getting up. “I’m still very relaxed there.”

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