Stress isn't inherently 'bad.' Performers often feed off the adrenalin generated in the midst of a demanding event. Within the scope of performance, stress can help you perform better, up to a point.
What is the Stress Response?
The stress response encompasses a series of primitive, hard-wired reactions that are triggered instantaneously to help the body and mind to cope with threatening circumstances. On the positive side, stress can provide the energy, focus and motivation needed to successfully confront threats. However, too much stress can generate anxiety and physical and emotional symptoms that can affect well-being and the ability to perform in critical situations.
The heightened, or acute, stress response may be generated in situations where one's life is at risk. It may just as easily manifest itself in situations where life isn't at risk, but there is a perceived threat (imagine walking down a dark alley in the middle of the night) or when one's ego/reputation are at risk (think about an important presentation, concert or audition.)
While a certain amount of stress may be beneficial during performance, once unmanaged stress effects surpass a certain level, performance can diminish rapidly and significantly.
Click here to access the worksheet "A Stress Primer," an overview of the Stress response and its manifestations.