Glossophobia (public speaking phobia): symptoms, causes and treatment

We stand in front of a crowded room with people watching us and waiting for us to speak. If we are not very daring people, this situation can upset the stomach a bit.

This reaction is perfectly normal, as the pressure of public speaking can be overwhelming. However, when this restlessness turns to fear we may be confronted with a case of glossophobia.

    What is glossophobia?

    The term glossophobia comes from the union of the Greek terms “glossa” which translates as “language” and “phobos” which corresponds to “fear”. Although at first glance this doesn’t give us any clue as to what glossophobia is, it is a specific anxiety disorder in which the person experiences fear from the act of speaking in public.

    While it is normal to be nervous when we have to speak in front of many people, in glossophobia the person experiences excessive, irrational and uncontrollable fear of these situations. This heightened fear causes the person to experience unusually high levels of anxiety whenever they have to speak in public, so they always tend to avoid these situations.

    While in many cases glossophobia is part of a much larger social phobia, it doesn’t always have to be. In addition, there are key differences between these two types of specific phobias.

    Unlike social phobia, whereby the person manifests an excessive fear of virtually any type of socialization, glossophobia is a situational phobia that it is only given in the specific context of having to speak in front of an audience, Even if this is known or small.

    As mentioned, feeling nervous or afraid when speaking in public is quite natural; but when this fear prevents the person from practicing this activity, it may be a glossophobia. Moreover, there certain characteristics that distinguish a phobic fear from a normative fear:

    • This is excessive considering the real danger of the situation.
    • It is irrational. The person is unable to give a logical explanation for his fear.
    • It is uncontrollable. Those who suffer from it cannot control the fear or the reactions it causes.
    • It persists over time and through the different situations.

    In addition, in the case of glossophobia, the anxiety reaction experienced by the person is so high that it it is totally impossible to speak in public, To the point of fainting if forced to.

    As a result, they should avoid this situation, which may interfere with their work or academic life, as there is a high probability that at some point they will be forced to do so.

      What are the symptoms?

      As mentioned above, glossophobia is an anxiety disorder, so the symptoms respond to a clinical picture of this type of condition.

      This means that the person with glossophobia who is exposed to the situation of having to speak in public will experience an extreme anxiety reaction. Sometimes the fear of having to speak in front of more people is so intense that the anxiety reaction can only occur when imagining the situation.

      Although each person may experience different symptoms and with different intensity, the symptomatology that distinguishes both glossophobia and other phobias manifests in three different categories: physical symptoms, cognitive symptoms, and behavioral symptoms.

      1. Physical symptoms

      When the person faces or thinks he is facing the phobic stimulus, in this case having to speak in public, there is an overactivity of the central nervous system which causes a lot of changes and alterations in the body. These symptoms include:

      • Increased heart rate.
      • Increased respiratory rate.
      • Feeling short of breath or suffocating.
      • Dizziness or lightheadedness.
      • Nausea and / or vomiting.
      • Increased sweating.
      • tremors.
      • Gastric changes.
      • Confusion.
      • fainting.
      • Feeling unreal.

      2. Cognitive symptoms

      The physical symptoms are provoked and accompanied by a cognitive symptomatology which is distinguished by the a series of irrational beliefs and ideas about things that can happen when the person speaks in public.

      Ideas like the one that you will be humiliated, that you will not live up to the circumstances, or that other people will notice the anxiety you feel are very recurring thoughts that invade the minds of people with glossophobia.

      These cognitive symptoms manifest themselves through the following ideas or thoughts:

      • Intrusive, unintentional, and uncontrollable ideas about possible scenarios that may occur while the person is speaking in front of an audience.
      • obsessive speculation about the dreaded action.
      • Mental images of a catastrophic nature.
      • Fear of losing control and not knowing how to handle the situation properly.

      3. Behavioral symptoms

      Finally, these symptoms are accompanied and manifest through a series of behavioral symptoms that appear as a response to the stimulus or to the aversive situation. These behaviors are intended either to avoid this situation or to escape.

      All these behaviors that are performed for avoiding or avoiding the possibility of having to speak in public with so-called avoidance behaviors. For example, the person with glossophobia may falsely claim that they got sick after having to go to a date where they knew they should speak in public.

      On the other hand, all of those behaviors that take place once the dreaded situation has started are called escape behaviors and although in glossophobia they are not that common, they allow the person to escape the phobic situation the most. quickly possible.

      What are the causes?

      In many cases, it is virtually impossible to determine the specific source of a phobic fear, as the person themselves he is unable to remember or determine what caused it.

      However, in most phobias, a genetic predisposition to the effects of stress and anxiety, coupled with the experience of traumatic experiences or an intense emotional load and related to the feared stimulus, is the perfect growth medium for the patient. development of a phobia.

      Is there a treatment?

      Glossophobia can become very disabling, it is strongly recommended for people who suffer from it go to a specialist in psychology or mental health. Fortunately, there are treatments that can dramatically reduce the intensity of symptoms and even eliminate them completely.

      Through techniques such as live exposure or systematic desensitization, the person gradually confronts the feared exposure. Thus, if they are accompanied by training in relaxation techniques and cognitive restructuring, the person can overcome their phobic fear and carry out this activity in a normal way.

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