Jul
18

Are social anxiety and public speaking fear similar?


by Cheryl Mathews
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Video Blog – In a forum there was a question asking whether public speaking anxiety and social anxiety are related. They are related, and in fact, public speaking anxiety is a type of social anxiety.

Same Root Cause

Public speaking anxiety and social anxiety have the same root cause. Both are caused by a fear of negative evaluation and scrutiny. Ultimately, the more you fear negative evaluation, the more you have social anxiety and public speaking anxiety.

Same Treatment

Additionally, social anxiety and public speaking anxiety have the same treatment. If you look at the top researchers in social anxiety, the way they treat social anxiety is to work with clients in a group. In the group they teach fear management techniques and practice applying fear management techniques while practicing public speaking. The reason they use public speaking as a treatment method is that public speaking is one of the most challenging social situations. So overcoming public speaking anxiety is going to help you overcome social anxiety.

Groups typically have four to eight participants and they’re made up of people who share your fear. So you have a very sympathetic audience. You also work with a very sensitive coach who can give you fear management techniques and coping strategies and teach you to practice the right way. The coach will also help you desensitize your nervous system. As you start putting into practice these fear management techniques and coping strategies, your confidence starts to increase. It increases because you start realizing that you can do this. You’ll notice that things are changing, and that you’re able to trigger more of a relaxation response rather than a fear response.

So these groups are very powerful and  a great way to overcome both social anxiety and public speaking anxiety.

Same Thought Patterns

The other thing that’s common about public speaking anxiety and social anxiety is there are common thought patterns. The goal of the coaching is to help you become more aware of these thought patterns. Changing these thought patterns, along with practice and desensitization, is a key part of the treatment of public speaking anxiety and social anxiety.

The most common thoughts that escalate fear:
▪︎ Fear is bad and fear symptoms are bad. Actually, if you break fear into two phases, first fear and second fear, first fear is natural and to be expected. Learn more about first fear and second fear.
▪︎ Social standards are high and I have to be perfect. Actually, social standards are not as exacting as you think, and most people are friendly and supportive.
▪︎ Overestimating negative consequences (if I make a mistake, it will be horrible and awful). Actually, the consequences of making a mistake is not usually that bad.
▪︎ Overestimating the likelihood that something horrible will happen. Actually, it’s not that likely that something horrible will happen.
▪︎ Focusing on the negative. Research has found that those with social anxiety or public speaking fear tend to focus on the negative (like focusing on the one person in the audience who is not smiling) rather than focusing on the positive (like all of the others in the audience who are smiling).
▪︎ Having unclear goals like “I want everyone to like me.” This is unachievable because you’ll never know if you achieved it or not. It’s more helpful to focus on goals such as “I want to get my message across clearly so I’m going to talk slowly and make sure that I’m communicating as clearly as I can.”

To learn more, the self-study online course explains the common thought patterns in detail. It includes interactive exercises so you can apply these principles to your personal situation.

Social anxiety and public speaking fear are very similar

Social anxiety and public speaking anxiety are totally related: Same root cause, same thought patterns, and same way to treat them. For both, the key is joining a treatment group with a sensitive coach where you can learn how to take control of the fear process. That that will help you overcome social anxiety and public speaking anxiety.

See a list of groups where you can practice fear management techniques with a coach

Social Anxiety Researchers and References

Hofmann, S. G., & Otto, M. W. (2008). Cognitive behavioral therapy for social anxiety disorder: Evidence-based and disorder-specific treatment techniques. New York: Routledge.


Stefan G. Hofmann, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the Department of Psychology at Boston University and the director of the social anxiety program at the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders. Hofmann is co-president of the Anxiety Disorders Special Interest Group of the Association for the Advancement of Behavior Therapy (AABT).

Michael W. Otto, Ph.D., is a Professor in the Clinical Psychology Program at Boston University. He sits on the scientific advisory board of the Anxiety Disorders Association of American (ADAA), and is President-Elect (2004-2005) of the Association for the Advancement of Behavior Therapy. Dr. Otto is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and he serves as a section editor for Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, and on the editorial boards of Anxiety, Behavior Research and Therapy, Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, Journal of Anxiety Disorders, Journal Watch in Psychiatry, and Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.

Hope, D. A., Heimberg, R.G., Turk, C.L. (2000). Managing social anxiety: A cognitive-behavioral therapy approach (2nd ed.). U.S.A.: Oxford University Press.


Dr. Hope is Director, Anxiety Disorders Clinic; Professor, Dept of Psych, Univ of Nebraska-Lincoln
Dr. Heimberg is Director, Adult Anxiety Clinic, Temple University
Dr. Turk is Professor, Dept of Psych, Washburn University


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