Overcoming Glossophobia (Fear of Public Speaking)

Last Updated: October 29, 2021

Depending on which survey you analyze; Glossophobia (or ‘Fear of Public Speaking’) is the second or first biggest fear of adult Americans. What’s strange is that this phobia of public speaking just doesn’t effect some people at all, while for others it can be a crippling fear that significantly impacts their life. In this article we look at what Glossophobia is, why it effects some and not others, and share several techniques to overcome glossophobia and defeat your fear of public speaking.

Getting up to speak in front of an audience is a nerve-wracking experience for anyone. But for some of us, it can even be a full-blown phobia.

A large number of people suffer from a fear of public speaking, known as glossophobia. For these people, the physical and mental effort of speaking in front of a crowd can be overwhelming. It can cause problems in many areas of an affected person’s life, such as slowing professional progression, and causing anxiety over common social situations.

There are strategies to help overcome glossophobia, however. Through mental techniques, physical exercises, and nutritional supplements, you can prevent glossophobia from controlling your life.

Read on as we share everything you need to know to overcome the fear of public speaking; glossophobia.

What is Glossophobia?

Glossophobia is a type of anxiety disorder, referring to a strong fear (or phobia) of public speaking. Those of us who suffer from glossophobia may experience a quick onset of physical symptoms when faced with speaking in front of an audience – even an audience of just a few people.

Glossophobia is categorized as a social phobia, similar to stage fright. Though the symptoms of glossophobia and stage fright overlap quite heavily, many who suffer from glossophobia may find other social situations, like meeting new people, or performing tasks in front of a crowd, completely normal. Yet when it comes time to speak in front of a group of people, they experience a sometimes overwhelming stress response.

How Many People Suffer from Glossophobia?

The exact number of people who experience glossophobia varies from source to source, and is hard to pin down. But the consensus is that this is a very common affliction.

One survey found fear of public speaking to affect 40% of Americans, the second most common fear behind snakes [1]. Others find the reach of glossophobia to be even more extreme, claiming that 75% of people suffer from some form of glossophobia at some point [2].

What are the Physical Symptoms of Glossophobia?

Symptoms and severity of glossophobia vary from case to case. Some may experience light side effects, but for others, they may be debilitating.

Common symptoms of glossophobia include:

  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Muscle tension
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth

What Causes Glossophobia?

The physical symptoms of glossophobia are caused by a stress response in our body, known as the “fight or flight” response.

This response causes the body to produce more of the hormone epinephrine (also known as adrenaline), which causes physiological changes such as an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, sweating, and a tensing of the muscles [3].

The fight or flight response is actually a survival mechanism, built to respond to stressful, life-threatening situations, in which we either need to fight for our lives, or escape.

Over time, as life-threatening situations have become less common, the fight or flight response evolved to be triggered by other stressful situations, including public speaking.

The reason why some people experience the fight or flight response in this very specific situation is not always clear. There are a number of reasons someone may suffer from glossophobia.

It may be biological. One study found that mice that show less fear and anxiety produce offspring with lower levels of anxiety [4]. Additional studies indicate there may be a link between social anxiety disorders (such as glossophobia) and genetics [5], as higher rates of social anxiety disorders are reported in relatives of people who suffer from these conditions.

The cause of glossophobia may also be psychological. Our past experiences and environmental factors may result in a person developing glossophobia. Some psychological causes may include:

  • Negative self-talk
  • Fear of failure
  • Overplaying the pressure of the occasion
  • Fear of embarrassment or being judged
  • Lack of experience

While there’s no test that can tell you for sure, understanding the inherent cause of glossophobia can help you find the right strategy to overcome it.

The Best Tools and Strategies for Overcoming Glossophobia

Glossophobia does not have to be a chronic, lifelong affliction. There are various strategies and tools one can use to overcome their fear of public speaking, including mental strategies, medication, and dietary supplements.

The strategy that works for one person may not for the next. If you suffer from glossophobia, it’s important you try to understand the root causes of your phobia, and experiment with different tools to see what works for you.

Let’s take a look at a few ways people combat glossophobia.

Practice

First, mild cases of glossophobia may be treatable simply with practice.

Many people struggle with public speaking simply because it’s new to them. The fear of the unknown and lack of confidence may manifest itself in extreme fear or anxiety.

Yet, once you get used to speaking in front of people, and develop confidence in this situation, the fear may go away.

This will not solve the fear of public speaking for everyone. For more serious cases, other tools and strategies will be needed. In particular, if someone doesn’t experience anxiety in any other social situations, yet speaking in front of a crowd immediately sparks a stress response, a more concentrated strategy may work best.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Another psychological tool to combat glossophobia is cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT. CBT is used as a treatment for a range of afflictions, including anxiety, depression, addiction, and various forms of mental illness.

CBT may be particularly effective for anxiety disorders, with studies showing a significant long-term improvement in test subjects [6].

CBT works by addressing unhelpful or negative ways of thinking, and rewiring the brain to think positively in these areas. You may break down perceived problems into small parts, where you can more easily understand and address negative thought patterns.

A large part of CBT is also building mental exercises to practice each time negative thoughts arise.

The long-term approach of CBT, and the way it addresses the root problems of anxiety disorders makes it one of the most promising strategies to overcome glossophobia at this time.

Breathing Exercises

Certain breathing techniques may prove effective in stopping the onset of physical symptoms caused by the body’s stress response.

While public speaking practice and behavioral therapy may help the problem long-term, breathing exercises may offer a short-term fix you can put into practice before you need to address an audience.

One particular breathing exercise is known as “diaphragmatic breathing” or “belly breathing”, in which you take deep breaths, engaging the stomach and the diaphragm. In contrast to regular, unconscious breathing, an effort is made to bring the breath down into the stomach, which should rise and fall with each breath.

Diaphragmatic breathing has long been used in meditation, and meditative practices like yoga and tai-chi. Studies have shown deep breathing to have positive effects on cognition and stress, adequately reducing levels of cortisol, a hormone that gets released when we’re stressed or anxious [7]. It also helps reduce blood pressure and improve heart rate variability, which works to lessen the severity of symptoms one may experience with glossophobia.

Medication

Some people use medication to treat anxiety disorders, including glossophobia. Medication can’t treat the actual causes of glossophobia – however it can lessen the symptoms of the fight or flight response, such as increased heart rate and blood pressure.

The most common kind of medication used for this are over the counter drugs known as beta-blockers. Beta-blockers are especially popular with professional performers, such as orchestral musicians, to treat performance anxiety (commonly known as stage fright) [8].

Beta-blockers’ primary use is for heart conditions like arrhythmia and angina. However, they do appear to have some level of efficacy at treating the symptoms of elevated stress hormones.

Be aware, however, that these just offer a short-term fix, and may come with additional risks, such as addiction or dependence risk.

Natural Supplements

Some natural dietary supplements can also help offset the symptoms of glossophobia, and promote a higher level of mental clarity when you need it most.

Just as beta-blockers do, supplements can reduce symptoms like high blood pressure and an elevated heart rate that occur with anxiety disorders.

Additionally, you can use supplements to boost certain neurotransmitters such as GABA, which promote calmness and mental clarity. GABA is believed to play a role in anxiety disorders [9], so regulation of this may be additionally beneficial for anxiety disorders like glossophobia.

A supplement I like & recommend is PerformZen, which may provide relief for many symptoms of glossophobia. It contains several ingredients that naturally boost energy and mental clarity, including GABA, L-theanine, Ginkgo Biloba and theacrine, along with Magnesium and vitamin B6, which have been shown to have stress-reducing properties [10].

Natural supplements like PerformZen may be a better option than over the counter medications for treating glossophobia, as they likely carry less risk of long-term addiction or unwanted side-effects.

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What’s the Best Way to Face a Fear of Public Speaking (Glossophobia)?

Public speaking is a very real social phobia for some. Depending on the severity and the occupation of someone afflicted by glossophobia, it can present a serious barrier to living a normal life.

Luckily, there are some tried and tested techniques and tools to help you overcome glossophobia. Breathing exercises may prove effective at stopping the onset of symptoms related to the elevated stress response, while cognitive-behavioral therapy could help address the underlying cause and deliver a long-term solution.

In addition, taking a natural supplement like PerformZen before you get up to speak may help promote a feeling of calm and mental clarity, offsetting the most common glossophobia symptoms.

Take a look at our other guides

What is Performance Anxiety? What causes performance anxiety, what are the symptoms, and can you overcome performance anxiety?
How the singer Adele manages her stage fright
How to Overcome Audition Anxiety
The Science of Stage Fright - how to understand & conquer stage fright
How to overcome stage fright - a complete guide

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PerformanceAnxiety.com Owner & Lead Writer

Anita is the owner and lead writer for PerformanceAnxiety.com. A seasoned musician and public speaker herself, she is no stranger to the very real fear and anxiety that can strike right before a high-pressure situation. That's why Anita is passionate about writing content that helps people learn about and overcome their anxieties & social fears so that they can perform at their best when it counts and live anxiety-free lives.