Anxiety · Life

How to adult, Volume 1

  A fun quirk about me is that I have terrible phone anxiety. This means that if you call me, chances are I will not be picking up. It’s not you, it’s me. For real. I sweat, I stammer, I feel sick to my stomach, and I am just this side of terrified of talking to people on the phone. Oddly, people I know are sometimes worse than strangers for me, and the longer it has been since we spoke, the harder it is. Having made remarkably wonderful friends in college, this stinks because I am unable to talk to a lot of them. I know; I’m the worst. 
Anyway, recently I was out to dinner with a loyal reader (any reader can take me out at any time, by the way) who just happens to be my brother. Brother asked me why I think I have this issue, and it comes down to this: I think I am heavily reliant on facial cues from people. If you’re a stranger, I have never seen you and I am unable to imagine your facial cues. Having no idea what you even look like makes this less significant to me. I still worry, but it is less crippling. If I see you every day, I know you so well that I can put your cues in for myself mentally. But if I don’t see you often or don’t know you very well, I worry. Are you judging? Was that really funny or are you humoring me? Are you even paying attention? What are you thinking while I am revealing all my secrets? I get that this is illogical and, frankly, a little dumb. Still, it’s me, so there it is. Someone once asked me how I manage as an adult. I was pretty insulted, but I guess it was a valid question. I manage fine when I have to. I deal with things, make appointments, call the doctor for Daughter, etc. Also, I have anti-anxiety medication. It’s not the best way to live, so I only use it if I have to. 
I also think the root of this anxiety has something to do with a strategy my mom had to help me handle my shyness as a kid. On paper, it was a smart idea, which went something like this: I was afraid to talk to almost anyone as a kid. Shyness was embodied by my little self, and my mother was not having it. In order to make me get rid of this timidity of spirit, my mother insisted that I answer the phone, call for pizzas, etc. Trial by fire! Face your fear! Desensitize it! Unfortunately this plan backfired and made me worse. I even became afraid of waiters in restaurants and was loathe to order food. Something definitely needed to change in this system to allow me to continue being an adult.
I needed to learn how to interact with strangers in the world.
Once, I observed my teaching teammate on the phone. I know she hates it almost like I do, but she is so… graceful on the phone. She’s amazing face to face with people, too. I asked her about it and she told me a trick: use the person’s name. People instantly become more friendly with you when you use their name. I told Husband about it and it was old news to him. Husband has learned, no doubt from NPR, that when hooked up to machines, it can be seen in the brain that a person will have the most positive reaction to their own name. It’s everyone’s favorite word. He is also just cynical enough to believe that if you use people’s names when working with them in a sales or customer service situation, they are better with you because they are afraid you will know exactly who they are if you want to complain to a boss. You know too much, I suppose. 
The trick works like a charm. People are more attentive to you when you use their name. You’re invested in the interaction with them, you’re a team. Using names help you all to work together, and it makes the world a much better place. I am able to talk to waiters all day long if I have to. I speak with customer service reps like it’s my job. I am almost graceful. Almost. Look at me, Mom! I’m adulting! 
So, next time you talk to me, feel free to call me Lizzie. It makes me smile. 

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