Understanding Communication Apprehension

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Today is the day of John’s big class presentation. As his classmates present and John’s turn nears, his stomach is full of butterflies and his heart races. This often happens when John must speak in front of an audience. If you have similar experiences when faced with public speaking or even communicating with others, you might be struggling with Communication Apprehension.

What is Communication Apprehension?

The American Psychological Association’s definition of communication apprehension is the “anxiety related to initiating or maintaining conversation with others.” Communication apprehension can happen at all levels of communication including, interpersonal communication, small group and team communication, public communication, and mass communication.

Symptoms of Communication Apprehension

The University of Minnesota lists several potential symptoms of communication apprehension; some of the symptoms listed include feeling “butterflies” in the stomach, a racing heart, shaking legs or hands, feeling nauseated, and in extreme cases, feeling dizzy or light-headed. The negative physical symptoms can make it extremely difficult to communicate and carry out everyday functions. People with extreme communication apprehension may avoid social situations in fear of required communication.

What Contributes to Communication Apprehension?

With communication apprehension we have an all or nothing mindset, or we engage in overgeneralization or fortune telling.

  • All or Nothing Mindset
    All or nothing is thinking there are only two options: “I will either be perfect or fail miserably.” This type of thinking causes stress as we reach for an unrealistic perfect standard, which ultimately leads to challenges with communication or a total avoidance if it.
  • Overgeneralization
    Overgeneralization is the belief that one failure is total failure. If we have one real or perceived communication failure, overgeneralization causes us to feel like a complete failure at communication.
  • Fortune Telling
    Fortune telling occurs when we tell ourselves, “I know this is speech going to be terrible.” Fortune telling is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy. These are situations where the physical outcome of a situation is influenced by our thinking, either positively or negatively. 

How Can We Overcome Communication Apprehension

To overcome communication apprehension, we must change our way of thinking.  We can shift our thoughts from “What if I fail” to “I know what I can do when I work hard” and “What if they don’t like me” to “I’ve prepared and I’m ready to show it.” Using the AWARE method can also help us when the anxiety feels overwhelming.

Accept that you are anxious. Fighting it will not make it go away.

Watch your anxiety. What’s happening in your body, thoughts, and perception during times of anxiety.

Act normal. Focus of breathing normally and act confident. This will help your anxiety pass and fade.

Repeat A, W, and A until the anxiety reduces to maintainable level.

Expect the best. Spend time and energy to do things that help you instead of worrying.

When experiencing communication apprehension, remember communication isn’t as scary as we may feel it to be. We can enhance our confidence and preparedness to ease our communication apprehension.

Communication Studies Courses Can Help Overcome Communication Apprehension

In every communication studies course, students develop communication skills that build confidence and foster effective communication. A communication studies major provides students with a well-rounded curriculum that prepares them to communicate in interpersonal, small group, and public levels. It also equips them to handle different communication situations such as conflict management and organizational communication. Building a communication skill set and applying those skills in real-life contexts provides the confidence needed to overcome communication apprehension.

By Katie Miracle, EKU Communication Studies Student

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American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Apa Dictionary of Psychology. American Psychological Association. Retrieved March 1, 2023

[Author removed at request of original publisher]. (2016, November 8). 3.1 what is communication apprehension? Stand up Speak out. Retrieved March 1, 2023

Rogers, B., Hollingsworth, C., Kienzle, R. “B., & Meade, L. (n.d.). Overcome communication apprehension by hacking your brain. Advanced Public Speaking. Retrieved March 1, 2023  

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