Fan or Fanatic?

Shmuel Fischler, LCSW-C · January 10, 2018

Football playoffs are here, which means that countless fans are spending their Sundays glued to the television, perched on the edge of their couch cushion and resting their emotional well-being on their team. Sound like an exaggeration? Millions of people every year put their faith in sports teams, with varying degrees of fanaticism. Their love of sports can have real mental health consequences.

When Your Team Is Winning

One of the phenomena that social psychologists have identified is “basking in reflected glory” when a team is doing well. The day after a win, fans perceive themselves in a better light. Instead of viewing the win as a win for the team, they see the win as a win for “us.” The more of a fan that someone is, the more likely they are to bask in the glory of victory. Bigger wins (we’re looking at you, Patriots in last year’s Super Bowl) can lead to even bigger basking.

Can Loss Cause True Depression or Trauma?

In the same manner, many fans suffer from “cut off reflected failure” the day after a loss, as they feel like they lost right along with the team. Feelings of dejection, irritability, anger, despair, and sadness are very common in loyal fans. For some people, the symptoms can be profound and painful.

Is There a Connection Between Being a Fan and Mental Illness?

Social psychology also offers a lens for understanding extreme levels of fanaticism. The identification that some fans feel with sports teams can align with how many people feel about their nationality or ethnicity. While outsiders can see being a rabid fan as something that’s silly—after all, each team has a 50/50 chance of the game ending in heartbreak; there is a sense of community that many fans feel around sports. While there isn’t necessarily a link between fanaticism and mental illness, it’s easy to see how people with mental illness could be affected by the euphoric highs and crushing lows of football.

How Can You Manage Playoff Heartbreak Responsibly?

The highs and lows of football fandom are inevitable, even for casual fans. Before you sit down on Sunday:

  • Take a step back and realize that a loss has a relatively small impact in the grand scheme of things. Billions of dollars go into making sports events seem like the most important things to ever happen, so it’s not your fault if you are taking things a little too seriously.
  • Find an activity to do to fill the void left at the end of playoffs and finals. If you have a group of friends that you watch the game with, find an active way to spend time together or start watching a television show together. The social gap at the end of the season can also be hard.

We’re Here for You Whether Your Team Wins or Loses 

If you want to learn new coping mechanisms or talk through your relationship to sports, contact CBT Baltimore to get on the right track at 443-470-9815.