The Sport Science Program Home Page

Welcome to our final module - Perform Better! I think it’s a good idea to launch this module by recognizing the presence of stress in our lives and making choices about how to respond. The reason for this is that if we can rise to the challenges that we are faced with, perform to our potential, then recover and regenerate optimally we will ultimately reach our potential.

So in this post, I want to share with you how to use stress to your advantage and minimize its negative effects so you can perform better.

Surprised that there are advantages to stress? Many people are. But stress is a lot like food: none at all is bad for us and too much can make us sick. We can learn to lower stress levels and help our bodies and minds to recover after periods of high stress.

You know what acute stress feels like: you've trained hard the entire year, the day of the big competition finally arrives, and you're standing behind the starting blocks, or about to run onto the court, or throw your first pitch. Your heart feels like it’s going to pound out of your chest. Your adrenal glands have just dumped hormones like epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) and cortisol into your blood. Adrenaline and cortisol increase the activity of various organs like the heart, the lungs and your muscles. You feel like you’re buzzing.

The benefit of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol is that they increase our capacity to function at a high level, both mentally and physically. The activation of the nervous system and the powerful effect of hormones improves our brain function and the strength and power of our muscles. This stress is built to improve our performance. This is a good thing in short bursts. But it’s a bad thing to be flooded with those hormones for long periods. If they remain in our systems over time, or are dumped into our bloodstream day after day, they can cause problems. That’s what chronic stress is – not just a short burst but a prolonged period.

Short bursts of stress (called acute) are essential for helping us to perform at a higher level. But elevated stress over long periods of time (called chronic) can make us sick. 

So hold in mind as we explore stress that the classic signs of stress – anxiousness, difficulty sleeping, irritability, headaches, chest pain, brain fog, and so on – arise in us when we feel threatened and afraid. And while we’re surrounded by many stress triggers, the answer isn’t to eliminate stress. There is upside and downside. We’re going to look at both, so you can perform better than ever.

Today's POWER-UP

Check out this TED talk by Kelly McGonigal on how to make stress your friend.