For some, it’s just a game. But for others, it’s a lifestyle. I’m talking about the players of course, but there’s another group that fits the bill: die-hard sports fans. For players and die-hard sports fans alike, there’s more on the line than a game lost and a slight blow to the self-esteem; their mental health hangs in the balance, at risk of a complete and total upset—much like the game in front of them.

Sitting the Bench

You might be “sitting the bench,” so to speak, but at the same time, you’re laying it all on the field. You’ve put all of your eggs into one basket and can only hope that it pays off. What could go wrong? Well, obviously your team could lose. But it doesn’t stop there. This can send some into a negative tailspin, one that ends with feelings of depression or an otherwise jarred mental health. Life Coach Marc Cordon is here to explain the downfalls of sports team attachment:

“An attachment to a team, celebrity, royal family, or television characters, is called a parasocial relationship (or a one-sided relationship). Ultimately, our affiliation with a sports team can bring us both a temporary high or a crashing low after a particular game outcome, but there’s a danger to parasocial relationships. By nature, parasocial relationships are both one-sided in that investment comes from the fan and not the team. This can be deleterious for someone in a fanatical relationship as they will depend on the team’s outcome for support. The result can be grief and depression.”

So, how can you enjoy watching your favorite sports and teams, without putting yourself at risk of becoming depressed? The key is to keep yourself at a healthy distance. Don’t invest too much of yourself into the game, sport, or team; opt for a more relaxed and lighthearted dynamic instead. Additionally, follow these general rules of thumb to further ensure you don’t take your love for sports too far:

  • Laugh it off. If your team isn’t doing so well, and it’s obvious they’re past the point of no return, learn to laugh it off. Furthermore, stay supportive. Every team has their off nights, the players are only human.
  • Take a break. You need to know when it’s time to step away. If you find it nearly impossible to stay positive or to just laugh it off and become explosively angry, turn off the TV. You need a break.
  • Regain perspective. When a tough game leaves you feeling stressed out, angry, or upset, come back down to reality and tell yourself: it’s just a game. Follow this up by reflecting on what’s really important in your life.

Playing the Field

Okay, so you’ve experienced the negative effects of sports politics as a fan, but have you ever thought about how playing sports—or even worse, losing the games and disappointing fans like you—might affect one’s wellbeing? Have you ever considered that your favorite players might be at risk of developing depression, as a result of loving the game? It’s certainly possible and likely at that, as explained by Caleb Backe, health and wellness expert at Maple Holistics:

“Playing professional sports places athletes under an intense, national microscope, the likes of which not everyone is capable of thriving under,” Backe explains. “Particularly today in the social media age, the extent to which millions of people can criticize, belittle, and slander an athlete over his or her performance in a way that can be seen by millions of others is utterly unprecedented. It’s one thing to need to live up to the expectations of a contract or the front office of your team/employer—athletes now need to live up to the expectations of millions of fans and armchair critics who don’t even ‘go easy’ and can see their voices and opinions broadcast across the internet instantly.

It’s not difficult to imagine that this sort of microscope might be doubly challenging for athletes who suffer from mental health issues. Anxiety disorders in particular might give a professional athlete trouble when on the field—now there is just as much to worry about off the field as well in terms of criticism. Athletes are essentially walking a 24/7 minefield in which their performance, statements and actions are constantly being monitored and scrutinized.”

So, while it might be tough to watch your team lose, next time think about how the players on your team are negatively affected by the loss and by your reaction. Doing so will help take the pressure off of them and further your efforts to keep your cool during games—it’s a win-win situation, if you ask me.