Super Bowl and sports fan depression: How to cope when your team loses, according to mental health experts

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You win some, you lose some – and the Super Bowl every year is no exception.

As the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers went head-to-head in Super Bowl LVIII on Sunday night, fans either went for a victory dance or a big letdown.

So what happens when your team loses? Experts say it could lead to sports fan depression.

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Although it’s not clinically recognized as a medical condition, sports fan depression is a “real experience for avid sports fans,” says Pennsylvania-based licensed professional counselor Jill Lamar.

“Sports fan depression happens when your favorite team or player loses in the championship,” she told Fox News Digital.

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A Chiefs fan (left) and a 49ers fan react to plays in previous games. (Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images; Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

“For those who are overly invested in the outcome of sporting events – especially something as titanic as the Super Bowl – their emotional attachment to their hometown or favorite team can interfere with their happiness and mental health .

Lamar, who provides counseling services at Thriveworks in Philadelphia, noted that sports fan depression can leave people with feelings of sadness, frustration, anxiety and a lack of interest in activities they once enjoyed.

Those feelings can last for two weeks or more after the game ends, she said.

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“You may be distracted at work or socially withdrawn, especially since the season you spent with your fellow fans has come to an end,” she said.

Christopher La Lima, PhD, a licensed psychologist at NYU Langone, discussed the situation with Fox News Digital, noting what goes into being a sports fan.

head fan with face paint

Chiefs fan “KC Mike” cheers on Chiefs players during warmups before a game against the Chargers at SoFi Stadium on December 16, 2021. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

“Time, effort, money,” he said. “Being a sports fan can bring a sense of common purpose and community building.”

The psychologist said that sports fans may experience loss and sadness when their team loses.

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“Loss can come in many ways, such as through the loss of a loved one, a relationship, aspects of health, work or a place where someone feels a sense of purpose,” he said.

“While sports fan depression is not a formal mental health diagnosis, the emotional distress is real. “

Fixing the warning signs

Friends and fellow sports fans seem to be “very aware of what’s coming from their team losing,” according to Lamar.

Some warning signs of sports fan depression include being frustrated and upset when your team drops a ball, a field goal bounces off the goal post or a play blocked by the opposition, Lamar said.

the man yells at the television

Frustration in a game can build up until it becomes a “scary rage,” says a psychologist. (iStock)

This condition usually occurs in men, although it is not exclusive to one sex only.

“Everyone who cares about sports is rooting for someone or a certain team,” she said. “And their disappointment will show – a sigh, an occasional frustrated outburst, a sad face at the end of the game as they ‘leaving the bar or canceling the game.”

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“If these attitudes continue to grow into sadness and humiliation past the final whistle, it could be a sign of the depression of sports fans.

Frustration in a game can build up until it becomes a “scary rage,” according to Lamar.

But after the game, the depression of sports fans turns that anger “inward” and it can “get worse,” she said.

49er fans at super bowl 2020

Jessica Rodriguez and her husband Tony Rodriguez of Concord, Calif., react while watching the San Francisco 49ers play the Kansas City Chiefs at SPIN San Francisco’s Super Bowl watch party on Feb. 2, 2020, in San Francisco, California. (Philip Pacheco/Getty Images)

While the typical response of a sports fan after a major loss is a few days of grief and sadness, people with sports fan depression can experience symptoms for months.

LaLima stressed the importance of distinguishing between sports fan depression and recognized depressive disorders.

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“Clinical depression, and especially major depressive disorder, includes specific diagnostic criteria and persistent symptoms that cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, and or other important areas of work,” he said.

Some of the main symptoms of major depressive disorder may include feeling depressed, loss of interest in activities, significant changes in appetite or weight, fatigue, changes in sleep, and feelings of worthlessness or too much guilt, according to La Lima.

How do you cope?

Since not everyone can be a winner, Lamar and La Lima offered tips on how to deal with the first wave of grief after a loss.

Lamar suggested that “putting things into perspective can help change a sports fan’s perception of the outcome, whether it’s good or bad.”

depressed men after a lost game

People with sports fan depression can see symptoms persist for months, according to experts. (iStock)

“With many platforms showing games 24/7, it’s easy to let the interest in sports become a habit of mind that is close to addiction,” she said.

“Don’t let your interest in sport overtake the other more important aspects of your life. “

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Lamar encouraged sports fans to “take a deep breath” and list their goals and the “priorities necessary to achieve them”.

While people tend to think in “black and white terms” when experiencing negative emotions, La Lima advised sports fans to think more flexibly.

“Problem solving and impulse control can improve when these negative emotions become less intense,” he said.

a man watching football on TV

“Don’t let your interest in sports overtake the other more important aspects of your life,” says a licensed mental health counselor. (iStock)

“When I work in those times, I like to think, ‘Cool the iron before you get fired.’ “

Other coping skills can include taking short breaks from sports, seeking other distractions and using self-soothing techniques such as deep breathing and self-care, La Lima said.

“Deal with feelings of emptiness after a great loss by identifying where you feel purpose, [such as] in relationships with family and friends, and for your interests and community,” he said.

Fans should make a different use of the time that was previously dedicated to the sport, an expert said.

“Sports can provide a structure for social interaction… It can be helpful to stay socially connected and lead to social support,” said La Lima.

Lamar also suggested making an effort to connect with friends who like the same sport — as well as those who don’t.

San Francisco 49ers fans

San Francisco 49ers fans cheer during the first quarter of their NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, on January 19, 2020. (Ray Chavez/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images)

And when the season is over, Lamar said, fans should make a different use of the time that was previously dedicated to the sport.

“Learn a new skill, play chess, take a cooking class, join a MeetUp group—anything that interests you,” she suggested.

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LaLima said that difficult feelings need to be talked about often, because “holding on to them can make us feel like a shaken bottle of soda.”

“Instead of letting pressure build and opening it all at once, loosen the cap a little at a time,” he advised. “Talk about everyday thoughts and feelings in real time.”

chris lalima nyu psychology

Christopher Nicholas La Lima, PhD, is a licensed psychologist and clinical assistant professor at NYU Langone. (NYU Langone)

The psychologist emphasized that depressive disorders often require evaluation and treatment by mental health professionals.

“Those involved should seek professional mental health support in this regard,” he said.

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Whether the Chiefs or the 49ers win the Super Bowl this year, Lamar joked that fans should “go to Taylor Swift.”

“She made one big effort to get there,” she said.

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