Fear of Public Speaking and Panic Attacks
Anyone faced with having to make a speech in front of a group of people will no doubt be
gripped by some form of nervousness or anxiety, but for an estimated 95% of people in this situation, the
fear of public speaking is a fate worse than death! And this is no exaggeration.
A recent survey revealed that more people were afraid of speaking in public or even to a
group of people they knew, than they were afraid of death. In fact the fear of dying only made it to number 7 in
the survey. This may surprise a lot of people, but it’s true, glossophobia (or speech anxiety) is the number one
phobia in the US, and rates pretty highly anywhere else in the world. The symptoms can range from having clammy
hands and a dry mouth, to outright fear of getting up at all to start talking.
For people who suffer from some form of social phobia or anxiety disorder, the fear of public
speaking is going to be a lot more severe leading to intense fear, nausea, physical distress, and in some cases
panic attacks. In a survey of 12,000 people conducted by a top US management development company, the fear of
speaking in public or to a group of people in a meeting took many forms. The list included the following: the fear
of making embarrassing mistakes; damaging career or reputations; forgetting, freezing or not being able to say
anything at all; being dull or boring; looking nervous or petrified; being stared at; being unable to answer a
question; being unprepared; being ignored; being laughed at; and even the fear that a member of the audience might
fall asleep.Someone making a public speech for the first time might then suffer a
panic attack if the fear suddenly rushes over them
giving them a pounding heart, or making them struggle for breath, or feeling dizzy and sick to the stomach. It
might even make them feel like they are having a heart attack or are going instantly crazy.
But basically, the fear of public speaking is an irrational fear brought on by the
anticipation of acute embarrassment, or humiliation, or dread that something is going to go wrong no matter what
happens. It is the mere thought that as soon as you open your mouth, with everyone staring at you, you are going to
fail, and the whole act of speaking will be a disaster. But the fear might also be attributable to a past situation
of embarrassment or “trauma” which has destroyed that person’s confidence in being able to speak in front of other
This is especially so for people with a social phobia or anxiety disorder who already find it difficult
interacting with people without feeling intensely self-conscious. Some people just cannot bear the thought of being
in a situation where others might be looking at them, even if it is a small group of people they might already
know, or even call “friends.” It doesn’t matter how big or small the group of people is - for those with a social
phobia the very idea of standing up to say something is a nightmare worse than death.
But as with some other anxiety disorders, it is facing the fear and confronting it that is
the only way to overcome it. That’s because the fear in most cases is irrational, and based on the anticipation
that something bad is going to happen, rather than any real knowledge that something is going to go wrong. Hence
the fear of public speaking can be addressed and become less fearful than death itself.
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