Understanding Signs and Causes of Communication Apprehension


Communication apprehension is commonly associated with public speaking but can occur in various situations unrelated to speaking in front of a group. It can trigger mild symptoms like butterflies in the stomach or more intense reactions like panic attacks. Whether you’re experiencing this yourself or noticing it among your employees, there are effective strategies and methods available to help manage and reduce the anxiety linked to communication.

What is communication apprehension?

Communication apprehension is when people have a fear of communication, which is when they begin talking to others or even just think about having to talk to them. This nervousness often comes from worrying about what other people will think.

Although many people think of this fear as something you only get when speaking in front of a big crowd, like giving a speech, it can actually happen in different situations. Communication apprehension can manifest in four main types of communication:

  • Interpersonal: Talking one-on-one with someone.
  • Group: Communicating in a small group setting.
  • Public: Speaking to a larger audience.
  • Mass communication: Addressing a very large group, often through media like television or online.

The Types of Communication Apprehension

There are four types of communication apprehension, and each is triggered by different situations that can make a person feel anxious. These communication apprehension examples are as follows:


Contextual communication apprehension happens when a specific situation makes someone feel anxious about communicating. This means that a person might feel fine talking in some settings, like chatting with their spouse, but feel really nervous in others, such as presenting to board members or speaking to a large audience. This anxiety isn’t always present in every communication setting, only in particular ones that trigger it.


Trait anxiety is seen as a part of someone’s personality, where a person feels anxious about communicating with others no matter the situation, audience, or context. People with this type of anxiety often try to avoid situations where they need to talk to others.


Situational anxiety happens when someone feels anxious about communicating in specific circumstances, which might not always be about where they are or who they’re talking to. Often, it’s a mix of both the setting and the people involved. For instance, someone might be comfortable talking with coworkers at the office but feel nervous speaking with the same people in a different setting, like a bar after work or at the office Christmas party.


Audience anxiety affects some people when they speak to familiar faces, while others get anxious in front of strangers. This can be particularly challenging for those in leadership roles at work. Additionally, someone preparing for a speech might not feel anxious all the time; their anxiety levels can vary during the different stages of preparing and delivering the speech.

Symptoms of Communication Apprehension

It’s already known that being nervous about talking can make people feel anxious, but it also causes some physical reactions, like:

  • Shaky hands
  • Sweaty palms
  • Butterflies in the stomach
  • Talking too fast or not at all
  • Faster heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling nauseous
  • Dry mouth
  • Feeling dizzy or light-headed
  • A lump in the throat

If you notice these kinds of symptoms when you need to talk or perform, it’s actually very normal. Even people who speak or perform a lot for their jobs or in their personal lives get nervous like this.

How to Overcome Communication Anxiety

Fortunately, there are many ways to help overcome nervousness about communication as time goes on. For people who only feel this anxiety once in a while, simpler methods might work well. For those who are often anxious and find it affects their daily life, there are stronger options available.

Peer Practice

One effective way to reduce nervousness about communication is through practicing with peers. Research involving high school students showed that practicing speeches and conversations with classmates significantly lowered their anxiety levels. Whether you feel nervous in specific situations or all the time, practicing and role-playing scenarios that make you anxious can really help.

Positive Self-Talk

One reason we get nervous about communicating is because we often think negatively about ourselves. To help with this, start noticing how you talk to yourself and try to make it more positive. For example, if you’re worried about giving a presentation and keep thinking, “I won’t remember anything in front of the CEO,” change that thought to something more supportive, like:

“I am well prepared for this presentation, I know the material well, and I have notes to help me. Even if I miss a point, the audience won’t know, and it’s okay not to cover every detail.” This shift to positive thinking can really reduce your anxiety.


Starting a meditation practice can naturally help lessen your anxiety about communicating. Mindfulness meditation involves sitting quietly and concentrating solely on your breathing and how your body feels. It’s important not to judge or label any sensations you notice. With regular practice, meditation can help you become calmer before a speech or in anxious moments, reducing stress related to communication and helping you focus on the present.

Positive Visualization

Another helpful way to manage stress and lower anxiety about communication is through positive visualization. This technique involves imagining yourself succeeding in situations like delivering a great speech or having a good interaction with a new acquaintance. It’s worth noting that positive visualization is a popular and effective method used in professional sports training to enhance performance.

Power Posing

Believe it or not, holding a “power pose” for just two minutes can actually reduce anxiety and boost confidence. This involves standing in a confident position, like mimicking Superman or Wonder Woman. Researchers at Harvard discovered that this simple action can lower cortisol (a stress hormone) and increase testosterone, which affects confidence positively. Although it might sound a bit silly, this technique is so easy and effective that it’s worth trying out. Next time you’re preparing for a speech or presentation, strike a power pose before practicing and again right before the event itself.

Combatting Communication Apprehension for Enhanced Well-Being

If you often feel nervous about talking to others, remember, you’re not alone, and there are many simple and effective ways to feel better. From practicing with friends, to changing the way you talk to yourself, to trying meditation or visualizing success, these methods can help ease your mind. So next time you’re gearing up for a presentation or a chat, consider these tools to boost your confidence and keep your nerves in check.


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