Athletes’ brains have more frontal theta power thanks to mindfulness and relaxation techniques.

A new study in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise found that athletes’ brains had higher frontal theta power during mindfulness and relaxation inductions. This suggests that attention control may be linked to the reduction in anxiety and negative affect that comes from these interventions. The results shed light on how mindfulness and relaxation techniques can help athletes’ mental health.

Overtraining, competition, injury, social expectations, and media pressure have all been linked to mental health issues in athletes in previous research. Their performance and overall well-being may be affected by these mental health issues. As a result, the researchers wanted to investigate early prevention strategies to assist athletes in coping with stress and lowering their risk of developing mental health issues.

According to study author Yu-Kai Chang, research chair professor at National Taiwan Normal University and director of the Physical Activity and Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, “as athletes encounter various stressors in their daily lives, such as intense training, competition, injury risks, rehabilitation, external expectations from parents, coaches, teammates, and friends, and the influence of social media and scholarships,” “our study aimed to compare the immediate effects of a single session of mindfulness and relaxation practices on anxiety, affect, and brain activation.” The objective was to provide athletes with advice on how to use these psychological interventions.

35 high-level athletes from two Taiwanese universities were recruited by the researchers. These athletes had never used relaxation or mindfulness techniques before. Before and after each intervention, the participants were asked to complete a questionnaire about their anxiety levels.

Mindfulness induction (MI) was the first intervention. This required the athletes to concentrate on the present without judging. Relaxation induction (RI) was the second intervention, in which the athletes were taught relaxation techniques to help them feel less stressed. Additionally, there was a control condition in which the athletes merely rested without any special treatment.

Electroencephalography, or EEG for short, was used by the researchers to record electrical activity in the brain. In order to record the athletes’ brain waves, sensors were placed on their scalps. The theta (reflecting cognitive control) and alpha (reflecting a relaxed state) brain wave frequencies were the focus of the research.

Using an electroencephalogram (EEG), the athletes underwent the MI, RI, and control conditions. The researchers then looked at the EEG data to see if there were any differences between the interventions in the patterns of brain activation. They also looked at the responses to the questionnaire to see if the anxiety levels changed after each intervention.

When compared to a control condition, the researchers found that both MI and RI significantly reduced negative mood states like anxiety and negative affect. During both MI and RI, participants also displayed higher frontal theta power—a brain wave pattern associated with attention control—than the control group. Based on these findings, improved attention control may be the reason why MI and RI patients reported less anxiety and negative mood.

According to Chang, who spoke with PsyPost, “Brief mindfulness and relaxation have the potential to reduce state anxiety and negative emotions while also increasing frontal theta power during mindfulness and relaxation practices.”

“It’s vital to underline that the beneficial outcomes of brief care and unwinding on tension decrease are not restricted to competitors; They are able to cover the entire population. In today’s world, where mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and other psychological disorders are on the rise, this is especially pertinent. Individuals with mental health issues would greatly benefit if a single psychological intervention session could effectively address these obstacles.

Positive emotional states were unaffected by any of the three conditions, despite the fact that MI and RI were both effective at managing negative mental states. The relatively short duration of the interventions could be the reason why there were no significant changes in positive affect. Additionally, there may be a ceiling effect because athletes in this study already had higher baseline levels of positive affect than non-athlete populations.

Chang remarked, “Regardless of whether one engages in relaxation practice or mindfulness practice, both involve focusing on inner experiences or events for 30 minutes.” When compared to doing nothing at all, engaging in either practice can result in significant improvements in negative mental states.

According to the researchers, additional studies should investigate the specific mechanisms and long-term effects of these interventions on athletes’ mental health.

Chang explained, “There are several limitations in this study that should lead to careful interpretation of the result.” The first is that, despite the fact that audio recordings provide instructions, the participants in this study may still have difficulty handling the essential aspects of both mindfulness and relaxation practices.

“Given that, we suggest that in future studies, the role of proficiency in psychological intervention should be examined by comparing the long-term effects of mindfulness and relaxation on anxiety, affect, and brain activation.”

Chang continued, “Our findings suggest that both mindfulness and relaxation techniques can be beneficial in these interventions for athletes and individuals without regular training experience.” However, it is important to note that regular use of relaxation and mindfulness-based interventions has been shown to have even greater benefits, according to a body of research.

Jui-Ti Nien, Diane L. Gill, Ting-Yin Chou, Chen-Shuo Liu, Xiaoling Geng, Tsung-Min Hung, and Yu-Kai Chang were the authors of the study titled “Effect of brief mindfulness and relaxation inductions on anxiety, affect, and brain activation in athletes.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *