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Balancing Anxiety and Arousal: Understanding Zones Of Optimal Functioning

Updated: Feb 29

"The key to keeping your balance is knowing when you've lost it."

- Anonymous

Individual Zones of Optimal Functioning (IZOF) is a theoretical model that explains the relationship between emotional arousal and performance. It proposes that each athlete has a preferred level of anxiety or excitement that allows her/him to perform at her/his best.

Image 1 shows the different performance zones and their preferred levels of optimal arousal, ranging from low, middle, and high. For example, an athlete with a low level of preferred arousal will perform best by being calm and relaxed.

Emotional arousal is the alertness or how awake you are on a scale from deep sleep to panic/excitement. It’s important to understand a certain level of anxiety or excitement can help or hurt your ability to perform at your best / in the ZONE.

Helpful and hurtful emotions are individually defined. For one athlete, the right amount of anger is helpful, while another prefers the right amount of excitement needed before competition and practice.

Image 2 is the Inverted-U hypothesis that represents the right balance of arousal needed to perform.

Mental skills that help you get into your ZONE include, pre-performance routines, breathing exercises, imagery, goal-setting, and self talk.


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