What Stress Influencers are Affecting You from Performing to Your True Potential?

Kent Farrington and Voyeur compete for Team USA at the World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France, in September. Photo © Erin Gilmore.


Day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment, stress influencers can sneak upon us and affect us from performing to our true potential, in the show ring, schooling and/or life in general.   We all have them but with awareness and how we approach each situation, these influencers can be the game changer and give us a competitive edge.

Mental, emotional, physical, social, spiritual and environmental stress factors influence performance and vary from person to person, and sometimes, from situation to situation.

When we feel stress (tension/anxiety) and/or when we feel a lack of engagement, your energy is drained and your potential for high performance is decreased. Energy is defined as how present we are in the moment.

The way we respond to anything we are about to do, or the way we approach a situation or a set of circumstances, is unique to each and every one of us. What doesn’t affect our energy in one situation may detract from it in another. Any time we are not performing to the best of our ability, something is blocking our energy and most likely a mental, emotional, physical, social, spiritual or environmental factor is holding us back.

When all of these factors are ideal, we have our best chance for peak performance. By learning the individual stress factors, determining which factor affect us and how, and by exploring ways to remove the effects of the “detractors we have gained a “secret weapon” in the quest for high performance.

There are six main kinds of stress influencers that effect performance and riding to our true potential. These six types of stressors are:

Mental stress occurs when we multi-task, stretch yourself too thin or have conflicting demands, or when a task either bores us or is too challenging.

Emotional stress occurs when we feel as if our needs, desires, or expectations are not being met, or when we encounter a situation that we don’t understand or don’t know how to navigate, or when we do not know how to express emotions effectively.

Physical stress occurs when our body is not able to function in an optimal manner, or in the manner to which we are accustomed.

Social stress occurs when social conditions (the people around you) aren’t optimal for us.

Spiritual stress occurs when whatever we are doing causes us to question our values, purpose, goals, connection, or beliefs.

Environmental stress occurs when we encounter an environment/condition that we believe prevents us from functioning in an optimal manner.

Here is an example of an environmental stress influence and of a horse show taking place in a warm, humid, climate. Rider A dislikes the heat, and believes that she doesn’t ride well in those conditions. Rider B grew up in the south and is quite used to and likes heat and humidity. Which one of these riders is more likely to ride to the maximum of their current ability in the show? All other factors being equal, it’s almost certain that Rider B will tap into more of her capacity.

The heat and humidity detracted from Rider A’s energy, and didn’t affect Riders B’s energy. Why? The heat and humidity caused her anxiety and stress due to her assumption that she wouldn’t ride well. That assumption most likely led to a decrease in engagement and an increase in stress – after all, she’s less likely to enjoy riding in conditions that don’t suit her and perhaps history tells her she’s at a disadvantage.   Rider B, on the other hand, didn’t have the same assumption and thus didn’t experience stress and a depletion of energy, accordingly.

Now, suppose Rider A being aware of her performance influencer debunked her assumption, and devised strategies to help her keep her energy high during hot and humid rides. Her engagement would increase and her stress would decrease – thus giving him a much better chance of performing well.

What stress influencers are affecting your performance? What future strategies can be developed for optimal performance?

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another” – William James

Best of luck to all as the show season comes to an end and finals begin.