Lesson 5: Arousal Regulation from Quirky Kid on Vimeo.

  • Understand the experiences associated with different arousal states
  • Develop an understanding of how one’s performance might be influenced by specific arousal states
  • Identify appropriate arousal states for different situations
  • Increase repertoire of arousal regulations techniques

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.

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.

Signs of the level of mental activation include:

  • the speed of thought processes such as racing or sluggish thoughts,
  • or ability to focus appropriately.

There are multiple factors to consider when working to manipulate arousal levels.

  1. Firstly, different endeavours require different levels of physiological and mental activation.
  2. Different contexts also require different level of arousal, such as training or practice versus competition or performance.
  3. Lastly, individual differences are crucial, one individual potentially having quite different needs to another for the same event or experience.

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 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 are the most effective combination for managing emotional experiences that are impacting on practice and performance.

Once mastered, arousal regulation skills can ensure that a performer has the skills and confidence to shift themselves back into an appropriate state and manage the normal ups and downs of day to day practice and competition.

  1. Start by asking participants explain what arousal actually is. You may get some funny lines here specially from adolescents and they may be useful to get the conversation going.
  2. You can find Synonymous for arousal here.
  3. Define the two types of arousal – mental and physical/physiological arousal. Ask participants to discuss how they may feel physical arousal (eg. heart rate, muscle tension) and ask them to define how they might physically feel when their arousal is high and low. When might their physical arousal be high? When might it be low?
  4. Ask participants how they might experience mental arousal (eg. level of focus, thought frequency) and ask them to define how they might mentally feel when their arousal  is high and low. When might their mental arousal be high? When might their mental arousal be low?
  5. Ask questions about what makes each one more or less aroused (eg. when they are close to performance, when they have finished a performance, when they are well rested or tired, when they have people encouraging them)
  6. How can arousal help or not help during competition and performance? What might happen if we are too physically/mentally aroused? What might happen if our arousal levels are very low?
  7. Ask participants to think of times when they require high levels of arousal and think about what might happen if they approached it with a low arousal level and visa versa- what might be the consequences?
  8. Ask participants how they would know what level of arousal is optimal for their performance (eg. through coaches suggestion, past experience, through watching others, listening to their bodies, understanding their own state of wellbeing). Does this optimal level ever change? When and why? 
  9. Read through page 77 ‘Power up or Cool Down?’. Emphasise that as elite performers we need to find the level of arousal that will optimise our performance which will involve becoming aware of where are arousal levels are, where they need to be and using strategies to fine tune our arousal  levels to get them just right. Invite participants to form into groups and discuss and record how it might feel if arousal levels are too high or too low or ‘just right’ and share answers as a group.
  10. Next, ask participants to think back to a time in their performance area (or imagine a time) in which their arousal levels were too low. What could they do to increase their arousal levels, to ‘Power Up’?  Invite participants to fill in first box on page 78. Encourage participants to demonstrate the song by playing it on the speakers provided. Do the participants’ songs make everyone feel the same? Is this song useful for all pursuits and situations? What does this tell us about arousal (ie. it is specific for every individual and can differ greatly among different situations, pursuits and times).
  11. Next, invite participants to fill out the second box on page 78. Encourage participants to utilise their memory and imagination to create a detailed image of this event- what could they see, hear, feel, smell, taste, who was there etc.  Participants may even want to draw a detailed picture of this event in the box provided.
  12. Invite participants to share their experience with the group and any other things that might help them feel ‘powered up’ (eg. watching a DVD or youtube clip of their last performance or favourite performance, recording a reading aloud positive affirmations or self talk, having quiet reflective time to focus in on the task ahead). Ask participants to fill in their ideas on page 79.
  13.  Next, ask participants to think back to a time in their performance area (or imagine a time) in which their arousal levels were too high. What did that feel like? When did they notice their arousal levels getting too high? What were the warning signs? Did anyone else notice? What impact would arousal levels that are too high have on performance?
  14. Next, ask participants to think of any examples in the media, from the last Olympics or time they watched a elite performer appear to have very high arousal levels. What happened? What did that performer do?
  15. Ask participants to record on page 80, ways they could ‘Cool Down’.  Include skills that have been learnt in Power Up! such as positive self talk, imagery and utilising relaxation methods such as Progressive Muscle Relaxation (http://www.anxietybc.com/sites/default/files/MuscleRelaxation.pdf). Ask participants about what works for them or others in their individual field of performance.
  16. End the topic by discussing the next performance situation for participants. Ask participants to think about what warning signs they might have that their arousal levels need adjusting and how they might go about adjusting these. Participants can write these in their book and think about specific details such as when they might employ ‘Power Up’ or ‘Cool Down’ strategies (eg. on the morning of the performance, during practice, on stage) and what tools they might need to do this (eg. a reminder from the coach, a diary with their positive affirmations in it, a playlist on their iPod etc).