Research – Lily4Pres

Brains Over Brawn

Stress and anxiety are prevalent in every human’s daily routine. The use of terms like stress and anxiety can vary based on the metrics they are given, or the parameters they are defined in. The definition of stress we are going to use, as noted by Miguel Humara, is, “a state that results from the demands that are placed on the individual, which require that person to engage in some coping behavior.” Also by Humara, anxiety, “results when the individual doubts his or her ability to cope with the situation that causes him or her stress.” With this context, stress and anxiety stem from uncertainties, deadlines, emotions of frustration, and much more. Having these feelings results in pressure on the beholder, and depending on the emotional intelligence of the beholder, this pressure can force drastic changes on daily production. Stress and anxiety are found to hinder the ability to finish daily tasks with efficiency, or in some cases, even finish these tasks at all.

In order to grasp the damage that stress and anxiety cause, an assessment of where stress and anxiety comes from must come first. Hans Selye, the father of stress research, proposed that stress was present in any situation in which an individual was exposed to a demand. A proposal like this leaves us with an interesting thought- everything that imposes a demand, will result in stress. A change in scenery will bring upon stress; something as simple as the change from a household to a classroom. Although it is something that everyone has gone through thousands of times, there is a different expectation in the classroom than the household. This change in expectation adds an unseen pressure, which in turn, results in a rise in stress. We run into these situations every single day. The change from a ramp to a highway to an interstate, for example. This task is something humans perform countless times in their lives, for some even daily! And yet, during those moments of merging, there is no doubt a rise in blood pressure, as we try to assimilate into the fast-paced interstate and keep up with the pack. The tension and demand that we endure during events of pressure brings on stress as we know it.

If any situation where an individual is exposed to a demand results in stress, that means both positive and negative associations result in stress. Still, there is a massive negative connotation around the word stress. With this notion, we must delve deeper into each type of stress. The positive stress we encounter is known as eustress. Eustress is typically associated with adrenaline based situations, such as scares and competitive activities. Eustress can be noticed in the thrill of being lost in a carnival maze, or experiencing a roller coaster. Eustress is stress that an individual can benefit from. The most common type of stress that an individual encounters is known as acute stress. Acute stress, according to, is the body’s immediate response to a perceived challenge or threat. Examples of acute stress would be the preparation for a job interview, receiving a speeding ticket, or having financial problems. Acute stress will cause inconvenience and possible serious damage if not treated by a healthy mind and high emotional intelligence. If this acute stress persists, it has the ability to transform and evolve into chronic stress. Chronic stress is a repetitive sensation, and one that is seemingly never-ending. Chronic stress is seen as a result of traumatic experiences. Traumatic experience is an umbrella term, and can include a large array of life experiences. A traumatic experience could be years of beratement one may receive from loved ones and/or guardians, or could be one’s missions in Afghanistan, where they saw countless unnecessary circumstances resulting in bloodshed. Whatever the case may be, traumatic experiences leave a deep cut on someone’s psyche, resulting in long-lasting, problematic issues. The damage that comes along with chronic stress will result in losing the ability to consistently finish daily tasks; some find it difficult just to get out of their own bed. 

Anxiety is a relative to stress- the ttwo are of the same blood. Anxiety results from negative types of stress, such as acute stress and chronic stress. Anxiety is an intense feeling of restlessness, typically not experienced from present moments, but rather a moment in anticipation, as noted by K. W. Estes and F. B. Skinner. Anxiety is a normal feeling that the majority of people encounter, but becomes a true issue when it does not relent. It is at this point when disorders and further issues are brought onto the stage. An emotional state is a massive dictator on how long anxiety may stay relevant in one’s life.

Everyone experiences a constant weight on their shoulders, which is stress. Everyone experiences the fear and worry in the back of their minds, which is anxiety. However, according to recent studies, only 18.1% of the US suffers from diagnosed anxiety. A major reason that just 40 million US adults of the nearly 260 million US adults (~15%), are suffering from a diagnosed form of anxiety can be due to an individual’s emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence (EI) is not only the understanding of one’s own emotions, but the ability to manage, control, and use these emotions for one’s own good,  along with understanding others’ emotions. Whether the use of EI leads to reduced stress, better relationships with others, or even, in our case, an advantage on the athletic side of the world, EI is a determining catalyst in performance.

Through an analysis by The Relationship Between Anxiety and Performance: A Cognitive-Behavioral Perspective, we can differentiate athletes by their EI via assessment of individual traits. Athletes who have a high level of emotional intelligence score high in a variety of characteristics. These characteristics involve concentrated levels of self confidence, empathy, sympathy, and more control over their stress and anxiety. In the latter half, those with low level EI score higher on anger, frustration, aggression, and are typically prone to bursting outwards due to changes in their emotions. Emotions dictate every occurrence in our lives, though it may not always be apparent. In fact, emotions precede thought, affect the way we make decisions, and have a magnitude of importance on our cognitive abilities. Emotional intelligence assists us every single day through situational-recognition and thoughtful responses. According to the Institute for Health and Human Potential, the ability to manage our emotions – whether at a high level or not – affects our capabilities under pressure. Our ability to manage our emotions are tested most during the times of giving and receiving feedback, navigating change in our lives, and working through setbacks and failures. Times that athletes interact with in every match/game.

Emotion is the primary catalyst in performance during sport activity. With the introduction to competition in sport, stress and anxiety are bound to come to the surface. In Personal and Individual Differences, it is believed that emotional intelligence (EI) plays a role in one’s ability to not only utilize their own emotions to be more efficient athletically, but also communicate with the ones surrounding them by understanding their emotions. Conversely, understanding the other team’s emotions will improve one’s ability to make decisions on the field. Athletes must be able to cope with the stress and anxiety that accompanies sport. EI at a high level makes it easier for athletes to not only cope properly with the stress, but utilize the stress to perform at a higher level. EI seems to be strongly correlated to self-control, a trait that makes it easier for one to withstand pressure, regulate stress, and control their emotions. The psychological aspect of sport controls much more of the result than most spectators give it credit for.

To put the importance of emotional intelligence into athletic perspective, athletes with a high level of EI can outperform the better physical athlete with a lower level of EI. The highest level of EI athletes can command their emotions to lead to a better performance on the field through their ability to focus their emotions, or if needed to disregard them. In sports that are relatively constant such as soccer, football, hockey, basketball, and wrestling, situations that demand constant response and split-second decision making are nonstop. High level EI athletes are able to keep up with the constant barrage of decisions that must be made without letting outside factors affect their decision. These high level EI athletes also acknowledge how others on the field/court/pitch are feeling to a much higher degree than lower level EI athletes. Deciphering their feelings leads to better decisions with the knowledge of others motives, opposition likewise teammates. High level EI athletes are certainly more adept at playing in what are known as “clutch situations,” the most important of all circumstances. When an athlete must perform, those who do not let the moment overwhelm them and step up to the plate to smash the home run, are those of high EI. Their ability to savor their emotions and utilize them to enhance their performances takes the psychological aspect to sports to the next level. Those athletes, those are the ones who put their emotional intelligence right on center stage.

Knowing how paramount emotional intelligence is regarding one’s performance. Although this seems reasonable to the average spectator, it would be blasphemous to say physicality is the overwhelming factor in performance during top level athletics. The truth is the mental aspect in athletic competition not only is just as important as the physical aspect once an elite level is reached, it even reigns supreme over physicality. Physical prowess does not make the decisions after all.

Anxiety and stress are major factors in athletics. Competitive anxiety starts to kick in when an athlete’s expectations of themselves outweigh their own perceived ability. Athletes who lack a high level of self-confidence are far more likely to experience competitive anxiety than those with assuring self-confidence. Competitive anxiety is higher for individual sport athletes than team athletes. Individual sport athletes do not have the ability to rely on others for assistance in their job, as well as knowing that only one person can be to blame for a bad performance. Resulting in a more vulnerable emotional state. Nothing besides themselves can get them to their goals. Having no one to rely on leaves no route for anxiety to release without self performance or high level EI. Through numerous studies according to Miguel Humara, there is proof that cognitive anxiety holds a strong influence on one’s performance. There seems to be a different understanding of anxiety in athletes, some believe it to be debilitative while others see it as facilitative. Those who choose the latter see less anxiety in their sports compared to the other. To no surprise, the athletes who score higher on self-confidence tests are more likely to see anxiety as facilitative during activity.

Stress and anxiety directly affect performance in every scenario, especially on-the-ball activities like athletics. The capability of coping with stress and anxiety separates elites from the rest. Athletes are influenced by stressful situations and anxiety in every match that they compete in. Competitive anxiety is higher for individual sport athletes than team athletes. A major reason for this is that individual sport athletes do not have the reliance on others for assistance. As well as knowing that only one person can be to blame for a bad performance, this results in more weight on the athlete’s shoulders. Through numerous studies, there is proof that cognitive anxiety holds a strong influence on one’s performance. In Humara’s analysis, he notes that athletes who are aware of their anxiety and stress, not only score higher on self-confidence tests, but also perform at a higher efficiency in these stressful situations. The athletes who could not properly control their stress saw worse performances by some margin. Showing that clearly, the worse stress and anxiety is seen, the worse the performance will be. These performances were noted at varying skill levels as well. However, there seems to be a different understanding of anxiety in athletes, some believe it to be debilitative while others see it as facilitative. Those who choose the latter see less anxiety in their sports compared to those who choose the former. The athletes that have control over their emotions have their stress perceived as eustress in comparison to those who could not cope with the situation, interpreting their stress as acute stress.

According to David J. Handelsman, author of Endocrinology: Adult and Pediatric, sport has four major dimensions. These four dimensions are skill, strength, endurance, and recovery. All four of these pertain directly to physical capabilities. Handelsman does believe concentration and strategy pertain to skill, but he did not say this was crucial in any physical sport. Rather, he connected skill being an important factor in board games, racing, and target shooting. Depressing the value that the mental aspect in sport holds. Handelsman goes on to say that there are minimum requirements within each of these four fields that must be met to reach a respected level. What he failed to mention was after these requirements are met, the level switches at an exponential rate. After the requirements are met, what truly strengthens an athlete’s performance lies in their composure and their emotional intelligence. Daniel Goleman, from the Institute of Health and Human Potential, sees emotional intelligence as the catalyst in one’s abilities to control their emotions and take advantage of them. Those who are aware of their stress from situational pressure can take control of their emotions, using them to their advantage. Emotions precede thought, the faster the awareness of emotions is realized, the better one can control their emotions and create a better environment. A Harvard Business Review reported that 80% of competencies that differentiate top performers from others spawn from the domain of Emotional Intelligence. The mental aspect of sport is indispensable at a competitive level.

All this talk of the mental aspect of sport, let’s zone in on a real example. We will be looking at two NFL wide receivers who have unarguably reached the highest level a football player can. Football being the quintessential contact sport, physicality would seem to be the key element to success. On one side we have – weighing in at 5’10”, 186 pounds – Player A. On the other side, we have – also weighing in at 5’10”, 186 pounds – Player B. To gather their physical capabilities we must use some sort of standard testing to garner their athletic ability. All info will be from the results of the player’s respective NFL Combine, an event that tests a players physical prowess before their draft day. During their NFL Combine, certain events are key depending on the position of the player. For these two players, who are both wide receivers, the tests that are vital in their evaluation are the: 40 yard dash, 3 cone, and vertical. Each of these tests cover salient physical aspects such as their speed, agility, and jumping. Looking at the 40 yard dash first, Player A ended with a 4.56 second run. This would be in the 48th percentile of all receivers. Player B ended with a 4.40 second run, a man like lightning, 92nd percentile of all receivers. For vertical, Player A showed up with a 33.5″ jump, 36th percentile of receivers. Player B managed a 39.5″ vertical, kangaroo hops, 93rd percentile of receivers. For the agility assessment, a 3 cone drill is used. The 3 cones are spread out and the player must navigate through them following a set pattern as fast as possible. Player A achieved a 6.98 second 3 cone drill, 54th percentile of all receivers. Player B managed a 6.64 second shuttle, 96th percentile. There is no debate, using Handelsman’s criteria, that Player B certainly is the better athlete.

After looking at these numbers, it is not opinion but fact to say Player B is the better physical athlete by a wide margin. Although they both stand at a very similar stature, Player B dominated in each physical test. Not only did Player B dominate Player A, Player B was reaching all-time levels of athletic measures. Recording an immense 90th percentile in evaluated drills. It is time to unveil who the freak of nature and the below average athlete are. Player A is none other than Antonio Brown. Brown is a very well-known athlete. Playing wide receiver for numerous teams since his introduction to the league in 2010, he has been exceptional in every roster. Some even consider him to be the greatest NFL receiver of his era. 4-time first team all-pro (top 2 receiver in the league that season), has topped the century mark in yards per game 3 times in his career, and has led the league in receiving yards twice in his career. Accumulating 12000 yards in a lowly 144 games, averaging 84.5 yards per game which is 4th in NFL history. Unarguably one of the greatest to ever grace the pigskin. If these accolades were all accomplished by a mediocre receiver, athletically speaking, Player B must be the greatest football player to walk this earth. Well, that would be the case if physical ability meant that much at the top flight. Player B is Emmanuel Sanders. Being drafted in the same season as Brown, a fair analysis of their careers is applicable. In 25 more games than Brown, although starting their career at the same time, Sanders has reached a respectable 9100 yards, 54.3 yards per game. A two-time pro bowler is nothing to scoff at. Sanders has had a long, respectable career, yet he was drafted 113 picks before the clear superior Brown. Even with the advantage in every single physical aspect, Sanders could not clean Brown’s cleats. Just one example of thousands.

The major difference between the two, outside of physical ability, is Antonio Brown’s intelligence and emotional intelligence advantage. Brown himself is an outspoken athlete who portrays definition-esque confidence. Brown has taken his confidence and shown it on Twitter numerous times; Even once claiming his then teammate, JuJu Smith-Schuster, only played well because of him. The addition of self-confidence is no stranger to success. In The Relationship Between Anxiety and Performance: A Cognitive-Behavioral Perspective, self- confidence directly leads to better performances. There is no better example than Antonio Brown. Even with the constant obstacles he faces, the frame and athletic ability he was given, he still manages to produce at levels only few could dream of. Although there are other factors that relate to performance, the minimum physical requirements are already met when playing at a high level. Leaving little room for physical improvement, the true deciding factor rests in the mental fortitude and strength of the athlete.

Stress and anxiety are felt in every individual’s life constantly. The way we manage and cope with these two factors dictate every decision we make. In the topic of athletics, the way athletes control and cope with these factors translate directly to their performance. An athlete, no matter the skill level, if they cannot cope well with the inevitable, they will not be able to perform at their peak. The stress and anxiety that athletes will undoubtedly face will dictate their final performance, whether for the better or for the worse.


Elizabeth Scott, P. D. (2020, August 3). How is stress affecting my health? Verywell Mind.

Estes, W. K., & Skinner, B. F. Some quantitative properties of anxiety. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 29(5), 390–400.

Facts & Statistics: Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA. Facts & Statistics | Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA.

Goleman, Daniel What is emotional intelligence? IHHP.

Handelsman, David J. Endocrinology: Adult and pediatric (Seventh) Volume 1. Elsevier Saunders.

Humara, Miguel The Relationship Between Anxiety and Performance: A Cognitive-Behavioral Perspective Athletic Insight.

Laborde, S., Brüll, A., Weber, J., & Anders, L. S. (2011, March 29). Trait Emotional Intelligence in sports: A protective role against stress through heart rate variability? Personality and Individual Differences.

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2021, July 29). Identify your stress triggers. Mayo Clinic.

NFL Combine Results

Tan, S. Y., & Yip, A. (2018, April). Hans Selye (1907-1982): Founder of the stress theory. Singapore medical journal.

This entry was posted in Research. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s