Stress, worry, fear and anxiety are common experiences for most people. And to a certain degree a certain amount of fear and anxiety is just part of life and some stress is actually helpful. It keeps us away from potentially dangerous situations, walking down a dark alley at midnight, getting too close to the edge of the Grand Canyon, keeping us from petting the nice snake rattling its tail but your subconscious mind may have mistakenly confused real danger like a dark alleyway or a rattlesnake with something that isn’t as life threatening like giving a speech, going on a first date, or taking a test at school.
So there is a practical and normal amount of fear and anxiety that keeps us safe and even propels us forward, like wanting to study extra hard for a test so you pass. And while I was being a bit facetious about falling into the Grand Canyon and petting a rattlesnake, there are life circumstances where it is very normal to feel fear and stress. Going through a frightening medical procedure or getting your taxes audited by the IRS. Feeling anxious about these kinds of life events is normal and hard to avoid. It’s just a part of being human.
However, there are other levels of fear and anxiety that are unhealthy. Maybe they are so severe that someone is diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, where they worry all the time about harmless things and it affects their health and life to the point of even needing to use medication.
Now to perform well you do need a certain amount of stress to help propel you forward towards your goal. To produce optimal performance during a challenging situation like a test, you’ll need to be mentally and physically alert. You are not going to perform well on an exam sleepy and unfocused.
The right amount of stress and alertness to produce optimal performance is called “arousal”.
The problem is if the intensity of arousal gets too high then you enter the realm of anxiety, worry and overwhelm and end up with the exact opposite of optimal performance, and your mental and physical alertness declines. Too much fear and anxiety can create static within the mind and make logical thinking difficult.
Now the right level of arousal for optimal performance can be tracked on the Yerkes – Dodson Curve. In the early 1900s, two psychologists were researching peak performance and discovered that the right amount of arousal can produce optimal performance results.
The bottom line, going left and right, represents your arousal or your stress level, the line moving up and down represents your performance. So you can see that a certain amount of arousal, a certain amount of stress, can put you in the optimal zone for peak performance, the green zone, the right amount of stress can put you in the zone for growth and learning. But you need to harness it, because if you keep producing that mental and emotional arousal then you can end up in anxiety, panic, breakdown and burnout and it crashes into the ground. If you don’t control that arousal it will turn into stress, anxiety and panic and you’ll end up in the red zone.
For example, when studying for a test, someone on the far left in the blue zone, they have little arousal, they’re bored, disengaged, they’re not going to study very hard for very long, and probably not do well on the test. Over on the far right, in the dark orange and red zones, there is so much anxiety and panic you leave the “optimal” zones here in green in the middle, your confidence and self-esteem start to decline, you have trouble focusing and thinking logically, you may feel fatigued, even sick, and your ability to study, remember the information, or take a test diminishes greatly, performance declines.
You can also look at this like drinking coffee. If you’re a coffee drinker then you know that a cup of coffee can give you a boost of energy and focus, but too much coffee can make you jittery and make it hard to focus and think clearly.
To borrow an analogy from author Glennon Doyle, true anxiety feels purposeful, something we feel driven or motivated to take action (we want to pass the test, cross the finish line first). True anxiety can also be a deep inner knowing or intuition that something isn’t right (walking into the dark alley, hearing the rattlesnake in the bushes near the trail you are hiking). However, false anxiety has a high-frequency trill of fear attached to it. It’s got a lower vibration, a longer wavelength.
But as you can see with the Yerkes – Dodson Curve there must be some arousal because a little bit of arousal is actually great for delivering your best performance. You want to be in the green zone. So you only want to eliminate the useless, unnecessary, unresourceful anxiety and fear of the orange and red zones you want to eliminate the false anxiety around tests.
So you can see if you’re over in the orange and red zones, in the distress zone you can see that if you reduce your stress to optimal levels of arousal, move over to the green zone, here in the center of the curve, you’ll be able to deliver peak performance whether a test, first date, giving a presentation or anything else. And I can teach you many amazing techniques that you can use to quickly feel calm and relaxed before and during tests or other stressful situations, these are simple yet powerful techniques you can use anywhere.
These are powerfully effective tools you can use whether you’re dealing with unnecessary mild worry to severe panic. Any stress that is unresourceful to achieving peak performance during a test will be eliminated. These powerful tools will be a great help in feeling better fast. And the healing effects increase the more you use these methods.