Arousal, Stress and Anxiety – Factors That Influence Performance

     Arousal is general physical and psychological activity. Anxiety is a negative emotional state with feelings of worry, nervousness and apprehension that is associated with the activation of the body. Stress is an imbalance between that demands that someone feels and his or her feelings of capably to meet that demands – when failure of these demands has important consequences.

     Arousal can affect performance in many ways. There are several theories as to how stress affects performance. These are summarized in the following:

1) Drive Theory: Drive theory states that the more arousal and anxiety an individual experiences, the higher their performance will be.

2) Inverted U Hypothesis: This theory posits that their is a medium amount of arousal and anxiety that causes one to perform higher – too little anxiety/arousal and too much anxiety/arousal will cause performance to be poorer.

3) Individual Zones of Optimal Functioning: This theory takes into account that people have different levels of anxiety and arousal that are unique in making them perform at their best. Some people perform their best with low anxiety, some with a medium amount and others with a high amount. The amount of anxiety/arousal that an individual requires to perform their best is based on individual characteristics.

4) Multidimensional anxiety theory: This theory of anxiety posits that when one has anxious thoughts – they will have poorer performance. Anxiety felt by the body will have an effect on performance much like that of the inverted U theory (see above). However, there is little support for this theory.

5) Catastrophe Model: The catastrophe model posits that as long as there are lower thoughts of anxiety, then performance will be best at a medium level of physical arousal. If there is a high level of anxious thoughts (worry), performance will be better at a medium level of physical arousal but will suddenly drop off and become very poor. There is a breaking point when performance decreases dramatically.

6) Reversal Theory: This theory posits that the way that arousal affects performance depends on an individual’s interpretation of their arousal. Arousal can be interpreted as pleasant and exciting and as unpleasant and anxious. Arousal that is thought to be pleasant helps performance, and vice versa for bad arousal.

7) Anxiety direction and intensity: This theory states that how someone sees their own anxiety is important for understanding the relationship of their anxiety to their performance. Both the person’s interpretation of the intensity (how much anxiety) and the direction (whether the anxiety is helping or hindering their performance) have to be considered. Therefore, viewing anxiety as helpful leads to better performance.

Why Does Arousal Influence Performance?
     You may be wondering what it is exactly about arousal that is affecting performance. Arousal increases muscle tension and affects co-ordination. Too much tension can create difficulties. As well, it affects attention. However, attention can become too narrow with too much arousal, and can make one pay attention to too much in their environment when there is too little arousal.

Signs of Arousal and Anxiety:

* Cold, clammy hands * Constant need to urinate * Profuse sweating * Negative self-talk * Dazed look in eyes * Ill feeling * Headache * Dry mouth * Difficulties sleeping * Increased muscle tension * Butterflies in Stomach * Inability to concentrate

* Better performance in situations where you are not being evaluated

Using this Information:
     All of this information is useful in that it can be used to increase athletes’ performance. Psychologists can identify what is the best combination of emotions needed for good performance. Also one can recognize how personal things and things about ones situation can interact to influence anxiety and therefore performance. An athlete can recognize arousal and anxiety signs. Coaches can tailor their strategies to different individuals – and understand that state anxiety must be reduced, increases or maintained at certain times.

      There are certain personality types that are associated with health concerns – such as cardiovascular disease. One personality type is called Type A and is associated with anger and hostility. It has been seen that exercise and increased fitness seem to improve these individuals health. As well, exercise and increased fitness are associated with increases in self-esteem – especially in low self esteem individuals.

Related Links

Sports Psychology
Strategies & Success
Intrinsic Motivation
Team Dynamics
Enhancing Performance – PST
Aspects of PST