Tennis star Emma Raducanu recently withdrew from
Wimbledon due to performance anxiety, but what is performance anxiety and how
can it be flipped into a superpower? Resilience researcher Despina Djama
investigates the psychology of stress and how it can be shaped to enhance
Performance anxiety is common in sport and even in film and music with people like Hugh Grant and Zayn Malik reporting debilitating attacks as the cameras start rolling. Research shows that too much or too little stress can negatively affect performance in some individuals. Stress is the body’s way of letting us know that we should be responding to a situation. Too little stress may not give us enough physiological arousal to respond, while too much stress can prevent us from using arousal. Stress requires a physiological and psychological sweet spot that elevates heart-rate, enhances focus and prepares the body for what’s next. If the sweet spot is missed, individuals need to harness their mental skills to manage their emotions, thinking and performance.Professional athletes are often in the centre of demanding situations. Whether it is a match which determines the champion: penalty kicks or playing at Centre Court in one of the most prestigious tennis tournaments, as with the case of Emma Raducanu. In such cases where the task is complicated (staying focused, sticking to the plan of action, coordinating complicated body movements, playing in front of a large and loud crowd) the stress can get it the way and distract us from focusing and reaching optimal performance. The key is finding your sweet spot: the balance, so that you can respond to the demands of the situation.