What is Glossophobia?

Updated on March 4th, 2022

Glossophobia refers to a strong fear of public speaking. It is a specific type of phobia, an anxiety disorder characterized by a persistent and excessive fear of an object or situation. Individuals who suffer from glossophobia typically experience fear and anxiety when speaking in front of a group of people and, as a result, may avoid speaking in public to avoid being embarrassed or rejected by others. Over time, individuals with glossophobia may experience negative impacts on their mental health and success at work or school. People who suffer from glossophobia tend to freeze in front of an audience, even a couple of people. They find their mouth dries up, their voice is weak and their body starts shaking. They may even sweat, go red, and feel their heart thumping rapidly.

If you suffer from glossophobia you shy away from any opportunity to speak in public. Your symptoms are usually so severe you get embarrassed and fearful of any public speaking.

What is Glossophobia

What are the Symptoms of Glossophobia?

Symptoms of glossophobia, also known as speech anxiety, include:

  • intense anxiety before, or simply at the thought of having to verbally communicate with any group, avoidance of events that focus the group’s attention on individuals in attendance.
  • physical distress
  • nausea
  • feelings of panic in such circumstances.

Symptoms of glossophobia can be grouped under three primary categories: physical, cognitive, and behavioral. Physical symptoms, the most overt one, including increased blood pressure and heartbeats, increased sweating tendency, stiffening of neck and upper back muscles, and dry mouth.

Physical Symptoms:

Physical symptoms are the first to appear and those that cause the greatest discomfort in the person. The fear of speaking in public causes the individual’s brain to increase its activity in the autonomic nervous system in this type of situation.

This cerebral phenomenon related to the fear response of the person implies the appearance of a series of modifications in the functioning of his organism, which are usually very annoying.

The physical manifestations of glossophobia can vary remarkably in each case, so they do not usually adopt a unique pattern of presentation. The person with this type of specific phobia may experience any of the following symptoms whenever they are about to speak in public:

  • Increased heart rate.
  • Increased respiratory rate.
  • Palpitations and / or tachycardias.
  • Feeling of suffocation
  • Increased muscle tension.
  • Increased sweating
  • Pupillary dilation.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Stomach and/or headaches.
  • Nausea, dizziness, and vomiting.
  • Feeling of unreality.

Cognitive Symptoms:

At the cognitive level of glossophobia, the development of a series of irrational thoughts about the activity of public speaking stands out.

These thoughts can take multiple forms and content in each case but are always characterized by negatively attributing the act of public speaking.

The irrational cognitions typical of glossophobia are fed back with the physical manifestations to increase the person’s state of anxiety.

Physical symptoms increase negative thoughts about speaking in public, while irrational cognitions also increase the physical symptoms of the person.

Behavioral Symptoms:

Behavioral symptom stands out above all, avoidance. A person with glossophobia will avoid exposing himself to public speaking at all times, regardless of the consequences that this may entail.

When the subject with glossophobia is not able to avoid it and is exposed to public speaking, it is usual for other symptoms to appear.

Behavioral alterations marked by the anxiety experienced at those times, such as blockages, inability to speak, stuttering, or trembling in speech are usually common manifestations.

Likewise, sometimes escape can also appear, a behavior that starts the person and whose sole objective is to escape from their feared situation to avoid the discomfort they are experiencing.

What Causes Glossophobia?

While the exact cause of glossophobia is unknown, this disorder may be due to a combination of genetic, environmental, biological, and psychological factors. Understanding these causes and triggers may help optimize the prevention and treatment of glossophobia.

Genetic factors could play a role, as individuals with a family history of glossophobia may be more likely to exhibit it themselves. Environmental and demographic factors, such as education and social upbringing, may also contribute to glossophobia. Moreover, past negative experiences involving public speaking.

Specific triggers of glossophobia will often vary from one individual to another. The most common trigger, however, is the anticipation of presenting in front of an audience. Additional triggers may include social interactions, starting a new job, or going to school.

How to Treat Glossophobia

Cognitive-behavioral treatments are mainly based on exposing the subject to public speaking and working on the subject’s anxiety responses in those situations to overcome the phobia. Exposure to the phobic element is usually the main element that allows overcoming the fear of speaking in public.

Glossophobia treatments involve lifestyle changes, psychotherapy, and medications. Oftentimes, relaxation techniques, such as meditation or deep breathing, are recommended. Other lifestyle modifications may include increasing physical exercise and practicing public speaking more often. These lifestyle changes are meant to help reduce the emotional, mental, and physical symptoms of glossophobia by increasing focus, encouraging positive coping mechanisms, and promoting overall health and wellness.

Treatment of glossophobia usually depends on the severity of the condition and the medical history of the individual. Psychotherapeutic options like cognitive-behavioral therapy are available treatments depending on the severity of the glossophobia.

Psychotherapeutic treatment options commonly involve exposure therapy (ET) or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) provided by a certified mental health professional. In ET, treatment involves exposing individuals to situations that trigger their glossophobia, which gives their minds opportunities to adapt to the triggers, enabling better management of their fears. On the other hand, CBT focuses on changing individuals’ mental, emotional, and behavioral processing of situations that could stimulate their strong fears of public speaking, at times also involving exposure.

Depending on an individual’s situation and past treatments, certain medications may also be used to control symptoms of glossophobia. Anti-anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines (e.g., lorazepam or clonazepam) may help prevent or control symptoms of anxiety or panic attacks. In some instances, sedatives may help relax and calm the body in triggering situations.

Daniel is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and cognitive behavioral therapy practitioner. Daniel helps his clients overcome a variety of mental health problems, including depression and anxiety. He also writes about mental health in his blog and helps us review popular online therapy platforms.

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