Mental Skill #6 - Emotion & Arousal Control

Emotion and Arousal Regulation for Peak Performance

"You have to be able to center yourself, to let all of your emotions go. Don’t ever forget that you play with your soul as well as your body."

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Have you ever been so emotionally hot you made a poor decision in your sport?

If so, emotion and arousal regulation (controlling your emotions, and getting psyched up or relaxed) was at play.

Emotion and arousal regulation are essential skills to achieve peak performance.

Emotions are a state of mind on a spectrum of angry or sad, all the way to excited, and happy. Arousal regulation refers to the ability to control your level of physiological and psychological activation.

The Importance of Emotion & Arousal Regulation

As an athlete you often face high-pressure situations that can evoke strong emotions such as anxiety, anger, and frustration. These emotions can negatively affect your performance by impairing your decision-making, focus, and motor control.

Arousal regulation on the other hand is your ability to manage your physiological (body), or psychological (mind) levels of activation (how psyched up or relaxed you are).

The Yerkes-Dodson Law

The Yerkes-Dodson Law is a fundamental principle in sports psychology. It posits that there is an optimal level of arousal for peak performance. Too little arousal can lead to boredom, and underperformance, while too much can result in anxiety and impaired decision-making. As a result you must find your sweet spot on this arousal curve, which can vary from person to person and even from one sport to another.

Yerkes Dodson Law

Role of Self-Awareness in Emotion and Arousal Regulation

The first step in regulating emotions and arousal is to develop self-awareness. The more you learn to recognize your emotional triggers and physiological signs of arousal, the more you can regulate your behaviours and reactions. This can be achieved through self-reflection, journaling, mindfulness practices, and reviewing strengths and weaknesses on a regular basis.

Cognitive Techniques to Manage Emotions & Arousal

Cognitive techniques involve changing your thought patterns to influence your emotions and arousal levels. Some common cognitive techniques include:

Cognitive restructuring: This involves identifying and challenging negative thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes that contribute to emotional distress or high arousal levels.

Goal setting: Setting realistic and achievable goals can help athletes maintain motivation and focus, reducing emotional intensity and arousal.

Mental imagery or visualization: Athletes can use mental imagery to rehearse and visualize successful performance, which can help to reduce anxiety and maintain optimal arousal levels.

Positive self-talk: Negative self-talk can be a major source of emotional distress. Replace self-doubt with positive affirmations. Instead of saying, "I can't do this," say, "I am capable, and I've trained for this." Reframe the negative to a positive and take on the challenge.

Behavioural Techniques to Manage Emotions & Arousal

Behavioural techniques involve modifying your actions/behaviours to influence your emotions and arousal levels. Some common behavioural techniques include:

Breathing exercises: Deep, slow, and controlled breathing can help to reduce anxiety and lower arousal levels. Common techniques include the centring breath or box breathing.

Progressive muscle relaxation: This technique involves tensing and relaxing different muscle groups to promote physical relaxation and reduce arousal levels.

Time management: Developing effective time management skills can help athletes better manage stress and maintain optimal arousal levels.

Routines and rituals: Establishing pre-game routines can help you regulate your emotions. These rituals create a sense of familiarity and control, reducing anxiety and boosting confidence.

Social Techniques to Manage Emotions & Arousal

Social techniques involve leveraging an athlete's social support network to help regulate emotions and arousal levels. Some common social techniques include:

Communication: Open and honest communication with coaches, teammates, support staff, and your support network can help you express your emotions and receive valuable feedback and encouragement.

Social support: Seeking support from friends, family, and teammates can help you cope with stress and maintain optimal emotional management and arousal levels.

You do control the thoughts that follow an emotion, and you have a great deal of say in how you react to an emotion - as long as you are aware of it.

Travis Bradberry


Emotion and arousal regulation are critical for you to achieve optimal performance and maintain mental well-being. By developing self-awareness and employing cognitive, behavioural, and social techniques, you can effectively manage your emotions and arousal levels, ultimately enhancing your performance and overall well-being.

Key Take Aways

  1. Emotion and arousal regulation are essential skills to enhance your performance and mental well-being.

  2. Techniques such as self-awareness, cognitive strategies, behavioural techniques, and social support can help you effectively manage your emotions and arousal levels.

  3. By implementing these techniques, your can improve decision-making, focus, and motor control, increasing accuracy, reducing the risk of burnout, and maintain optimal performance.

Reflective Moment

How do I currently manage my emotions and arousal levels during high-pressure situations in your athletic performance

Do you want help managing your emotions and arousal?

For more information or to set up your own session with a Certified Mental Performance Consultant to help you build your emotional management plan, click on the button below for a free intro session.