By Sally Tippett Rains
With recent events as they are, there have been a lot of angry, grumpy, and sometimes sad people in St. Louis– and we’re not talking about politics– we’re talking about Cardinals fans. This summer with this exceptionally odd season, the frustration level has grown. Many fans are taking out their emotions by placing blame and they are doing it on social media as well as and around the water cooler. Besides being angry some fans are finding themselves downright depressed. Nothing about this season has turned out the way the fans planned.
If you have found yourself on edge, mad or sad lately, believe it or not there is a thing called “Sports Fans Depression.”
For Cardinals fans, it has not been a one-game loss, it’s been a constant struggle for four months. Fans started out enthusiastic and ready for a fun season with their team. The photo, left shows fans clamoring around Jordan Walker for autographs at spring training. We wait all winter for spring training and the “boys of summer” and then opening day comes with fanfare and hoopla– but somehow something went wrong this season.
The Cardinals lost their first game, and since then, it’s been an up and down season with more than its fair share of downs. The Cardinals are 55-71 this season, the 71 losses represent two more games than the Cardinals lost all of last season, and we still have another five weeks to play. They have lost more games than they have won and have tied their lowest winning percentage in a season– 16 games below .500 and some die-hard fans are downright depressed.
Every time it’s Adam Wainwright’s turn to pitch, Cardinals Nation find themselves stressing out over what is essentially someone else’s problems. But since fans live and breathe with their team– especially beloved players like the star pitcher who has been trying to win a game for two months- they sometimes feel the stresses of the team and have strong emotional feelings towards the player. So many fans are pulling for him and they invest their emotions with every pitch.
It’s time to check in on our Cardinals fans: are you all doing ok?
The Anxiety and Depression Society of America says fans are at risk of experiencing depression after their favorite sports team loses a game. After one loss a fan could feel down in the dumps, but just imagine four months of it—welcome to Cardinals Nation.
“Some fans talk about feeling worried about the team, how they are getting along, and why they are underperforming,” said Sharon Lightfoot, PhD, a psychologist in St. Louis. “The team is seen as part of the fans social network or family – or in St. Louis our ‘nation.’”
As the season has dragged on, many are letting it get to them emotionally, feeling disappointed or even angry. Even the most die-hard fans are making angry posts on social media. They are mad because they think their favorite pastime has really let them down.
Think about it. If every day you are mad, depressed, or emotional over something you are going to project that in your thoughts and actions. Prolonged negativity in one’s life can lead to feeling depressed. This happens in sports and while it may sound silly that fans could actually do themselves harm by being so heavily invested—it’s a real thing. We don’t present this information in an attempt to scare you, just to help you manage your mental well-being by realizing what could be happening and making adjustments.
If you are a Cardinals fan and feel the events of this season have not affected you in any way, consider yourself lucky, or maybe you are savvy enough to be already taking care of your own mental well-being on a daily basis—and not letting this temporary situation get to you. But if Wainwright’s start tonight has got you feeling anything other than it’s just a game, you may want to examine your feelings.
“With sports, people are open about their feelings,” said Lightfoot “Some fans talk in terms of being mad or sad about the wins and losses. Many literally describe the season as ‘depressing’.”
Lightfoot’s specialties include stress, sleep disorders, and anxious and depressed mood —all of which the St. Louis sports fans may have been facing sometime along the way this season. Sports can be good for us in many ways, but if we aren’t careful, it can turn bad.
David Sikorjak, co-author of the book Fans Have More Friends, told Healthline.com. “Sports are the reason to get people together, the reason to send that text message, the reason to check in with your parents, and so on. Sports anchor and galvanize relationships; they facilitate social interactions.”
WebMD says, “Studies have found that people who are sports fans have higher self-esteem compared to individuals with no interest in sports. Sports fans were also found to feel more fulfilled in life.”
They also point out that sports can help you de-stress, helps strengthen family relationships watching together, offers entertainment, and gives a feeling of being in a group; but being a Cardinals fan during the 2023 season can create real problems with our mental outlook if we are not careful.
“Fans’ moods are impacted,” said Lightfoot. “They feel a range of emotions including the joy of victory to the agony of defeat and to sadness when a beloved team member is injured, traded or retires.”
Cardinals fans experienced the loss of Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina due to retirement last year and many have felt that loss with the decline of the current team.
This year was touted to be a great year with all of the exceptional players: from the young players like Jordan Walker, Nolan Gorman and Lars Nootbaar to the veterans Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. And favorite Adam Wainwright was coming back for one last season, hoping to end his season with 200 wins on his farewell tour.
Season ticket sales were back up after the pandemic and Cardinals fans were full of spirit. Happy pictures of families and friends at the ballpark popped up on social media in April. Fans were out there ready to have some fun.
“When you are a sports fan, you are part of a community which can decrease a sense of isolation or loneliness,” she says. “The rituals of the games, from the chants to the music to the rules, not only connect you with other fans (you are literally breathing and moving together which physiologically creates a sense of connection with others), it also connects you to family traditions across generations.”
We often see second and third generations taking their kids to games just to experience “the feeling.”
“Sports fans often celebrate and memorialize important events in their life through their sports affiliations,” said Lightfoot. “After 9/11 there was a public discussion of whether or not games should be reinstated. There was almost unanimous agreement that the nation needed sports to cope – to provide connection, pride, and a civilized way to express anger as well as increase joy.”
Beloved sports teams can bring joy, but if things are going bad or fans take things too intensely, it can do just the opposite. In fact besides doing a number on your mental health, sports can even take a toll on your physical health if you are not careful. Believe it or not, physical health can be impacted by reactions to what your favorite sports teams do, with an example being the rise in hospital cardiac admissions following a big hard-fought game– win or lose. After a loss, or during a game that is going downhill, it is normal for fans to feel a little sad or disappointed, but for those with medical conditions, or strong emotions it is possible to experience depression or cardiovascular events.
In sports, as in life there are those who have diminished capacity for coping—or maybe they have not been taught ways to cope. We asked Lightfoot if there are people who maybe take things harder than others, and if so, how can they be helped?
“Yes, and there is some interesting research that draws from what we know about passion,” she said. “There are harmonious fans who love the game. and keep their life in balance regardless of whether or not it is a winning season. Then there are obsessive fans who love the game too much, to the point that their own sense of worth is dependent on the team winning. Since no team can win all of the time, you can see what a precarious position the obsessive fan finds themself in.”
She also points out that there are people who are already suffering from a behavioral health problem such as a mood disorder, or an alcohol or gambling addiction, who will have a tougher time dealing with challenges in general.
Is “depression” is too strong a word for what could be happening with sports fans? Not in some cases. Thriveworks.com says, “to be diagnosed with something like major depressive disorder (Depression), the symptoms would need to be more longstanding; or more specifically, last at least two weeks.” They go on to say, “if it has been a few days and you’re not feeling better, or if your symptoms are so severe that they’re affecting your sleep, work, or relationships, you might want to consider meeting with a healthcare professional like a counselor.”
So how do you know if your sports fans “depression” is getting more serious and you should see someone? Could a person who is angry and depressed about the Cardinals actually need help? If you realize you are absorbing more stress from something you can often help yourself, but it takes realizing there is a problem.
“It is normal to be down, on average, three days per month,” said Sharon Lightfoot. “No one is happy all the time. If you have a two-week period or more when you’re unable to experience pleasure or feel down, depressed or hopeless, talk to someone.”
Sometimes our physical and mental well-being collide, and on a game night in any St. Louis hospital, you will hear the Cardinals game wafting into the halls from room to room. Often it is the thing we can talk about when there’s nothing else to talk about. “How about those Cardinals?” But when we are depending on sorts to cheer us up and we are seeing bad news from the medical team and the sports team–it is sometimes tough to take for some.
“We can do ok if life is kind,” Lightfoot says. “But if life is unkind and struggles stack up – for example the loss of a relationship, a job, health problems – our normal coping mechanisms can get overloaded, and we may need some assistance.”
There is no shame in talking about how you feel whether to a psychologist or an empathetic friend. Thriveworks.com looked into the relationship of our fandom of sports to our mental health and they found it is real.
Greg Miller, a licensed professional counselor, told NPR’s Ailsa Chang about the real emotional toll that can come from taking sports too seriously
“So if you think about sports fan depression or grief on its face, you root for a team, you’re invested,” said Miller. “You spend three to six months rooting for them, and at the end of the day, they don’t win. There’s an emotional investment. There’s a psychological investment.”
First, look at what is going on around you and remember that it’s just a game, you most probably don’t own the team, you are not a player whose livelihood depends on it. You are a fan. even though it feels bigger sometimes, because it is often emotionally charged event. The owners, players, downtown bar owners and others who feel they are dependent on the success of the team would do well to take a deep breath and realize there will be an end to the season, one way or another. Even when things seem so ominous, it would be well for them to try to put it out of their minds after the games, engage in good coping skills and find ways to feel gratitude with other areas of their lives.
Now that you realize that taking the Cardinals season too seriously can impact the way you interact with others and the way you feel in general, you can start to figure out how to help yourself.
“Sports are so important,” Sharon Lightfoot reminds us. “They teach us so much and they bring so much joy. Being a fan is, in some ways, similar to being an athlete. You have to keep your head in the game. Control the controllable. Let go of the last play. Be a team player.”
In times of trouble why is it that people like to bad-mouth their team? If a loss is looked at from all sides, one will remember that no athlete tries to lose. They are doing the best they can and for whatever the reason, the results may not be not what the fans want. It’s not what they want either.
A new pitcher was brought up from the minor leagues on Monday night and he was rocked. Fans and even an analyst on the broadcast were giving their negative opinions, but in the postgame interview, the player was very upbeat saying essentially that he realized he pitched a bad game but had the “we’ll get ’em next time” attitude,
saying he’ll do better next time and the fans will see what he’s really made of. That was a healthy attitude– he cared about the loss but was moving on, looking ahead to better times. Most players try to forget the game. They may think about it for a few minutes and how they can improve the next day but generally they are taught to put it behind them. They go home to their families and live their life—until tomorrow’s game and then try again. That’s what we should do.
“We are still Cardinals Nation, and part of the reason this season is hard is we don’t find ourselves here (in the position of being on the losing side all season long) very often,” says Lightfoot. “ Keep your mind right by not catastrophizing and not buying trouble and (fretting about) about next year.
“Focus on what you can control – such as your love of the game itself and what kind of a fan you want to be.”
Remember why you are a Cardinals fan and think back to the happier times and players of the past. This is one reason the Cardinals bring back players from the past and have their Hall of Fame Weekend in August. They see how happy fans get when they get to see the heroes of the past come back, and it renews their love for their current team.
“Rewatch or remember the moments in fandom that brought you great joy,” says Lightfoot. “Continuing to socialize with other fans – enjoy being outdoors with your friends and family, take in the beauty of the (ball)park and the (St. Louis) skyline, enjoy the peanuts and Cracker Jacks.”
During a time of the team losing, focus on the younger players, the minor leaguers who are the future of the team, the good things that happen in a particular game– and also take the time to do other things. You are in charge of yourself so do what you need to do to get happy.
Give yourself a day off or a few days off. Get out into the sunshine, go to a movie, or watch an old movie on TV.Go out in nature, maybe to a lake, take a walk. You don’t have to be a prisoner to negatives that life may throw us; do the things that make you happy.
There is a lot to do in St. Lous. Do you like animals? Go to the Zoo or one of the sanctuaries in the area like the Bird or Wolf Sanctuaries.
Call a friend and talk about something other than sports. Once you broaden your outlook you will find a loss here and there isn’t so bad; and you can even survive a losing season. It’s all in the way you look at it. If you are looking for the next bad thing you will find it, but if you are looking for something great you might just find that too.
In conclusion, we can learn some lessons from a losing season and come out better on the other side.
“It sure feels good when you have a winning season,” said Lightfoot “But remember, your worth is not dependent on winning or losing. It really is how you play, and watch, the game.”
And she adds there is always hope. It may not be in the outcome of the game, but in our outlook.
“We can get through this season together. Focus on what you enjoy. Always move toward joy.”
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