If you have a fear of speaking in front of an audience, which phobia do you have?
And the answer: Glossophobia.
A phobia is a fear that interferes with someone's daily life. Glossophobia is extreme fear of public speaking, and people with this phobia can experience severe physical symptoms, when they even think about being in front of a group of people.
If you've ever felt filled with fear at the prospect of public speaking, you're not alone. An estimated 75% of the population suffers from glossophobia, making it one of the most prominent phobias around.
Phobias are understood to be irrational or disproportionately feared items, activities, or states of being. Many phobias do not pose any actual physical danger, yet the body's response to a phobia is often instantaneous and provides consistent feelings of fear. For example, someone with a phobia of driving over bridges (yes, it's a real phobia) wouldn't experience fear, say, only 1 out of 10 times they drove over a bridge; rather, their fear response would occur each time they encountered one. The degree of fear or anxiety differs widely from person to person, and situation to situation – anything from anticipatory anxiety to a full blown panic attack may occur when presented with a phobia.
So what exactly happens physically if you have a phobia? When presented with the subject of your phobia, your brain sets off warning signals nearly instantly. First, the amygdala recognizes the danger presented by the phobia, and gestures to the hypothalamus, which triggers your fight or flight response. Meanwhile, the hippocampus takes note of the fear for next time, all the while your heart races and sweat glands activate. For most people, the prefrontal cortex – the rational, uniquely human part of the brain – can calm the amygdala down, but if you have a phobia, that process doesn't quite work as effectively.
Learn more about phobias below.