Expert Voices

For Many Sports Fans, It's Not 'Just A Game'

game day stress, competition, Browns fans
Football fans cheer while watching their favorite team on TV. Experts say it's natural for people to identify with sports team and develop an emotional connection to them. But some fans go too far, allowing the performance of their team to dictate their moods, sometimes for days after a game. If you or someone you know tends to overreact to games, experts at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center have some common sense tips for keeping your cool. (Image credit: The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.)

Ken Yeager, associate professor of psychiatry at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, contributed this article to LiveScience's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

Most of us know one of "those" sports fans. They are the ones who are so emotionally connected to their team that they can be obnoxious when the team wins, and unbearable when they lose. Being a fan is fine, as long as you don't cross the line that makes your devotion to your team emotionally unhealthy.

With many major sporting events coming up in football, basketball and the Olympics, there are bound to be more instances where fans can get out of control. For some fans, memories of rooting for their sports teams go all the way back to their childhood or their college days. Fans are loyal to their teams, and it's only natural to want their team to win. But sometimes the pressures and tensions of life are added onto the emotions of games, and then people end up overreacting. If you are one of these sports fanatics who tends to overreact, or know someone who is, it is 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.

Psychiatrist and professor Ken Yeager counsels both professional athletes and fans on how to handle the emotions of sporting events. Yeager, a member of the department of psychiatry at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, says it's easy (and very common) to get too emotionally attached to your favorite teams. Being a fan is fine, but Yeager says some take it too far and have trouble keeping their cool during and after the game. Yeager says things like alcohol intake, betting on your favorite team and watching the game with the wrong crowd can lead to emotional outbursts that can be harmful and unhealthy. (Image credit: The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.)

There are many things that can ratchet up your stress levels and have an impact on your health. Things like drinking alcohol, betting money on your favorite team and even who you watch the game with can affect you.

Studies have shown that sports fans have both a psychological and a physiological response to what's happening to their team during and after a game. 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 of what's happening to sports fans can be traced back to the 'fight or flight' survival mechanism. So if you feel your heart begin to palpitate, or your breaths are shallow and racing, it's likely that you are getting a little too far into the game and a little too far away from the pleasure. It is important not to ignore these warning signs. Our bodies give us very strong signals when we are getting emotionally agitated, such as feeling nervous, sweating or feeling the need to lash out. If you have these signs — and particularly if you are in public or around others — take a break. Remove yourself from the environment momentarily and calm down.

If you're a topical expert — researcher, business leader, author or innovator — and would like to contribute an op-ed piece, email us here.

To make your game day more enjoyable, fit in some exercise, if possible, before the sporting event begins. Go to the gym before the game and work out. Exercise reduces stress and can help you better cope if things don't go well for your team.

While many people partake in alcoholic beverages during game days, it's important not to drink too much. Alcohol is a depressant, and if things don't go well, it can make you feel even more agitated and upset. You can't control the outcome of the game, but you can control your intake of alcohol. Similarly, betting on your team may seem like a good idea, but it would be better to hold off. Putting your hard-earned money on the line increases emotional intensity and makes a loss that much more painful. [4 Reasons to Limit Super Bowl Toasts]

Finally, control the sound level of your TV. You may not realize how much this can affect you, and overstimulation from the TV can quickly increase agitation. If things aren't going well for your team, turn your TV down or mute it. Reducing noise stimuli can calm you down and help divert your focus.

Ryan Arledge of Ashville, Ohio, reacts while watching his favorite football team on television. While Arledge considers himself a die-hard fan, he says he knows where to draw the line emotionally — but experts at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center say some fans don't. There are millions of fans who are so emotionally attached to their teams that their moods rise and fall with wins and losses. If you or someone you know tends to overreact during sporting events, doctors offer some simple advice, like exercising, lowering the volume on your TV and being careful with whom you watch games. (Image credit: The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.)

If you are easily tempted to overreact, avoid those who do, too. Surround yourself with good fans. Watch the game with others who share your interests but are more even minded and less temperamental.

While it is great to root for your favorite team, it's also very important to take care of yourself. To avoid stress from taking over your life, keep your emotion in check and watch your stress level all the time, not just during game days.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This version of the article was originally published on LiveScience.

The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center