Mumsnet has not checked the qualifications of anyone posting here. If you need help urgently, see our mental health web guide which can point you to expert advice.

Extreme physiological reaction to phone calls?

(10 Posts)
mayoketchupchocolate Thu 14-Apr-16 16:55:24

Hi, I'm not sure if this is in the right place, but I need help!

I have suffered from anxiety from my late teens and am now nearly 30. I mostly manage to keep it under control, but I cannot stop myself from experiencing pretty extreme physiological symptoms when I'm on the phone. I usually avoid the phone, but I can't when I'm at work, and every time it rings, my heart pounds and I feel instantly panicky and stressed.

I have just had a call at work from someone wanting to make a complaint, and they were quite angry (not unreasonably so!), and I genuinely couldn't breathe, I couldn't get my words out and struggled for breath and my heart felt like it was going to jump out of my mouth. It has taken me over an hour to calm down enough to be able to write this because I was so distressed. I gave the person a load of rubbish information which i'll probably get in trouble for if she takes the complaint further. My mind goes completely blank and I just can't explain myself or talk properly- the woman actually had to ask if I was okay because it was clear that I couldn't breathe properly. I now have a pounding stress related headache.

I don't know why this happens? I also don't know what to do about it. The phone is unavoidable! Especially at work. Does anyone else experience this? DH says that everyone hates stressful phone calls, but surely this reaction isn't at all normal?!

0phelia Thu 14-Apr-16 21:41:30

While I was depressed and in the thrall of anxiety, I couldn't cope with phonecalls either.

I'm not saying our experiences are the same, but I couldn't even handle for example ringing up for a Pizza delivery let alone an important phonecall, work related.

Any phone conversation would echo around my head as though on a repeat loop for hours, sometimes days. I'd just repeat every word in my head.

I wonder if you put undue emphasis on the phonecall element because you can't see the person, there's no non-verbal cues to reassure you. I personally found this to be a contributor.

These reactons faded in time. I took a course in CBT which really did help gain perspective with anxiety.

mayoketchupchocolate Thu 14-Apr-16 22:56:32

Thank you for your reply.

The echoing in my head thing happens to me too. I've been replaying the conversation ever since. God know what she thought of me, I was such a mess and did such a bad job of speaking to her.

I saw my Dr on Tuesday with regards to getting some anxiety medication that I was on before, but he said no. I have had CBT in the past, but it is so expensive and I can't afford it at the moment. It was really helpful though.

I want to cry at the thought of going to work again tomorrow. I've been searching for new jobs all evening but that's not the answer is it, I need to sort this out. I just don't know how without expense that I can't afford.

I think you are right about not being able to see the person, it puts you in a vulnerable position.

My own grandmother has called me twice this week and text three times asking me to call her, and I can't even pluck up the courage to speak to her which is crazy, she's not going to shout at me!

Mummyof02 Fri 15-Apr-16 04:09:50

I sometimes feel like this when I have to sometimes talk or make or answer phone calls because I'm normally quite a quiet person and live by myself and two babies that I often don't talk that much at all ,I think being anxious to talk is quite common sometimes if your not surrounded by lots or even a few people majority of the day but don't feel bad about it and to feel less anxious about talking on the phone maybe try calling at a time of the day when you feel more relaxed or just be honest and say to the person 'can you call me back another time as now is not a good time' maybe ,like if your feeling not up to answering the phone to friends and relatives your not obliged to do it if it's going To make you feel not so great and as for work, could you try speaking with your manger and see if they can let you off from answering the phone maybe you could have other job duties instead if not I'd say look for a new job that's more suited to you, hope this helps x

FelicityR313 Fri 15-Apr-16 04:18:04

It's stress and I would get signed off work for 2 weeks. Take walks, baths, runs, breaks away, then get your arse back in there when you're well and relaxed again. Don't let it run for too long (more than tomorrow) or you're doing more damage.

iamwomanhearmesnore Fri 15-Apr-16 04:53:47

OP, what you're describing sounds like pretty extreme anxiety to me (I'm not a doctor - but am involved in occupational health). I would go back to your doctor and insist on some medication to help you through this - maybe something like betablockers which will stop the horrible beating heart symptoms and all the other scary physiological reactions so you are at least only dealing with the psychological and emotional stuff - although like the previous poster I think your doc should sign you off for a break also.

I would put your concerns in writing to your doctor and take the letter to the appointment in case you can't explain how bad you're feeling in the short time allocated for the appointment. Write down exactly what you described above so that your symptoms and the severity of them are clear.

Also, I'm not in the UK but can't doctors sign you up for some CBT on the NHS so you don't have to pay a huge bill? But I think a break and medication also are important. flowers Anxiety is awful.

icklekid Fri 15-Apr-16 05:06:27

I would focus more on if this is a change. If answering the phone is unavoidable what happened that made today so impossible? I wonder if gp would be more sympathetic if they realised that it clearly is having an impact on every area of your life and you want medication to avoid being signed off. So sorry to hear you are struggling op-have you got a good relationship with your line manager? Sounds like you need to be honest with them about the impact answering the phone has on you at the moment

mayoketchupchocolate Fri 15-Apr-16 11:40:00

Thank you for all of your replies.

I think stress is a likely cause, which is not helped by the underlying anxiety which I just live with on a daily basis.

I've not been in my job for very long, and I'm not sure it will look very good if I take two weeks off. Plus I don't think my GP would agree to it anyway. Rightly or wrongly, I never disclose my MH issues with employers, as I've always been worried about it affecting my chances of being employed, and now I worry that if I tell them, that they will find a way to get rid of me because I didn't disclose an underlying medical condition. (Although I do work for the NHS, so I would hope that isn't the case). I was in my previous job for six years, and I kept it under wraps the whole time.

I've never managed to get CBT or counselling on the NHS before, but I guess I could push for it? I would like some medication, but they said no angry

I really wish I was just normal and didn't have anxiety/stress issues, it must be so nice not to worry all the time!

sadie9 Fri 15-Apr-16 12:47:39

As someone said earlier, the phone has no physical cues as to how we are being accepted.
Your particular worry could be related to acceptance and what people think of you. Which is very common. Because you can't see the person your mind goes into complete overdrive about their personality, what they are thinking of you, what they look like, what they are thinking of you, will your embarrassment cause you to be humiliated....all in about .02 of a second.
And that is a mental task not based in reality. Because our brain and body wants control of what's going to happen - and to detect threats, it hates surprises because it can't plan for them. And the phone ringing is an unexpected 'surprise' and therefore, it thinks, could be a threat. So to your mind, it makes perfect sense to react like it does to the phone.
So we over-estimate the danger from the phone and under estimate our ability to cope.
So if you can switch your mind over to What's Important about this call? That I listen, that I am polite, what is the problem to be solved in this call, what is the purpose of this call?
Then afterwards, base the 'success' of the call not on your performance, but if the function of the call was successful. The purpose of any phone call is not a personality competition about how much people will like you.
Just because someone sounds busy, angry, annoyed etc that is not about you.

Might help to do some controlled exposure as it might be called. Actually make some calls yourself that represent low threats - ring up a book shop and ask if they have some book. Ring and make a hair appt then ring back and cancel it. And just use it as a noticing and self observation exercise.
Here's a real simple but effective exercise: Before the practice call get a pad of post-it notes and write down each worrying thought you have on a note. Then stick them all up in front of you. And then make the call anyway. This helps to externalise the thoughts and show you the thoughts are just strings of information. Notice the pattern of thoughts. Is it balanced positive or negative. Do you really know are they true, etc.
There are some good worksheets on CBT here. Just watch there's a load of ads on these pages pretending not to be ads. www.getselfhelp.co.uk/
If you look up some mindfulness mp3s, if you had 10 mins before work and 10 mins at lunchtime doing some mindfulness podcasts at work, that might also just take the stress levels down.

Are you overestimating the amount of danger the phone call represents?
Do your ever think when someone rings you it could be to tell you won a holiday? Or a sum of money? No, we don't. Next time the phone rings and you jump purposely bring that idea in - hey this could be something nice. There could be something rewarding in this phone call for me in some shape or form.
It's about learning to have the feelings you have, because you can't stop the feelings. However you can decide what to do next.

If people ring unexpectedly you can learn a few skills to buy yourself time.
You don't have to fix the thing right there and then.
Reassure the person on the phone that you 'get' what they are saying, without agreeing to anything to solve the problem. So you can say:
I can see your point of view. etc. I will look into it.
If you can buy time and then call them back you'll feel more in control. So you could say, I will have to refer to my work colleagues/files/diary, check back my emails, look into it, and then call you back. (But you better call them back and not avoid it! So that may not work).
You can let the person go to the answering machine and then call them back. Yes it's a type of avoidance but we do what we can with the resources we have available to us at any point in time.
At least you are answering the phone. Believe me that is great, taking into consideration the anxious phase you are in at the moment.
Once your stress overall reduces I'd imagine you'll find the phone easier in time.

mayoketchupchocolate Sun 17-Apr-16 14:18:36

Thank you so much for your reply sadie that's all so helpful, you really know your stuff! I'll take a look at that website you've suggested, and practice phone calls sound like a really good idea. Thank you very much for taking the time to write such a helpful reply flowers

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now