Anxiety and Memory in Sports

office stress ball woman

The relationship between anxiety and memory 

The relationship between anxiety and memory is complex and still uncertain, but research has established that memory formation and retrieval is influenced by emotions, particularly anxiety and stress.  We may put traumatic events into implicit memory but not conscious memory. We are more likely to remember emotionally intense events because emotion increased attention.

Anxiety impairs working memory.  It is thought to create attention bias and disrupt visuospatial capacity.  Also, conditioned fear responses may become stronger during stress.  The amygdala are thought to be the links between emotional information and memory.  They are part of the limbic system and consolidate memories of anxiety, as well as those of other emotions.


How could some athletes perform well and remember more in times of stress as opposed to other athletes?

For athletes who have to follow game plans and/or make quick decisions, stress or anxiety could be detrimental to their game.  Those who play well during times of stress are likely to have experienced previous successes.  Those who choke or continually get anxious do so because of learned behavior.  Some sports do not rely on working memory, and thus the athlete’s anxiety will not be as detrimental to play.  For example, an ultramarathoner will be able to perform well despite anxiety, but a diver would not.

If you want to learn ways to manage anxiety and perform better, contact Summit Performance Consulting LLC at or 561-325-8363.

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