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Glossophobia

What Is It, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and More

Author: Ali Syed, PharmD

Editors: Ahaana Singh, Lisa Miklush, PhD, RN, CNS

Illustrator: Jillian Dunbar


What is glossophobia?

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 in an effort 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. 

How is glossophobia pronounced?

Glossophobia is pronounced as: Glos-so-pho-bee-a 

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How common is glossophobia?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, glossophobia is a very common phobia, affecting up to 75% of the world’s population.  

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 a public speaking event -- e.g., an individual was ridiculed, embarrassed, or rejected while giving a speech -- may also contribute to the development of glossophobia.

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 is glossophobia diagnosed?

Since the exact cause of glossophobia may be due to a combination of factors, diagnosis by a mental health professional can include a variety of techniques. Diagnosis is generally based on the signs and symptoms an individual exhibits, along with a review of their medical, social, and family history. In addition, assessment of symptoms and individual interviews are often used to classify the diagnosis according to the guidelines set forth by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is currently in its 5th edition (DSM-5).   

Signs of glossophobia may include avoiding speaking in public at all costs, over-preparing for social interactions, fearing judgement, experiencing extreme stress during a presentation, and only engaging in activities that do not require public speaking. Individuals may come across as shy or introverted during social interactions; use mainly passive, non-verbal communication methods; or require alcohol or medications to mitigate fears before engaging in public speaking. Signs that glossophobia may be interfering and damaging various aspects of an individual’s life include low self-esteem, social isolation, poor relationships, pessimism, and poor achievement in work or school.

There are also many symptoms of glossophobia, which typically present when an individual is asked to speak in public or is actively speaking in public. Physical symptoms result from a fight-or-flight response, during which the body produces adrenaline to prepare for defense against perceived threats. This response is characterized by increased blood pressure, elevated heart rate, sweating, stiffening of muscles, nausea, and dry mouth. Many of these symptoms coincide with those of a panic attack, as individuals may exhibit a feeling of panic when having to speak in public. Verbal symptoms may include a weakened tone of voice, shaking or trembling voice, and stammering. These can often trigger non-verbal symptoms such as high anxiety, stress, embarrassment, and fear of judgement during public speaking.

In addition to a review of signs and symptoms, diagnosis of some cases may require physical examination, laboratory tests (e.g., blood tests and urine samples), or brain imaging in order to rule out other illnesses that may be impacting an individual’s mental health or that result in similar symptoms (e.g., psychiatric diseases, cancers affecting the brain, or recent trauma). People with glossophobia may also have other, coexisting mental health conditions, such as depression, generalized anxiety disorder, or substance-related or addiction disorders. In order to appropriately manage the associated conditions, a thorough evaluation from a mental health professional is very important.

How is glossophobia treated?

The treatment of glossophobia usually depends on the severity of the condition and the medical history of the individual. Typically, 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.

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. Beta blockers, like propranolol, are another class of medication that may help reduce symptoms of speaking anxiety, including increased heart rate, sweating, and dizziness. In some instances, sedatives may help relax and calm the body in triggering situations. Antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (e.g., sertraline) or selective serotonin norepinephrine inhibitors (e.g., venlafaxine) may also be effective in managing social anxiety.

What are the most important facts to know about glossophobia?

Glossophobia is a very common phobia characterized by a strong fear of public speaking. Individuals with glossophobia may avoid speaking in public, as they typically experience fear and anxiety when speaking in front of a group of people. Glossophobia may also involve a wide range of emotional, mental and physical symptoms that typically present when an individual is asked to speak in public or is actively speaking in public. Because the exact cause of glossophobia is unknown, and symptoms alone may be non-specific, understanding contributing causes and triggers may help optimize prevention and treatment strategies. Treatment options can include lifestyle changes, exposure therapy (ET), cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and in some cases, medication. In general, overcoming glossophobia is not a simple process and requires patience, willingness, and commitment from the affected individual.

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Related links

Phobias
Anxiety disorders: Clinical practice
Anxiety disorders, phobias, and stress-related disorders: Pathology review

Resources for research and reference

Barnard, D. (2017, November 18). What is glossophobia and how to overcome it. In VirtualSpeech. Retrieved December 30, 2020, from https://virtualspeech.com/blog/what-is-glossophobia-and-how-to-overcome-it 

Black, R. (2019, September 12). Glossophobia (fear of public speaking): Are you glossophobic? In Psycom. Retrieved December 31, 2020, from https://www.psycom.net/glossophobia-fear-of-public-speaking#causes%20of%20glossophobia   

Bodie, G. (2010). A racing heart, rattling knees, and ruminative thoughts: Defining, explaining, and treating public speaking anxiety. Communication Education, 59(1): 70-105. DOI: 10.1080/03634520903443849

Do you suffer from Glossophobia? (n.d.). In Glossophobia.com. Retrieved December 29, 2020, from http://www.glossophobia.com/index.html 

Khan, F., Ismail, S., Shafique, M., Ghous, K., & Ali, S. (2015). Glossophobia among undergraduate students of government medical colleges in Karachi. International Journal of Research (IJR), 2(1): 109-115. 

Patterson, E. (2020, October 19). Glossophobia (fear of public speaking): Signs, symptoms, & treatments. In Choosing Therapy. Retrieved December 29, 2020, from https://www.choosingtherapy.com/glossophobia/ 

Public Speaking Anxiety. (n.d.). In National Social Anxiety Center. Retrieved December 30, 2020, fromhttps://nationalsocialanxietycenter.com/social-anxiety/public-speaking-anxiety/ 

Rahman, F. (2018). Glossophobia in training of speech. ELS Journal on Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities, 1(1): 28-36. DOI: 10.34050/els-jish.v1i1.4076

Steimer, T. (2002). The biology of fear- and anxiety-related behaviors. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 4(3): 231-249. DOI: 10.31887/DCNS.2002.4.3/tsteimer