Balancing Anxiety and Performance

As a coach, there are times when I have to take a step back and make sure that my clients are successfully handling the changes (which can feel like chaos) that are taking place in their lives.  While they need to be taking risks and putting themselves out there, there’s a balance that we have to shoot for.

Since the 1950’s, the phenomenon of anxiety (or stress) and performance has been researched.  Current findings continue to confirm that there is a point of diminishing returns where stress has an inverse effect on performance.  Here’s a graph of the relationship between performance and stress:

Axiety Performance Graph

Here are my interpretations:

  • Low Stress —› Low Performance
    • When I don’t care about something, my anxiety and stress are very low … I get bored, I’m not engaged, and my performance is poor.
    • The performance, task, or competition is of little or no value to me.
    • There’s no need to risk anything in this situation.
  • Medium Stress —› Medium Performance
    • I’m somewhat invested and there is a small rise in my performance levels
    • The performance, task, or competition has some value to me.
    • I could step out and risk a little.
  • Optimal Stress —› Optimal Performance
    • I’m fully invested and engaged, in the zone, and focused.  My coping skills are working.
    • I’m balancing the stress and the value of the performance, task, or competition.
    • I’m comfortable with the level of risk and am willing to step out of my comfort zone.
  • High Stress —› Medium Performance
    • I’m invested, but not handling the stress well.  My coping skills are not holding up.
    • The performance, task, or competition is of high value to me – maybe of such value that my fear of failure is taking over.
  • Extreme Stress —› Low Performance
    • I’m overwhelmed and may even choke or freeze; fear has taken over.
    • I am not able to handle the anxiety at all; my coping skills are ineffective.

As you can see, the development and use of coping strategies and skills will enable us to manage our anxiety and stress.  In addition, we have to learn to control what we can and let go of everything else.  More about coping skills and determining appropriate value coming soon.

Your response:

  1. What have you noticed about your performance levels when the stress is low?  When the stress is high?
  2. What are some of your coping skills for dealing with stress?
  3. Are they working for you?