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(By Jerry Langton – 17 October, 2016)

Sports fans suffer stress around big games and playoff series. The anticipation of a major sporting event involving a fan’s team can cause actual physical changes and — as we have seen in brawls, riots and objects thrown from the stands — some pretty aggressive behaviour.

Don’t want to be an obnoxious fan? Read on.

Being a fan is fine, experts agree, but the problem comes from over-identifying with a team.

“It’s actually good for our emotional health to be involved in our community through things like sports,” said psychologist and fan behaviour expert Joti Samra. “But some diehard fans can identify with their team too much, believing that they are actually part of its success or failure and feel euphoria when they win and dejection or shame when they lose.”

It’s more than just people who call their favorite team “we” or “us” or have a tattoo of a Maple Leaf or a Blue Jay. Some fans miss work, said Samra, because they stay up all night researching for their fantasy draft or are hungover from a night out enjoying a win, and some can endanger their relationships by neglecting or arguing with a significant other.

Important sporting events are hotbeds of fans acting out. They’re big, they’re loud and emotions run high.

“Fans can experience de-individuation in a group and become an anonymous part of it,” said Luc Martin, a professor at Queen’s University specializing in the psychology of sport. “And they can take on the behaviours of the group, making what they do seem okay in context — we’ve all heard people yell things from the stands they would never say to a person on the street.”

Of course, drinking amps up unsavoury behavior.

“A little alcohol can fuel the euphoric feeling of watch sports,” said sports psychologist Peter Crocker. “But too much can be disastrous — uninhibited people in high-stress situations can be very reactive.”

It can actually be worse when your team wins. According to Samra, testosterone can increase by up to 20 per cent in a fan after a win, and testosterone, alcohol and stress is a recipe for aggression.

So what can you do about stress? Samra says it’s all about getting dopamine and serotonin — the feel-good hormones we get through watching sports — in other ways, like exercise. But Crocker warns that you can’t just start meditating or performing yoga at a high-stress moment and expect to be calmed, unless it’s something you’re already doing consistently.

The way to truly relieve sports fan stress, the experts agree, is to limit your alcohol intake and to gain a little perspective.

“Give the situation a basic re-appraisal; win or lose, your team is not going to cure poverty or solve any major health problems,” said Crocker. “It’s a distraction and helps celebrate community — that’s it.”

Just tell yourself — it’s only a game, it’s only a game.

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