Performance anxiety does not discriminate. Affecting gold-winning Olympic athletes and amateur footballers alike, it can take a serious physical and mental toll on sufferers. Is it time for a new approach to treatment with supplements?
What is sports anxiety?
How do you feel with your toes against the starting line of a race, or waiting to receive the first serve of a tennis match? It’s normal to feel the buzz of adrenaline, having trained and mentally prepared for that moment, now that it’s arrived. Many sports people also experience more serious and – in some cases – debilitating psychological and physical symptoms that can jeopardise their performance or even stop them from taking part on the day.
Triggered by negative thinking, a fear of failing, problems focusing and feeling unable to cope with uncertainty or adversity, performance anxiety can be incredibly difficult to deal with. Sports people can face a racing heartbeat, tight muscles, digestive problems, difficulty breathing, and an inability to perform smooth motions, all compounded by further worrying about being able to keep these symptoms in check.
There are various theories to account for why you may get anxious at a crucial moment, including the idea that being observed may bring on primal feelings relating to judgement, isolation and abandonment  . A fear of failure is a common thread, but many athletes say that they can’t put their finger on what triggers their performance anxiety. There are various techniques proposed by sports psychologists to help deal with the condition, such as “labelling”, where an athlete learns to acknowledge their symptoms, turning them into a positive indication of how prepared they are for the situation.
Anxiety and raised cortisol
Often called the “stress hormone”, cortisol is secreted by your adrenal glands whenever you’re in a fight or flight situation, acting as a stimulant that makes your heart beat faster, blood vessels to constrict and muscles tense up to be ready to deal with a perceived threat. Unfortunately, the pressures of modern life (and competitive sport) mean that many peoples’ adrenal glands are working overtime, keeping the body full of cortisol for longer periods. High cortisol levels have been linked to anxiety disorders and a host of potentially serious physiological conditions, including diabetes, autoimmune disorders, cancer, arthritis and other mental illnesses. Studies have shown that increased cortisol levels are linked to decreased serotonin – the “happiness hormone” that controls mood, emotion and appetite and sleep quality.
How does 5-htp work?
Various studies have identified a causal link between heightened cortisol, lowered serotonin and a higher risk of anxiety and depression . 5-htp is a chemical pre-cursor to serotonin, which helps the body to replenish its stocks of serotonin (a neurotransmitter involved in processing emotion, mood, sleep and appetite). The theory is that, by increasing your levels of serotonin, you can counteract the effects of higher levels of cortisol caused by performance anxiety, reducing the impact of the physical and psychological symptoms.
Used for over 30 years to treat depression (as used by actor Jim Carrey), 5-htp works to boost your mood by increasing the levels of serotonin in your brain, which is thought to help your brain process emotion and regulate various bodily functions . A research study looked at people who were going through stress and anxiety caused by the breakdown of their relationship. 5-htp seemed to relieve some of their psychological symptoms by increasing their serotonin .
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5-htp works on the serotonergic pathway which regulates sleep, appetite and stress so it is more than simply an option for a depressed mood. It’s great for those wishing to maintain health and enhance performance. To find out more about 5-htp click here.
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