anxiety · blogging · eye contact · phone anxiety · phone phobia · social anxiety · verbal communication · writing

The Horrors of Eye Contact and Verbal Exchanges

Eye contact. Something so simple but it scares the bejesus out of me. The initial moment of having a pair of eyes set on me and then stay on me is horrific. You’d think I might be used to it after seeing people for the 27 years of my life so far. I can sketch a vague picture of what is going on in the other person’s mind in the seconds after the initial glance. The eyes focus on taking in the visual details of my face, perhaps my clothes or hairstyle, as the mind gets to work with filtering in a perception of what the eyes are seeing.

I hate eye contact because it makes me feel stripped and naked. All my insecurities bubble to the surface without my say-so. I have my own perception of how I look, how I sound, that may differ from how I am being seen by the other person. Someone once gave me a remarkable piece of insight I never considered before. She said I may be aware of my own flaws or nervous tics in the moment but the other person is only seeing me for that brief period and whatever impression I make is likely not one that matters as I won’t see the person again. This is true for lots of situations. Interviews. Interactions with employees in stores at the cash register, on the street, or even the times I’ve gone in to hand in job applications in-person and gotten a mini-interview on the spot. Aside from being stuck in fear, like that time I became convinced I was going to die from approaching an employee and asking a simple job-related question, the hardest hole to get out of is becoming trapped in my own thoughts about exactly why I can’t go through with it.

It’s being able to see outside the box that I see the big deal I am making of something which isn’t that big of a deal. It’s not that serious, even though when the anxiety does set in, it feels like my world is ending. Another pitfall of mine is I almost always anticipate (in a bad, cringe-worthy way) how things will go in the situation. And by being like this, I get even more worked up.

An example is when I phoned two places to ask a few questions. I had written some keywords on a piece of paper to use as a guide for what I would say during the call. The first place I called up, I was extremely nervous. I continued to feel this way even with the caller sounding cordial and forthcoming with the information I was seeking from her. All I could think about was wanting to hang up or blurt out my scripted words as fast as possible. Instead I slowed down and fumbled over my words. It was really all in my head, I could see that much. The caller gave me no indication at all that she was annoyed or huffy because of my many questions, yet I kept preparing myself for the worst. I’d compare it to continuously storing an internal reserve of energy that I’m not sure I will use. It is exhausting. On the second call, I was less stuttery and still scared, almost like I didn’t quite believe in my own ability to hold a conversation but somehow I didn’t abort myself from the situation. I tried hard to focus on the caller’s voice and what he was telling me. Overall it wasn’t a disaster. After the call ended, I kept telling myself that although I wished the two calls didn’t go as I intended, I still got answers and I can learn from the experience of phoning people. Even more silly is that when things don’t happen as I imagined they would, that too freaks me out. It’s like no matter what kind of change I am dealing with, I react by being anxious and on guard.

The next time the going gets tough, I want to remind myself through every shaking breath that relief is just around the corner. The most positive thing that I got after making those phone calls was the reward of doing what I set out do and no longer having anxiety hanging over my head.

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