Are you so attached to your favorite team that sometimes you feel as if your mental health is tied to their record? And does your stress continue long after it’s all over, after that mind-boggling trade or blown lead?
If you wonder whether this stress is harming your health, you could be onto something. Numerous studies have tied health issues to fandom.
It shouldn’t really be a surprise. Wins and losses for our favorite teams can trigger some of our most extreme highs and lows. Given what we know about how our emotions affect our bodies, we should expect that our fraught relationships with our favorite team should affect our health.
When your stress is caused by a sports team, you lose many of the tools you normally use to cope, especially the ability to take steps to regain control. Florida Hospital’s CREATION Life philosophy teaches that control can help you find health, but your team’s performance is out of your hands.
But it’s not all bad news. There are mental and emotional — and therefore physical — benefits that come with being a fan, not least of which is the connection to other fans. Total strangers can share a brief camaraderie just because they’re both wearing a UCF hat.
CREATION Life teaches that interpersonal relationships strengthen our well-being and social connections fortify our health.
Some disappointment is inevitable, but it’s possible to enjoy the benefits of fandom without losing control — or feeling guilty about being a fan.
Fan or Fanatic?
Fan affiliations can hijack the mental circuitry that gives us an identity. The human need to belong to a larger group — whether it’s a village or a sports team — evolved millennia ago. And your brain doesn’t know the difference between rooting for the Magic and belonging to a tribe.
It’s impossible to avoid a quickened pulse as your team grinds out the final minutes, but long-term stress can be toxic to your health.
The line between fanatic and fan can be a hard one to draw. It can feel as if being dragged into irrationality is less a choice than an inevitability. But you’re not powerless.
If you feel as if fandom is bringing you an outsized share of misery, consider picking another team to follow. You don’t necessarily need to drop your favorite team, but adding others to the mix could soften the blow of a defeat.
Just consider one in a new league, or a new sport, so your new loyalties aren’t put to the test.
‘Mirroring’ Your Team
We often refer to teams in the collective first person — “we” won a close one or “our” squad made a good trade.
This sense of being part of your team is fostered in part by what are called “mirror neurons.” If you’ve ever shared an athlete’s joy at scoring a key point or their misery in missing the game-winning shot, you’ve felt your mirror neurons in action.
These neurons don’t just fire when you do something; they fire even when you just see something. Seeing is more than believing — it’s being. Some athletes even use the lessons of mirror neurons to watch others play and step up their own games.
All of this isn’t to say that losing your cool at a loss isn’t inevitable, but it is only natural.
It’s not all bad
Being bound to a team can give you a healthy sense of belonging. And if you’re like most of us, you need all the connection you can get. So maximize the benefits of being a fan by watching the game with other fans.
In the end, your team is beyond your control, but your health isn’t. Managing the stress of watching your team lose is really like managing stress in other parts of your life you can’t control, like the weather.
If you’re emotionally or physically drained, try putting the loss in perspective. It’s not the end of your life, or even a team; it’s the end of a game.
At Florida Hospital Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation, we know our patients take sports seriously. Even when we’re treating an injury, we know the value in helping patients put their entire life — including their emotions — back into balance.