Public Speaking as a Social Anxiety Disorder By: Karmen liang

Definition of Social Anxiety:

A fear or anxiety to social settings, in which a person feels severe, persistent and irrational fears of social or performance situations in which embarrassment may occur. The person will feel noticed, observed or scrutinized when delivering an oral presentation, or speaking in a class/meeting.

What does it look like?

Imagine yourself standing in front of the crowd giving a speech or presentation on a given topic for class. All eyes are on you, the room is silent and ready to hear you speak. You want to hide yourself but there is nowhere to go, instead you are vulnerable and stuck to the spotlight. Thoughts are racing through your head, occupying your mind. You shift uneasily by the unwanted attention, trying to clear your throat and mind. You are unable to ease your entire body as you become rigid; however, your heart is racing and beating loudly, beads of sweat begin to form and you hesitate to go further.

Effects on the body when speaking in public:

Physical appearance including excessive shaking of hands and voice. Sweat drops on forehead creating hot flashes. Your heart is racing, making your face red. You become dizzy and are unable to speak.

Further signs and symptoms include:

  • feeling an unusual heavy amount of distress before going to speak in public
  • fearing the worst to come and not being able to change the fact
  • having no control over feelings of anxiety
Why Does it Happen, What is the Importance?

This fear and anxiety can become crippling, many people have to deal with public speaking. When it becomes a disorder, it can seriously affect your life due to the fears of speaking in public that causes major anxiety.

public speaking causes a particular distress on the individual, it can be viewed through the cognitive-behavioural model (problematic learned behaviours and dysfunctional cognitive processes)

Even as time goes by, the idea of public speaking still affects the person's thought patterns and behaviours. It leads them to be, as the information in the text describes: 'dysfunctional' which is an abnormal way of behaving. Their mind is occupied with thoughts about how bad they might have done (thinking worst-case scenario) on the presentation, even after the presentation has been finished with. They will engage in behaviours to avoid public speaking altogether.

why do people display anxiety in public speaking?

People fear the judgement and are anxious to speak in public for risk of being judged by others.
Why are people having anxiety during public speaking?
  • They put high expectations on oneself (in order to perform public speaking, the person believes that society values a person who is confident, well spoken and at ease in front of a large crowd, which may be unachievable for the person who has social anxiety)
  • Their image of self, lacks confidence when speaking about the topic (thinking oneself as unintelligent and unable to get their message across)
  • unskilled socially, do not know how to 'properly' speak in front of people
  • scared of the audience seeing through the facade, showing anxiety and acting strange when presenting
Thus, people who are suffering due to public speaking, are consumed with anxiety.
Engaging in behaviours, in which the person suffering from these anxieties will hide themselves (use cue cards, stand behind something-wanting to hide face). They will speak in a soft and quiet voice, looking down to avoid eye contact with the crowd of people.

Causes (Factors):

  1. How the individuals reacts to public speaking, having the irrational fear of being in front of people and their negative thought process about speaking.
  2. Has been present in their childhood experiences (anxiety to be in front of people) and develops overtime as adult, the person still has trouble with public speaking
  3. Biological/genetic traits, the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurotransmitter carries inhibitory messages, thus causing problems with the feeling of anxiety when speaking in public
Therapy for public speaking as anxiety
If you are experiencing extreme anxiety whilst public speaking, then you should consult a doctor near you. Therapies and medication are used to help treat people with social anxiety in order for them to be able to function while speaking in public.

Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

Helps the patient recognize and change their thinking process (why they feel anxious) about public speaking. Also using behavioural techniques to help clients think, behave, and feel better.

Rational-Emotive Behavioural Therapy: Through this approach, clients identify their irrational anxieties towards public speaking and help change those negative emotional responses to positive outlooks.

"this presentation does not define you, i'm sure you did the best that you can!"

Patients can take medication alongside therapy. Doctors would prescribe anti-anxiety drugs (minor tranquilizers or anxiolytics) to help reduce anxiety for public speaking.

Seek help if you are experiencing some form of exceeding fear and anxiety when public speaking. People are affected by public speaking and it can cause great distress on the individual suffering with the disorder. Do not let it affect your life, instead be aware of the signs/symptoms, causes and treatments to overcome this anxiety. It is important to know that these individuals are not alone and it can be treated with help from professionals and acceptance.

Reference: Psychology (Pearson Custom Library ed.) by Kraus et al. (2015).


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