The Optimal Level Of Anxiety You Need To Perform Well

Yerkes-Dodson Law Graph

Photo: Vaughan/Wikimedia Commons

Anxiety — that urgency blended with fear that creeps up when you’re approaching a deadline at work or pitching an idea to your boss — may actually be good for you in moderation.Scientists believe there to be an  “anxiety sweet spot,” a psychological state of “moderate anxiety” where performance and alertness are optimised, reports Melinda Beck at The Wall Street Journal.

Think of an athlete warmed up before a big game, or the president at a press conference. At this “sweet spot,” a person feels pressure to perform well and is prepared, but is not debilitated with fear.

The Yerkes-Dodson curve (named for the Harvard psychologists who first proposed that moderate levels of arousal enhance performance) is taught in psychology, and is a helpful visual to help grasp this concept.

Scientists have long known that too much anxiety can seriously hinder one’s performance, and recent evidence corroborates this. In a study published earlier this month, researchers at Michigan State University monitored the brains of 79 female and 70 male students, who were asked to fill out a survey about their own anxiety levels. Women who were self-described worriers tended to have “high levels of brain activity when they made mistakes,” and as the test became more difficult, “the more anxious women did worse on the task.”

However, finding this intricate balance of being overwrought with anxiety and not having enough may prove to be difficult. When people are overconfident, they may not have enough anxiety to focus and perform the task at hand. With too much anxiety, people have trouble performing even the most basic of tasks — the 40 million American adults who suffer from anxiety disorders can attest to how disabling it can be.

If one suffers from severe anxiety, cognitive behaviour therapy can be helpful in changing one’s thought patterns and how he or she reacts to anxiety-provoking stimuli.

READ: The 10 Most Stressful Jobs in America >

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