Long Reads

Teleophobia: how a little-known phobia could be affecting your social life

Does the thought of committing to plans fill you with dread? We speak to an anxiety expert to find out why.

In April this year I received a Save the Date card from a family member, inviting me to a wedding celebration in August 2020. I immediately felt uncomfortable at the thought of committing to a date so far in advance. My rapid sequence of thoughts took me through all the other options I might have for a warm August weekend, as I panicked at the prospect of locking in a precious summer weekend over a year in advance.

This might sound like an overreaction to some, but a fear of making plans in advance is a very real phenomenon. We use the term commitment phobia to refer to a fear of committing to a relationship, but it can apply to many other areas of our lives, too. We can have a fear of committing to just one career (which could go some way to explain the rise of millennials taking on side hustles) or a fear of committing to important purchases, such as a house. And we can definitely have a fear of committing to social plans, in a little known condition called teleophobia.

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Susie Dent, a lexicographer and etymologist who is best known for her work on Countdown, first tweeted about teleophobia in 2015.

“Teleophobia is a fanciful term for the fear of definite plans,” she wrote. “Good for all lollards (who loll about in a lazy, lingering way.”

While her tweet pokes fun at the ‘lollards’ who might be too lazy to go to the effort of making concrete plans for the future, teleophobia could cause a real degree of distress for those who have a fear of committing to plans.

The psychology behind a fear of committing to plans

Hypnotherapist Chloe Brotheridge, who works as a coach at calmer-you.com and is the author of The Anxiety Solution and Brave New Girl, thinks that a fear of committing to plans could stem from anxiety.

“I have come across clients who don’t like to make plans because they fear feeling too anxious to go and don’t want to let someone down at the last minute,” she tells Stylist. Anxiety is one of the most common mental health conditions in the UK, and women are almost twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with the condition.

staying in
Teleophobia: does the thought of committing to plans fill you with dread?

But teleophobia could have other causes, too.

“I can imagine teleophobia might also be to do with a fear of being out of control or trapped by something you feel you ‘can’t get out of’,” Brotheridge continues. “Or perhaps it’s because life already feels so hectic that making plans might make someone feel overwhelmed.”

The thought that we may be too overwhelmed to make plans is certainly a valid one. Earlier this year, Anne Peterson coined the term ‘errand paralysis’ to refer to the very millennial condition of feeling too overwhelmed and burnt out to be able to tackle our daily errands and to do lists. And if our lives are too overwhelming to allow us the headspace to tackle things like laundry and going to the post office, then it makes sense that committing to future social plans could prove challenging, too.

I know I’m not the only person who would feel anxious about committing to a wedding 16 months in advance, or even an evening with friends in the following weeks and months.

Emily, 35, says she gets stressed about committing to plans and feels a social pressure to say yes to invitations, even if they’re not her thing. “I usually find an excuse nearer the time and say I can’t make it,” she admits.

Of course, this feeling isn’t universal. Instead, some of us thrive on making plans for the future, and actively fill up their calendars each month.

“I love to lock in a good plan,” says 27-year-old Hannah. “I like having things in my diary to look forward to.”

And as well as giving us something to look forward to, making plans for the weeks and months ahead can have other benefits, too.

“I like making plans because it allows me to budget for social events throughout each month,” says Hollie, 30. “I’m bad at spontaneous spending, so if I have other plans to pay for that month, I’m less likely to blow my budget on a big night out.”

friends drinking
Teleophobia: “I like making plans because it allows me to budget for social events throughout each month”

The problem with technology and endless WhatsApp messages

While technology means we’re more connected than ever before, it could be causing some people to feel teleophobia. Many of us will be familiar with the feeling of watching WhatsApp notifications flood into our phones during the planning of events such as birthdays and hen dos, which can feel overwhelming in itself.

These plans can also be changed a countless number of times by text, call or WhatsApp before they finally come together, meaning that organising a simple dinner between friends can become an endless conversation. The whole group can see when a message has been delivered to your phone and when you’ve read it, adding an extra layer of pressure to reply with a final idea for a plan. This can cause anxiety, which can be especially increased for those with a plethora of social media platforms to keep on top of, such as messages on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook messenger. Making plans with friends can start to feel like a chore, so is it any wonder some of us would prefer to stay in and embrace JOMO, the joy of missing out, instead?

Alessia, 29, is one such person. She refuses to commit to anything that is more than two weeks away, especially during the weekend (although she does make an exception for big and important events, such as weddings). Rather than feeling a social pressure to say yes to invitations, she deliberately keeps her time free so that she can do what she feels like on that day. 

“What if London is suffocating me and I want to go away for a few days?” she points out. “What if it rains and I want to stay cosy in bed watching Brooklyn 99?

woman in bed
Teleophobia: ultimately, committing to plans in advance is entirely up to you

And finally… some advice on tackling teleophobia

Ultimately, committing to plans in advance is entirely up to you. But if teleophobia is having a negative impact on your life, Brotheridge has some advice.

“My main tip is to not avoid making plans with people,” she says. “When we avoid something that makes us anxious it only serves to make us more afraid when we do have to do it. Make the plans and breathe through any anxious feelings. Say positive statements to yourself such as ‘I can’ or ‘I’m excited’. 

“Fear and excitement are very closely linked emotions and we can re-frame nervousness as excitement by telling ourselves we’re excited.”

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Images: Getty, Unsplash / Lead image design: Alessia Armenise