For many sports fans, it's not just a game

Published On: Jan 27 2014 03:57:04 PM EST   Updated On: Feb 12 2014 03:35:14 PM EST
angry upset football sports fans

COLUMBUS, Ohio – When it comes to rooting for sports teams, getting caught up in the emotion of the game is normal, but during big games, some fans can go too far with obnoxious and emotionally unhealthy behavior. Sports fan have strong allegiances to teams, and when “their” team loses, they often project that loss to themselves.

“Being a fan is fine, but there is a line you can cross that makes it really unhealthy,” said Ken Yeager, PhD, a mental health expert in the department of psychiatry at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.  “Sometimes the pressures and tensions of life get added onto the emotions of games and then you have people overreacting.”

If you are one of these sports fanatics, or know someone who is, Yeager says it’s important to know the signs that you are getting too emotionally involved in a game, so you can take steps to avoid any behavior you might regret.

“Things like drinking alcohol, betting money on your favorite team to win and even who you watch the game with can ratchet up your stress levels and have an impact on your health,” said Yeager, who is clinical director of the Stress, Trauma and Resilience (STAR) Program at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center, which addresses the effects of psychological trauma and stress on patients and families as well as their impact on healthcare providers.

Studies have shown that sports fans have both a psychological and a physical response to what’s happening to their team during and after a game, said Yeager. What’s happening on the field or the court can affect their cortisol and testosterone levels, depending on the outcome of the game.

“The clues go all the way back to the ‘fight or flight’ survival mechanism,” said Yeager, who also is a licensed social worker and has provided counseling services to NFL football players for more than a decade. “So if you feel your heart begin to palpitate, you begin to sweat a little bit, you feel your breaths are shallow and racing; you’re getting a little too far into the game and a little too far away from the pleasure.”

Yeager offers these tips:

“It’s very important to take care of one’s self and one’s emotion and one’s stress level all the time. Not just during game days. But certainly if you're going to a social outing about a game, make sure that your stress level is at the right level,” said Yeager.