For Some People, Public Speaking Is Literally Scarier Than Death—Here’s Why

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Public speaking is a notorious phobia. Many people have it, but some people definitely have it worse than others. For some, public speaking is literally scarier than death.

In surveys about human fears, public speaking is commonly ranked at the top of the list. In some cases, it’s ranked above dying.

According to Psychology Today, this is because humans evolved to be social animals. Our community-oriented lifestyle helped us survive threats by cooperating with others — helping each other survive, fending off predators together, keeping each other alert, and so on.

When you depend on other humans to survive, social isolation is basically a death sentence. Avoiding isolation is baked into our instincts.

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“Ostracism appears to occur in all social animals that have been observed in nature,” Kip Williams, professor of psychological sciences at Purdue, told Psychology Today. “To my knowledge, in the animal kingdom, ostracism is not only a form of social death, it also results in death. The animal is unable to protect itself against predators, cannot garner enough food, etc., and usually dies within a short period of time.”

That’s why public speaking is so terrifying — it carries the risk of social rejection, and our bodies react accordingly. Your fight-or-flight response is triggered, and then come the sweaty palms, racing heartbeat, and inability to speak.

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Overcoming stage fright is all about teaching your body that public speaking can’t actually kill you, which can only happen through experience. The more times you get through it without disaster, the less scary it will be.

So get out there!