Overcoming Phone Anxiety, One Vet Trip at a Time

I hate making phone calls. A strange sort of performance anxiety makes me script it out in my mind and practice over and over with the number dialed in, waiting for me to hit the call button. I never feel ready. Eventually, I get so fed up with myself that I have to just press the button and hope that my verbal skills are adequate for getting me through the act of ordering delivery or making an appointment or whatever it is. And, they are. I’m not actually bad at phone calls. I don’t think I’ve ever had a call that validated my fear – that I’ll just forget how to talk and have to hang up after embarrassing myself with gibberish. Once I’m on the phone with someone, it usually goes smoothly. For whatever reason, the lead-up is the worst part.

I’ve had to call the vet numerous times in my two short years as a dog owner. My dog, Stella, is what you’d call “high-energy”.

close-up-of-dog-face-while-running
Zoomies around the couch.

She needs activity, either vigorous exercise or a long, meandering “smell outing”, as I call them. (There’s not much walking. It’s mostly smelling.) She gets into a lot of weird, wonderful stuff outside – sometimes she puts it in her mouth, sometimes she rolls on it. She plays fetch with reckless abandon – skidding to a stop or wiping out in a cloud of dust. Stella’s ability to seek out disgusting, physically risky situations is pretty incredible. First, it was giardia. Then, it was an eye infection. Then tapeworms, then another eye infection, kennel cough, a bloody, broken nail, and finally, another eye infection. Actually, this time she had an ulcer on her eye. Yowch. When I woke up and saw her swollen, watery, goop-laden eye, it wasn’t hard to pick up the phone.

I think it’s common to feel braver when you’re doing something for someone else than when doing the same thing for yourself. It’s easier to give up when the only one impacted will be you. When you’re being depended upon, either by volunteering to help or because it’s your responsibility, there’s much less room to waffle. I’ve found that in calling the vet for vaccinations, checkups, eye infections (ugh!) my anxiety is dramatically reduced because I don’t consider it an optional task. When I have to do it, I have to do it; there’s no point in waiting.

I also find an extra boost of authority in advocating for someone else. It’s like I’m calling up the vet and saying “Ah, yes. I’m calling on behalf of my dog. She… doesn’t know how to talk, so I promised to call for her.” And then it’s like I’m not even a part of the phone call. I’m just a proxy for a four-legged creature with a goopy eye.

I think I might start using that when I have to make other phone calls. I’ll just imagine that I’m calling on behalf of my anxious self, who I promised to take care of. “Yes, hello? I’m calling about Gen’s prescriptions. Yeah, she’s overthinking right now and can’t come to the phone.” I’ll be her more courageous counterpart. She needs me, poor thing.

I know people who use this tactic for public speaking – pretend you’re someone else. You’re playing a character. That way, the attention isn’t actually on you, because you’re not really being yourself. It’s an interesting little mental trick that, I’d imagine, takes a lot of commitment to pull off.

For a while, I thought that my anxiety about phone calls was because of the lack of visual social cues. It seemed like the potential for misunderstanding or blundering mistakes was higher when I couldn’t see the person I was talking to. But why, then, wouldn’t texting make me anxious? The written word is where I’m most comfortable, mostly because it gives me time to think through what I want to say and edit before I hit “send”. Maybe that advantage outweighs the anxiety of not being able to see the recipient of my words.

In any case, I hope that Stella chooses to be a little more cautious in the future. But if not, I’m prepared to call the vet for her, seeing as I’ve had plenty of practice.

A “low-energy” moment

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