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FIFA World Cup 2022: Tackling stress off-field
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FIFA World Cup 2022: Tackling stress off-field

Strong reactions to intense games can affect us emotionally. Experts share tips on enjoying the game minus the meltdowns.
people stressed during world cup
Representational Image | Shutterstock

Akash Sarkar is a sports aficionado – Formula 1, cricket, football – you name the game, and he is watching it. Such passion for sports comes with its own set of challenges, says the employer branding specialist from Bengaluru.

“It’s not easy to support your favourite sportsperson or team and not be unaffected by stress. Being a spectator to such intense matches certainly ups the adrenaline levels.” He himself is not immune to the tensions that come with watching the fluctuating fortunes of teams as games unfold, says the 30-year-old.

Being an ardent follower of any sport, especially during game season is not all fun and frolic. Twenty-five-year-old, MBA student, Preetham Dey from Gurgaon recalls the “wild” game night session with his hostel mates during the South Korea-Portugal match in the ongoing FIFA World Cup 2022.

Dey is a Portugal fan “because of Ronaldo.”  He was overjoyed when Ricardo Horta scored for Portugal in the fourth minute. “But the equaliser by Kim Young-gwon brought South Korea back into the game.” Loud cries of despair and jubilation, depending on which side they were supporting, followed from all corners of the viewing room.

“When substitute Hwang Hee-chan scored the crucial goal, I was in shock for a moment and could not believe my eyes,” says Dey. Similar extreme emotions echoed across the footballing world as South Korea qualified as the runners-up in Group H.

What psychology research says

A study, Just a game? Changes in English and Spanish soccer fans’ emotions in the 2010 World Cup, led by researcher Marc V Jones found that both the English and Spanish fans showed notable changes in their emotional state after the failure and success of their respective teams during the 2010 World Cup. “The positive emotional state associated with winning the tournament in the Spanish fans persisted for over four days, and the negative emotional state associated with the early exit from the tournament by the English fans did not. Four days after the tournament the Spanish fans had a more positive emotional state than the English fans.”

Another interesting conclusion of the study was that group membership influenced emotions and positive emotional experience associated with group success persisted longer than the negative emotional experience associated with failure.

Other findings of a 2018 study on what drives one’s emotions when watching sporting events led by personality researcher Dr Friedrich Götz suggested that “group emotions irrespective of an individual affiliation rather than group-affiliation based emotions (individually felt emotion because of an affiliated group), was the dominant process underlying the spectator affect during the 2018 FIFA World Cup.”

The downside of being emotionally invested

“Excitement is good but over excitement probably not so much. One needs to check if one’s system can handle such a surge of emotion. People with cardiac issues or hypertension should be more watchful about such situations,” says Dr Anand Jayaraman, consultant psychiatrist at Bhagwan Mahaveer Jain Hospital, Bengaluru.

Dr Jayaram adds that when people watch matches, “There is a tendency to resort to smoking and drinking. These intense matches become an excuse for some people to indulge in excess. We often see violent outbursts frequently as a result.”

Moreover, uncontrolled emotions can also lead to domestic abuse of partners and children.  Although these effects are short-term, Dr Jayaram adds a word of caution for the sensitive lot who cannot handle their teams’ failure. They can end up with long-term consequences like being withdrawn, isolating themselves, poor self-care or lack of motivation to name a few.

“Usually, people tend to snap out of it in a few days. However, if they do not, all these aspects are treatable, and counselling can help.”

Arouba Kabir mental health therapist, wellness coach, and founder of Enso Wellness says that over-enthusiasm and being uncontrollably passionate about certain games can be bad news for some. “Studies show that people have had heart attacks and brain haemorrhages while watching sports that they are passionate about. Keeping these studies in mind, it is always better to err on the side of caution,” she says.

Arouba Kabir shares a few tips to tackle these strong emotions:

  • Hydrate yourself before, during, and after intense matches. Drinking enough water daily and keeping hydrated, positively impact one’s emotional and mental health.
  • Know that it is just a game and do not take outcomes personally. Remember that failure or victory is not personal and nothing happening on screen or in front of us is in our control.
  • Avoid substance abuse while watching these games. Stay away from all things that give one a temporary kick when watching such games as they might trigger emotions.
  • People with trauma or abuse or with a lot of stress, need to ensure that they are watching these games with people who are supportive and not competitive. Try for a healthy and good experience.
  • Being well-rested before and after the game is also important as these games are stimulating and can induce strong emotions. If one is not well rested, one’s body and mind might be triggered easily.
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