Overwhelmed by alerts? Avoid calling people? Here's what phone anxiety looks like — and why it happens.

A woman staring into the screen of her phone.
What it's like to have phone anxiety — and what causes it. (Getty Images)

Did Kiki Nyoh get the summer internship she’s been hoping for? Did the boy she asked to her sorority’s formal say yes? Has a friend texted her or sent her a direct message (DM) on TikTok? Did she get an email update about a class that she needs to check? Nyoh doesn’t know — at least not immediately — because her phone is almost always on Do Not Disturb (DND).

“Notifications make me anxious,” Nyoh, a Gen Z college junior, tells Yahoo Life. She’s not alone. An increasing number of people, especially Gen Z-ers and millennials, are experiencing stress because of their phones. For some people like Nyoh, this anxiety stems from the constant notifications and pressure they always feel to be plugged in and communicating with other people. For others, like millennial Shannon Gile, the stress stems from a fear of making and answering phone calls. “I hate making phone calls. I avoid it as much as I can,” Gile tells Yahoo Life via email.

Phone anxiety can be broken down into two categories: techno stress and phone phobia. Below, experts explain what's driving these anxious feelings, and how people can best work through them.

What is techno stress — and what might help relieve it?

“Techno stress is the stress that comes from devices that continually demand your attention (smartphones, laptops, tablets) that of course make life easy in a way and [are] pleasant to have around and [are] useful — but also can be a source of noise and stress,” Thijs Launspach, Dutch psychologist and author of Crazy Busy: Keeping Sane in a Stressful World, tells Yahoo Life.

Nyoh keeps her phone on DND because it relieves some of this stress. “I don’t really like it when my phone is constantly sending me notifications, especially if I’m in class,” she says. Those notifications make it even harder for her to put her phone down and stop DMing or scrolling TikTok or responding to Snapchat messages. “When I have notifications off, [I’m] less likely to be on my phone,” she notes. It also relieves the social pressure she feels to be available all the time; if her phone is on DND, then she can be more selective about the texts she chooses to reply to because her friends think she hasn’t seen a message even if she has.

Launspach believes turning on DND can be a great strategy to relieve techno stress. “[It’s] healthy to sometimes switch off completely these signals and stimuli that the phone gives,” he says. “These devices and these services basically give the illusion that you should be available all of the time, which I would say you shouldn’t.”

He wants people to feel empowered to turn on DND, put their phone in airplane mode or switch it off completely. Launspach also advises people to be selective about the apps and notifications they choose to keep on their phone, and to mute group chats or other text conversations that aren’t critically important.

While Launspach believes techno stress is a problem for “every culture that uses smartphones intensively,” he also finds it a good sign that Gen Z-ers and millennials are using features such as DND and making a point to unplug. “Millennials and Gen Z overly use these devices … so it’s very logical they would have better [generational] coping strategies,” he says.

What about phone phobia?

However, these coping strategies don’t help when people suffer from phone phobia, or telephobia, which is a fear of talking on the phone. “I feel anxious talking on the phone,” Gile says. "If it’s family, that’s fine. But [with] strangers, I get anxious. I feel like I am going to say something stupid, and there’s always that awkward 'not knowing who is talking when' and accidentally interrupting. Recently, I called a colleague just because it would be easier than [reaching out] through email, and they thought something was seriously wrong because I called. I think that’s a lot of people in my generation.”

Mary Jane Copps, also known as “The Phone Lady,” has spent the last 18 years consulting with businesses around the world to help employees communicate more effectively. During the last eight to 10 years, she has seen a substantial increase in the number of people like Gile who suffer from anxiety about talking on the phone.

“One of the reasons this anxiety exists is these younger generations have not been introduced to phone conversations at a young age,” Copps tells Yahoo Life. “They’ve been given their phones, but their phone is a computer, and not only that, people around them aren’t talking on the phone [because] the house phone disappeared … so when they get into the workforce and are handed a phone, it’s terrifying.”

Part of phone anxiety can also stem from performance anxiety, with a fear of talking on the phone being similar to a fear of public speaking. Gile understands this firsthand — it's a reason she has been putting off making a phone call to find a location for her school library association to meet. “I don’t want to risk sounding stupid,” she admits. “I also know my voice is higher pitched than most adults, and I worry that someone is going to think I am a kid or teen and not take me as seriously.”

To combat this anxiety, Copps encourages clients to practice. “What I often tell people that I’m coaching is to take a couple of days, maybe even a weekend, and phone everyone they want to communicate with,” she shares. “The best way is to start with people you are already comfortable with so that your fear isn’t going to surprise them or make them uncomfortable, and then stretch into doing something like ordering a pizza by phone or calling a place to see what their hours are.”

Exposure and practice helped journalist Sadhbh O’Sullivan, who wrote about her personal struggles with phone anxiety four years ago. She no longer feels anxious talking on the phone, which she partially attributes to having to call people for work. “There’s only so long you can avoid calling people, because it really is more efficient [and] effective for a lot of things,” O’Sullivan tells Yahoo Life via email.