World Cup more brutal than unreasonable spouse, unrelenting boss

  • Sanchita 'Doc' Sharma, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Feb 12, 2015 19:04 IST

The World Cup is back and with it come dizzying expectations, nail-biting anxiety and nervous tension that trigger more blood-pressure spikes and heartburn than unreasonable spouses and unrelenting bosses.

The collective euphoria of winning has no parallel, with homes echoing with victory whoops and streets with crackers stashed away since Diwali. The gut-wrenching defeats - and lately there have been many - are as emotionally charged.

Defeat brings with it feelings of anger, despair and sadness, making cricket fans grumpier than a troll with a toothache for days.

"The Indian side playing badly is almost always among the list of things people, especially men, with depression say is affecting their mood and getting them down," says clinical psychologist Dr Pulkit Sharma.

Together we win… or lose

Why, then, do people spend days on end cheering a bunch they'll probably never meet?

"Supporting teams gives fans group identity and increases bonding and self-esteem," says Dr Samir Parikh, chairman, department of mental health, Fortis Group of hospitals.

It reinforces social identity and provides fans with a sense of belonging, identification and inclusion within a larger group that shares their loyalties and interests.

Fans step wear their team colours and shout and chant, releasing intense emotions - both frustration and joy - in a socially acceptable way. For a lot of people, it becomes a way to externalise pent-up tension and emotion that they cannot vent in polite company.

Stress buster

And with technology reducing direct physical interaction between people, supporting teams in the stadia or in social groups over cigarette and coffee breaks becomes even more critical to recreate the tangible social identity that's being edged out by online networking.

And the camaraderie and emotional outpouring lowers stress and strengthens your ability to cope. "Like other sport, cricket provides an escape from daily stresses by offering fans the comfort of rules with the thrill of an unpredictable outcome. It's like going to war without the bloodshed," says Dr Parikh.

Of course, when you're cheering for your country, the cricket pitch becomes the battleground where your nation's pride - along with it your social, cultural and ethnic identity - is at stake. The team becomes the symbol of the nation, making identification stronger.

Bigger, better, smarter

So what happens when your side loses? Coping with defeat follows the classic four stages of loss or grief - denial ('no, this couldn't have happened'), anger ('these jerks should be kicked out of the team'), depression ('watching cricket is a waste of time'), and acceptance ('it was just bad luck, we'll win the next series').

Most sports-related depressions have a short half-life and don't last for more than a couple of days. The pain can be shockingly painful and the chock-a-block cricketing calendar doesn't give your achy-breaky heart any time to heal.

"Wins and losses are not as shattering as they were a decade or two ago, when matches were few and far between and doing badly on the pitch led to people reaching out for blood pressure anti-anxiety pills," says Dr Parikh.

"Now even if a team loses the World Cup, they know they can win back their lost pride within weeks, if not days," says Dr Parikh. "Now the only ones who get anxious are those who bet on it and lose money."

Let it out

Win or lose, fans always get back to supporting their side. Supporting your team through thick and thin is not just a commitment to the team but also to other fans, so people continue to support even if the boys let them down. "The psychological support and social identity is what keeps people loyal to teams more good or bad performance," says Dr Parikh.

The greater the identification with how your players perform on the pitch, the stronger is the emotional outpouring to wins and defeats. Since you can't pop a pill to deal with the heartbreak of watching your heroes crumble like dehydrated mummies from celluloid, experts suggest you turn to other fans for support.

It helps just to be reminded that you're not alone. "Social withdrawal worsens mood so do keep meeting people even if you're not feeling up for it," says Dr Parikh.

Dr Sharma says, "Talking about your anger and hurt will help you to process the disappointment."

"Tell yourself you have no control on the outcome, that cricket is just a part of your life's big picture and you cannot allow it to control how you feel."

But if you're feeling low a week later and your mood is affecting your behaviour, sleep or work day, seek professional help. "People around you are the best judge. If people tell you're irritable and gloomy, snap out of it or get help to get our mood back on track," says Dr Parikh.

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