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About Super Bowl Suffering…and Stress Attacks

Who’s your team? Packers? Steelers?

No matter where your allegiance lies, you may want to prepare for Sunday’s big game. Your life may depend on it. And no, that’s not hyperbole.

According to an article in The New York Times, watching the Super Bowl can be hazardous to your health, especially if your team loses. Research published in the medical journal Clinical Cardiology shows that for people over age 65, experiencing a vicarious Super Bowl loss increases the risk of death from all causes on Super Bowl day. (The good news is that if your team wins, the risk of death actually decreases on Super Bowl day.)

There is also an increased incidence of general stress, panic, and anxiety attacks.

“Many patients, it needs to be said, will be self-medicating,” said Ursula Bertrand, a psychologist in private practice in Green Bay, Wis. “This can be helpful, but in excess it can also make anxiety attacks more likely.” [from the New York Times article]

To reduce Super Bowl-related stress and reduce the potential effects of Football Attention Neurosis (or F.A.N.), the article recommends these mostly tongue-in-cheek tactics to deal with the F.A.N. in your life:

  • PREGAME: Establish a Therapeutic Alliance. Establish trust by sitting with the sufferer and his or her feelings. This may involve asking the F.A.N. to do things that may be frightening or profoundly uncomfortable, like sitting quietly with eyes open as an erratic kicker attempts a late field goal.
  • FIRST HALF: Evaluate the Severity of Impairment. The severity of the disorder will usually reveal itself early in the first half of the football contest. Some patients will exhibit physical symptoms, including flushing, heart palpitations, chest pain, even a choking sensation, when their team chokes. Others may show psychological signs, like disorientation, a numbed trancelike state. Caution: Do not approach patients in these moments. They are fragile and prone to hurling nearby objects, including mini-bagels, plastic cups, pigs in a blanket — even themselves, in extreme cases, to the floor.
  • HALFTIME: Formulate Treatment Plan. Patients ritually leap to their feet and disappear at halftime. This break allows the therapist time to develop an intervention for the second half, when symptoms are most severe and disabling. The goals of treatment are the same for all patients: to reduce anxiety, to eliminate avoidance behaviors, to soothe physical symptoms like sleep loss, chronic groaning and cursing at the TV and the pets.
  • SECOND HALF: Administer Therapy. The notion that world will end if the patient’s team loses — catastrophizing, as this sort of thinking is known — does not stand up to the evidence. Remind the patient: Life resumed after each previous loss that the team suffered. And, in time, taste returned to food, colors became visible, feeling returned to extremities. Breathing exercises are highly recommended and become increasingly important as the football contest nears the fourth quarter, when events on the field are likely to prompt strong physiological reactions, like a pounding heart, hyperventilation, even dizziness.

Of course, if everyone in the household has a case of F.A.N., all bets are off.

But seriously, be aware of the potential for symptoms of heart attack. As the researchers of the death-and-Super Bowl study say, no one knows exactly why the extra deaths occur. It could be due in part to the usually high-fat, high-sodium, high-alcohol diet on game day. Or, it could be that the stress of watching your team lose (and perhaps losing money through gambling) is enough to push people with fragile health over the edge. The results were the same for men and women, which shows either that both sexes are equally invested in the Super Bowl, or that an uninvolved spouse reacts emotionally to the general high psychic pain that comes with a major loss.

It would be futile to ask you to keep the lid on your emotions this coming Sunday. But if you experience symptoms of heart attack, play it safe and call 911.

To read the full article from The New York Times, click here:  A Home Treatment Kit for Super Bowl Suffering

To read the full article from Clinical Cardiology, click here: Role of Age, Sex, and Race on Cardiac and Total Mortality Associated with Super Bowl Wins and Losses

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