In our privileged lives, where we are smart enough to have invented psychological stressors, how can we have the wisdom to let them go?
For most of us in the western world there is no cause to worry about finding the basic necessities of life (food, shelter, security). As a result, as if from boredom, the brain has invented a game : anxiety simulations. Floating anxiety in people is a tendency for a person to overestimate risks and the likelihood of a bad outcome. Anxiety and stress are slow killers. They have three direct consequences for an elite athlete: slower recovery time, longer healing process when injuries occur and reduced immune system not to mention reduced happiness.
We have the ability as an organism to develop glucocorticoids. This is essential and involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and fats and they also play a role as an anti-inflammatory. Glucocorticoids will be essential when you compete and you need to bring energy to your muscles. Although at rest it is a different story. In every mammal, including us, the level of glucocorticoid at rest indicates the level of anxiety.
Thus the goal is to reduce the level of glucocorticoid in our bodies as quickly as possible when the stressor (here the competition) is over. To add to the damage that glucocorticoid can do to the body at rest, we must see how it impacts memories and fears. Glucocorticoid has the tendency to increase the networking of the amygdala (fear and anxiety center of the brain) and reduce the activity of the hippocampus (long term implicit and explicit memories). Thus it makes you more anxious and diminishes your capacity to access implicit memories. All these hours of training that athletes spend practicing to make their forehand so natural, their swimming stroke so perfect can be destroyed by glucocorticoid simply because they can’t access so easily these implicit memories.
Mindfulness meditators develop less glucocorticoid at rest and more GABA modulators (a kind of neurotransmitter, a chemical messenger that the brain uses to communicate with its different parts). GABA makes the muscle tone of athletes more relaxed at rest, thus it reduces anxiety and improves implicit and explicit memories and improve recovery time in between training sessions.