It's not your imagination, watching the Super Bowl is extremely stressful. 4 tips to combat game-day anxiety



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Whether you’re tuning in to Super Bowl LVIII on Sunday as a Chiefs fan, a 49ers fan, or just for Usher’s half-time show and the commercials, odds are your hands will be a little clammy while reaching for the chips and dip. It’s normal to be stressed during a championship game, but there’s something about the Super Bowl that creates extra anxiety—or, fanxiety—compared to other sports, which can take a toll on your health.

The football season is short. A baseball season, for instance, runs much longer and holds multiple games a week. With NFL teams only having one weekly game, there’s added pressure on the athletes, and fans are putting all their energy into that one game.

“If you really dive into football, the ball is only in play for roughly 11 or 12 minutes a game,” says Rachel Webb, assistant athletic director, sport psychology and wellness at the University of Arizona. She says the limited amount of actionable time makes those few minutes extra crucial—and extra stressful.

“When your favorite team gets to the Super Bowl, you see that you committed so much time and energy to the team as a fan, sometimes even planning your life around watching the game, for years or decades. We feel like we have something on the line too,” Webb tells Fortune.

This stress impacts more than just your brain. 

“Believe it or not, sporting events have been shown to be associated with an uptick in cardiovascular events,” says Dr. Tamara Horwich.

A 2021 study found die-hard sports fans were at a higher risk for cardiac events, like a heart attack, especially if they had a history of heart disease. “Half-hearted” spectatorship may actually be better for cardiovascular health versus full-blown fanatic spectatorship. 

Horwich, who is the Medical Director of UCLA Cardiac Rehabilitation Program, says the stress of the game, coupled with salty foods and the overconsumption of alcohol, typically creates these game-related cardiac events.

But this doesn’t mean fans shouldn’t tune into this year’s big game—or any game—or that it is inherently unhealthy to be a fan; it’s important to understand the stress from being a fan, and ways to limit that anxiety. Here are tips to make your watch party less stressful.

Take time for deep breathing exercises

“I know as an athlete, I absolutely dreaded anyone telling me to take a deep breath,” Webb laughs.

However, she says deep breaths help to manage the release of adrenaline and cortisol, which typically skyrocket when the body is stressed. Controlled breathing can lower blood pressure and heart rate, as well as reduce the stress hormones in your blood. The more oxygen you take in, the more your heart rate can slow.

“Deep breathing is your body’s way of communicating physiologically, ‘Hey, we’re okay.’ It’s a quick way to help stay grounded.”

Change your vantage point

Sitting in front of the TV for too long at any time isn’t great on the body, and if you couple that with watching an intense game, it might not end well.

“Leave the room. Go stare at your neighbor’s yard, go outside, walk to your kitchen,” says Webb.

You can do so without missing too many commercials, and your body will thank you.

Or, if you have to be within eyeshot of the TV all night, Horwich suggests taking extra time before the game to stick to a routine, or go for a long walk.

“Don’t just roll out of bed and plop yourself in front of the screen,” says Horwich.

Give yourself a reality check

Sometimes it can be hard to snap back to reality while watching a crucial, season-deciding game. Being a devoted fan can be hard work—especially if your team is losing—but remember this game doesn’t impact you like it does the athletes and coaches.

“No one has more on the line in this game than these young men. These are brothers, sons, and dads out there doing everything they possibly can to win and they have so much invested in these moments. We as fans can only imagine the time, energy, and commitment they’ve made,” says Webb.

It’s important to remember that unless we are on the field, we don’t have control of the outcome.

Remember why you’re watching

Having the shared bonding experience of millions of other people watching the same plays and mishaps is a huge part of being a fan, and a big cultural aspect of why Americans love football. The Super Bowl is the culmination of all the time, energy, and excitement put into a season.

“Whether it’s going well or not, this is exactly why we watch these games. What makes these really big games so exciting is anything can happen and that’s why there’s more emotion to it. If it was just a blowout and there’s nothing really to watch, it’s far less entertaining,” says Webb.

Bars and living rooms alike will be crowded this weekend with fans eager to watch the big game, and whether you care about the outcome or not, it’s important to listen to your body’s queues to breathe more, worry less, and enjoy it.

“That’s what being a fan is all about,” says Webb.

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