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Stress: Fuel for Peak Performance

by | Aug 24, 2017 | Brain Health, Brain Rehabilitation, Neurofeedback, Stress | 2 comments

Did you know that some stress can be good for you?

What is your concept of stress? Is it life or death situations?

Businessman using his stress to multitask and achieve peak performance

A stressful situation can release stress hormones that trigger hormonal and physiological changes. This is known as the ‘fight or flight’ response. Think of a time when you experienced a stressful incident. Perhaps you were in a car accident, or had to give a speech in front of a large audience. Did your heart begin to pound? Did your muscles tense up? Perhaps you breathing rate increased or you started to sweat. These changes are the response of the sympathetic nervous system preparing you to fight the threat or flee to safety.

When this stress response is triggered, physical and mental abilities can increase. The brain processes what you perceive more quickly. Vision and hearing become more acute. Faced with a life-threatening situation these biological changes come on fast and strong. Many people who find themselves in a life-threatening situation typically describe superhuman strength or courage giving them the ability to tackle the challenge at hand.

While this response evolved as a survival technique allowing us to quickly respond to life-threatening situations, the body can also have a similar response to other stressors that are not life-threatening, such as financial issues, problems at work, traffic jams, public speaking, flying, and family difficulties. However, it is possible to use stress to your advantage by learning how to harness the appropriate stress response for achieving your goals.

Challenge Response

There is another type of response, known as the challenge response, that occurs in stressful situations that are not as threatening. Similar to fight-or-flight response, our body prepares us for the challenge we are faced with. Adrenaline levels, heart rate and breathing rate increase, but different hormones are released resulting in a less fearful state. The hormones released in this state are typically referred to as the “feel good” hormones.

The challenge response gives you an energy surge and boosts your ability to perform under pressure. Concentration, confidence, and mental clarity are enhanced. Athletes, surgeons, actors, and performers may refer to being in the state as being “in the zone”.

Performance Anxiety

If you are one of the millions of people who fear to speak in front of a group of people, you know what it’s like to have performance anxiety, commonly referred to as “stage fright”.

Performance Anxiety symptoms can include:

  • Rapid heart and breathing rate
  • Changes to vision
  • Shaky hands, legs, and voice
  • Dry mouth
  • Muscle tension
  • Sweaty and cold hands
  • Nausea; butterflies in your stomach


Your body reacts in the same way it would if you found yourself in a life-threatening situation. For many people, performance anxiety has a negative impact on their career, confidence, and self-esteem. The good news is there are ways of reducing performance anxiety and putting it to work for you.

Many professional athletes, actors, speakers, and performers experience performance anxiety but have learned how to shift this anxiety into the challenge response. It takes a lot of practice to see a threat that overcomes you and approach it as a fun and meaningful challenge.

As a board-certified sports psychologist, I have worked with athletes at all levels of ability – from professional, Olympic, Ironman, amateur, and from various sports including football, basketball, golf, gymnastics, running, cycling, swimming, and skiing. I was trained in sports psychology at Boston University by the world-famous Pan (Am) American coach, Dr. John Cheffers.  From this extensive personal training with Dr. Cheffers, I develop and modify specialized training to assist individual athletes and sports teams with performance enhancement and clinical issues.

I was also trained in performing arts psychology at Boston University. Performing arts psychology deals with the neurological and psychological factors associated with dance, acting, musical, theatrical and public speaking performance.

In addition to athletes, I have worked extensively with a variety of performers from all ability levels, including ballroom competitive dancers, ballet dancers, television professionals, and professional speakers to help them achieve their highest goals.

Peak Performance

Peak performance is a state in which a person performs to the maximum ability, effortlessly and confidently, and with total concentration.  Described as “flow, “being in the zone”, “in a state of exceptional functioning”, peak performance is just as much mental toughness as it is physical ability.

Athletes and performing artists strengthen and condition their bodies in a variety of ways with the goal of being their best and achieving the greatest performance possible. Yet, there are often obstacles that keep them from achieving their goals.  Some of the common issues are:

  • Performance Anxiety: In sports, this is commonly referred to as “choking” to describe the anxiety, nerves, and fear that interfered with performance.
  • Coping with Pressure: The pressure felt from their parents, coaches, peers and even themselves, can interfere with performance.
  • Recovering from Injury: Athletes and performers can suffer psychological impacts of an injury for both during and post-rehabilitation. Disappointment, isolation, and other mental setbacks need to be addressed to regain confidence and get back to their A-game


Performance Anxiety does not just affect professional performers, athletes, musicians, dancers, actors, television and radio personalities, and the like.  As I mentioned, millions of people are affected by performance anxiety or “stage fright”.  Some people are extremely uncomfortable addressing a group of peers, giving a presentation to an audience, or even just introducing themselves to few people.  This type of anxiety heightens when a person starts to focus on themselves and their anxiety, rather than the presentation or performance. This stems from the “fight or flight” response and thinking of the presentation or performance as a threat, rather than a challenge.  This tendency to fight the anxiety, rather than accept it and work with it inhibits the chance of attaining peak performance. However, retraining the brain and changing the way this type of stress is handled, bring hope to all those who suffer from performance anxiety!

Performance Psychology and Peak Performance

Whether it is the big game or opening night on Broadway, Performance Psychology applies to both athletes and performers, helping them deal with the pressures and challenges they face.
The mind plays a critical role in peak performance.

When performers are not performing at the best or “in a slump”, typically there are psychological barriers getting in the way. These barriers include loss of confidence or motivation, feeling too anxious, getting easily distracted, perceived stress, or struggling with injury.  Performance psychologists help athletes and performers overcome these mental blocks and emotional barriers to perform to their maximum ability.

Performance Psychology deals with three major area: Anxiety, specifically anticipatory;

Concentration and Focus; and Behavior Modification.


Performers have to be relaxed to be able to control their mental state if they want to perform optimally.  The mind needs to be at ease, while the body is alert.

In dealing with anticipatory anxiety, teaching internal methods to control the autonomic nervous system through such internal methods as hypnosis, HRV (Heart Rate Variability) breathing, and TFT (Thought Field Therapy) a form of Energy Psychology. In conjunction, CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) helps to re-educate how you think about the event.


I’m published in the field of hypnosis and am a clinical consultant in hypnosis.  In the field of Energy Psychology, the originator, Roger Callahan, trained me.  TFT was first known as the Callahan Technique.  His method broke off into two major groups, TFT (Dr. Fred Gallo) and EFT, emotional freedom therapy developed by Gary Craig.  I’ve been trained and hold certification in all three methods. Most clinicians are trained in one or two of the various methods.  I’ve been blessed to have been trained in all the above methods by the people who originated each of the various methods, including HRV.  Thus, I can help you choose what method is best for you.

Concentration and Focus

You’ve heard the expression; don’t take your eye off the ball.  Concentration is one of the most important skills required to achieve peak performance. It takes a lot of work to actively focus on the task at hand while passively ignoring external and internal distractions. Concentration can be improved through training and practice.  Learning how to sustain focus is another critical skill.  There are various methods that can enhance focus including hypnosis, neurofeedback and visual imagery.

Behavioral Modification

The third key area is behavioral changes. Athletes and performers must have the ability to adapt to new situations on the fly without impeding their performance.  Be it changing weather conditions, playing with a new teammate, illness/injury, or equipment failure, Performing Arts Psychology helps teach the essentials of adaptability, spontaneity, and creativity, especially under pressure.

Tools and Techniques for Peak Performance

When you are confused on what methods and techniques are best for you… Consult Dr. Diane!

There is a wide variety of effective methods to overcome obstacles in the way of peak performance.  In my practice, each client is seen as an individual with a unique set of issues.  Therefore, the method(s) of will differ depending on the individual.  However, these are the most common methods used in Performance Psychology:

Neurofeedback: Concentration/Focus training and Reduce Anxiety

Neurofeedback, also known as EEG biofeedback, Neurotherapy and brain training, uses cutting-edge technology to train your brain to function more efficiently, improving mental functioning and emotional stability. It is a safe, non-invasive and evidence-based learning technique that provides real-time information about your own EEG activity. Through this type of brain training, a person can adjust his or her own brainwave characteristics by teaching the brain to regulate brainwave activity more effectively.  The object of the training is to re-educate the brain to make voluntary changes via computerized graphic displays and auditory signals that encourage a change in mental state.

Much like physical training, Neurofeedback is used to strengthen specific brainwave patterns. The more you practice activating a specific area the stronger and more capable that area becomes. Brainwaves functioning optimally and in sync allow for harmony and greater achievement.

Hypnosis: Relaxation and Pain Management

Hypnosis is an extremely powerful way to improve your life and reach your goals.  Hypnosis is a natural state of mind that is highly focused, yet deeply relaxed.  It is a learning state that allows us to overcome many mental, physical, and psychological problems.

Hypnosis has been used for centuries for performance enhancement, as well as for the restoration of former higher levels of performance following injury.

Old limitations and obstacles can be broken, expanded, and replaced by positive feelings and outcomes. In many cases, issues attaining peak performance are rooted in self-doubt Using self-hypnosis to identify and accept self-doubt, helps individuals move past these failures and other negative feelings through stress-reduction techniques, positive imagery, and concentration-focusing skills.

Relaxation is a part of hypnosis, yet it is an entity in and of itself.  It is impossible to be tense and relaxed at the same time.  Through the use of progressive relaxation, and specific breathing techniques, you are able in a conscious state to relax your body and control of your body.

Visual Imagery requires picturing behavior in your mind in a relaxed state, which can then modify the actual behavior and emotional part of the behavior. Through your ability to picture, taste, touch, and move, you can use this relaxation technique extremely effectively in peak performance, pain management, and stress management.

Hypnosis is also effective for pain control and healing injury.


Meditation and Mindfulness are life skills that provide access to inner peace. Both rely on the ability to be focused entirely on the present moment which can lead to increased happiness and reduced stress and anxiety.

Meditation has been used for thousands of years as a means of healing and restoring energy. Meditation allows you to take your mind to a whole new level, becoming one with your body. It clears the mind of any obstacles impeding mental clarity.

Mindfulness is a form of meditation (or a state of mind) that promotes self-awareness, monitoring emotions and thoughts without judgment. It is well-known as a method for reducing stress but has long attracted interest from athletes and performers. One of the main benefits of practicing mindfulness is an increased ability to focus.

Practicing these two ancient techniques of brain training can actually change the structure and function of the brain, enhancing performance. Learning to regulate your breath, focus your attention, and gain a new perspective can help overcome the obstacles in the way of attaining your goals.

Other Effective Tools and Techniques

Other methods I use for peak performance training, include Wearable Wellness Neurotechnology products such as:


Choosing the right technique is never a “one-size fits all” approach.  Customized plans need to be developed based on the specific needs, strengths, weaknesses, and issues affecting the individual. An athlete could need help overcoming an injury, while another may need help improving goal-setting skills and self-confidence.

There is a Way®!

With so many options available do you know which is right for you?  Consult with Dr. Diane to determine the methods and techniques can help you reach your goals and achieve Peak Performance!

Are you ready to be the BEST you can be?


Dr. Diane® Roberts Stoler, Ed.D.
7 Hodges Street
N. Andover, MA 01845
Phone: (800) 500-9971
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Dr. Diane is a catalyst for change

Image Credit Elaine Boucher

Within each person shines an inner light that illuminates our path and is the source of hope. Illness, trauma, suffering and grief can diminish the light and shroud hope. I am a catalyst for hope and change, offering a way to rekindle this inner light.

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