Physiological activation or arousal refers to how switched on our bodies are at any given time. Signs of the level of physiological activation include measures of heart rate, breathing rate, muscle firing and skin conductivity. Mental activation or arousal refers to thought processes and the ability to focus appropriately.
The ability to manage your arousal level is an important skill for performance management. This section explores the impact of arousal on performance. It also helps you to develop your ability to regulate your arousal levels for different circumstances or aspects of your performance.
Arousal refers to both physical and mental activation. It can be useful to think about arousal like temperature, where a temperature is always present, and that the judgement around whether it is “too hot”, “too cold”, or “just right” is based on multiple factors, rather than being categorical.
Learning to monitor and manipulate physical arousal is an essential skill for all performers. Arousal levels that are too low often result in an activity requiring more effort than usual and a lack of energy. Arousal levels that are too high can result in feelings of nausea, feeling jittery and result in poor decision making and errors. Emotional experiences can also significantly impact arousal levels. For example, feelings of sadness can lead to physical sensations of fatigue and lethargy. Feelings of worry or anxiety can create sensations of agitation or breathlessness.
Learning to manage your arousal levels also helps to manage emotional states. This is particularly important as competitive pursuits can be highly emotional experiences where it will be normal to encounter difficult emotions such as frustration, anxiety, anger and disappointment. Using arousal control skills in combination with self-talk skills is the most effective combination for managing emotional experiences that are impacting on practice and performance.
Once mastered, arousal regulation skills can ensure that you have the skills and confidence to shift yourself back into an appropriate state and manage the normal ups and downs of day to day practice and competition.