Athletes who do not effectively cope with stress may not perform at their best and suffer mental or physical distress. Your optimal arousal level is where you have the most advantageous levels of physical and psychological activation (arousal). In addition to being aware of the location of your optimal level, you also need to be skilled at regulating your arousal up or down toward your best level. The most common problem in sport is over-arousal and is often described as feeling ‘too amped up’, hyper, jacked, excited, or nervous. As a direct or indirect result of our over-arousal, we make performance errors (like starting a race too fast or forgetting equipment) that impede our progress. Less frequently, we are under-aroused and have difficulty being up for practice, training, or a competition.
The first step in regulating arousal is becoming aware of where your current arousal level is. How do you feel right now physically? Emotionally? Psychologically? Write these descriptions down in a training journal (you do have a training journal don’t you?). Describe and record your arousal level before and after each workout for 1-2 weeks alongside your training activities. At the end of that time look back at your journal and compare your better performance days with the noted arousal levels. Try making a mash-up of these experiences and write down a description of what appears as your optimal arousal level.
Continue recording your arousal level and re-writing your description every two weeks for a couple of months and watch how your description begins to zoom in on your own optimal arousal level. After 3-4 months of steady monitoring you should begin to have a pretty good idea of where you want your arousal level at just prior to training and performance. Write this refined description of your optimal arousal level down and post it where you can see it regularly (locker, above a desk, back of office door). This activity will help you become more familiar with assessing arousal and how it relates to your optimal level. Once you understand where your current arousal, you can perform mental exercises to align it with your optimal level.
Next time… Regulating Arousal