Background and Aim: Reduced physiological adaption to distress as well as changes in self-related processing are common side effects of depressive symptoms influencing mental and physical performance. This experimental study investigated the relationship between self-reported depressive symptoms, emotional distress and self-related processing in adult athletes and examined the severity of self-reported depressive symptoms in adult and adolescent athletes with standardized self-assessment inventories. ›Method: 40 young adult sport students (mean age: M=21.8 years, SD=3.1), all physically active in performance sports, and 18 adolescent athletes (mean age: 17.5 years, SD= 1.8) were screened for self-reported depression on the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI). In the adult cohort, heart rate variability (HRV) was assessed during affective imagery and during processing of self-related stimuli as a physiological measure of adaption to distress. Event-related potentials (ERPs) from the electroencephalogram were recorded as neurophysiological markers of self-related processing. ›Results: Mean BDI scores were comparable to normal reference groups in both experimental groups. Heart rate variability (HFHRV) was inversely related to depression scores across tasks. ERPs elicited during self-related processing differed with regard to depressive symptoms. ›Discussion: The results confirm findings from survey studies on the presence of depressive symptoms in performance sports. Moreover, they reveal significant associations between subclinical depression scores, self-related processing and cardiac control to emotional distress in physically trained individuals involved in performance sports. Hence, psychophysiological measures can help identify depression-associated changes in performance sports.
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