Let’s face it: It’s tough being a faithful sports fan in the New York area these days, especially if you root for those two lousy football teams that play in MetLife Stadium.
We’re looking at you, Giants fans. And you too, Jets followers.
And we haven’t forgotten you, fans of the Knicks, Nets, Mets, Rangers and Devils. Oh, and Rutgers football, those cellar dwellers in the Big Ten conference.
All those lost games and lost seasons are taking a real toll on you. We get it. And so do the experts.
For die-hard fans — and even for some casual ones — rooting for teams that end up on the losing side of the scoreboard can have noticeable, but short-term, effects on their mental health and behavior, counselors say.
The Giants (2-9) have lost seven straight games after their 19-14 defeat Sunday against the Chicago Bears. The Jets have improved in recent weeks, but still have notched only four victories this season. Other professional sports teams in and around the Big Apple have become perennial losers, some failing to win a league championship in many decades.
Not years. Decades.
The Knicks have one of the worst records in the entire NBA. The Rangers missed the NHL playoffs two straight years, after being a legitimate Stanley Cup contender in 2014 and 2015. And the Devils are also struggling, missing the playoffs six of the past seven seasons and winning only eight of their first 22 games so far this season.
Feeling the blues
Some fans may exhibit classic symptoms of depression, especially after a tough loss, without even realizing it. Anger. Sadness. Despair. Loneliness. Loss of appetite, or eating too much. Feelings of worthlessness. Social isolation.
After a sports team loses a big game or suffers a heart-breaking loss, some fans also have “a diminished ability to focus and concentrate at work,” Centore said.
Although there’s no formal clinical name for this type of despair, many experts refer to it as “sports fan depression.” Centore, founder of the national Thriveworks counseling network, prefers to call it “sports fan blues.”
“It’s not really depression,” he said, noting it’s typically a short-term feeling of anguish or disappointment — similar to TV viewers who are emotionally attached to a show that ends its run.
Unlike clinical depression, which lingers long-term and can be debilitating, sports fan blues is something that usually eases after several hours or, for some emotionally charged fans, several days.
“It’s fine to get a little angry. It’s fine to yell at the TV. You care about the team,” Centore said. “If you throw a brick at your TV, that’s not normal behavior.”
If your anger becomes destructive, affects your health or interferes with your life outside of the game, that’s when a more serious underlying issue might be brewing. Then it’s time to consider talking to a professional, he said.
Other experts agree.
Leigh Richardson, a licensed professional counselor who treats people with depression, anxiety and other ailments in the Dallas area, says it is normal and healthy for sports fans to care deeply about their favorite teams. But when their behavior gets too extreme, or their anger or sadness lingers too long, it could indicate signs of a serious mental health issue or disorder.
“For some people, a sports team is almost like a church or a family is for other people. It’s their connection to their community,” Richardson said.
“Studies show if you have that sense of goodwill, and bonding, and sheer purpose as a sports fan, it stays with you every day. Just being part of that and bonding is the best part if it,” she added. “If your team loses, it’s like you lose a part of yourself.”
When people feel deeply connected to a team, a concept known as “sports fanaticism,” fans experience a wide array of emotional feelings — great ones when their team is winning and bad ones when their team is losing, Richardson said. She noted that a combination of psychology, sociology and physiology is at play.
At times, when emotional feelings get intense, they can trigger things like anger, road rage, fan rage (such as getting confrontational with a fan of an opposing team), eating problems or concentration problems.
Some non-sports fans might be skeptical or dismissive of these reactions to games, but it is a serious matter, professionals say. One study even shows a link between sports depression and domestic violence, citing a spike in the number of assaults reported to police in areas where an NFL team was favored to win a game but ended up losing.
Richardson said she is not surprised, having counseled domestic abuse victims who reported physical violence that was triggered by anger over a sports event.
When a sports fan resorts to violence, throws temper tantrums in front of children or feels depressed for longer than a few days, those are all signs some professional help may be needed, Richardson said.
“If you can’t get out of bed and get to work, then you need help,” she said. “If it impacts your ability to meet your responsibilities on a daily basis, you need help. If you’re not giving it your all on a professional level and you’re not giving it your all on a personal level, then you need help.”
TIPS FOR SPORTS FANS FEELING THE BLUES
Centore and Richardson offer these tips to sports fans who are feeling down after a tough loss or a disappointing season.
— Talk about it. “If you’re feeling down, make sure you’re around people that day,” Centore says. Try talking to a friend, especially someone who is a fan of the same team and can relate to your feelings. Letting out some steam by discussing your feelings can help you cope and get over the loss.
— Put the loss into perspective. Sports are very important to faithful fans, but “when there’s something in your life that’s emotionally charged, it feels way bigger than it really is,” Centore says. Fans should keep in mind that “99.5 percent of everything else is still important in your life and hasn’t changed. The sun still rises the next day. My friends are still here. My family is here.”
— Focus on another season. Centore and Richardson say some sports fans cope with their despair by recognizing their team had a good season and will come back strong the following year. Or they look forward to a different sport season that’s starting soon.
— Focus on other activities. Centore and Richardson say sports fans should stay socially active and avoid isolation. Go to the gym for a workout, play video games or shoot some hoops with friends, go out to dinner, plan a weekend trip or take part in other activities to get your mind off the loss.
— Give it time. Remember the old expression, “Time heals all wounds?” A stinging loss will hit hard at first, but those feelings of anguish should ease up with each passing hour and each passing day. Experts say if you are still feeling down after a few days or a week, it might be best to talk to a professional.
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Leigh Richardson, NCC, LPC, BCN, BCB
Clinical Director / Founder developing strategies and programs to change the brain and human behavior