March Madness can be a blast with the excitement of the players, the fans and the countless people who have money and pride riding on the success of their office bracket. It’s a lot of fun, but it can also be an overwhelming source of stress. We all know that guy who takes the whole tournament way too seriously, getting angry when something doesn’t go exactly according to plan or way too in-your-face excited when his team is on top. Some of us have been that guy.
The NCAA Tournament is stressful, but it doesn’t have to negatively impact your life. You can have your bracket and win it too. Here’s why you get so wrapped up in March Madness, how it could impact your health and happiness and a few simple ways to settle your stress and just enjoy some basketball.
Why Your Bracket Is Breaking You Down
Your bracket may become the crux of your happiness for the month of March. All of your hopes and dreams (and a decent chunk of change) rest on the success or failure of your predicted teams. Then all of a sudden your top team tanks, rendering all of your hard work useless and your wallet a little bit lighter. March Madness is a roller coaster of emotions and the whole thing could be causing you undue stress.
First there’s the element of gambling. Sure, it’s not gambling in the same way as playing the ponies at the races or betting big on blackjack at a casino is gambling, but a March Madness bracket is still gambling. According to The Atlantic, an FBI source cited in the LA Times said that in 2012 more than $2.5 billion was illegally wagered on the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. (Yep, your office pool counts as an illegal bet.)
A study published in Psychiatry found that pathological gamblers are at an increased risk for developing all sorts of stress-related conditions, like hypertension, sleep deprivation, cardiovascular disease and peptic ulcer disease. It can exacerbate major depressive episodes, anxiety disorders and substance abuse. Not to mention the guilt, shame, deception and financial complications that come along with pathological betting. You might not be a pathological gambler, but March Madness can bring on similar stress.
Not to mention the stress of really loving a sports team. If your favorite team blows a game or doesn’t make it to the tournament at all (sorry, Syracuse), it can throw a wrench into your bracket and your mood. Dan Wann, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Murray State University and an expert on fan behavior, told Men’s Health that our extreme disappointment in our sports teams comes largely from witnessing mistakes completely out of our control.
“It’s worse than when you make a bad decision because with sports fandom, we love our teams, we live and die with our teams and we have our well-being tied up in our teams,” Wann said. “But we are helpless to do anything about it. When we toss and turn over a bad decision, at least it was our bad decision.”
The Negative Effects Of Stress
All of this stress from sports fandom and a busted bracket can have some pretty unpleasant, if not serious, impacts on your health and well-being. Your NCAA Tournament tension could manifest itself physically with headaches, muscle tension, chest pain, fatigue, an upset stomach or trouble sleeping, according to the Mayo Clinic. If you lie awake in bed, tossing and turning to the rhythm of squeaking basketball shoes on a freshly waxed court, stress may be to blame.
This stress can impact your mood, too. The Mayo Clinic says stress can bring on anxiety, restlessness, the feeling of being overwhelmed, lack of motivation and concentration, sadness, depression, irritability and anger. You could be thrown into a March madness of your own.
Stress can also affect your behavior. You’re not imagining things when you think that your bracket is behind the large bag of Hot Cheetos you just inhaled; stress eating is very real. Stress can also prompt loss of appetite, increased alcohol consumption, increased tobacco consumption, social withdrawal and angry outbursts. This explains that time before Selection Sunday that you screamed at your roommate for interrupting you, slammed the door in his face and cracked open a beer. It’s not you; it’s March Madness.
How To Beat March Madness
It doesn’t have to be like that, though. You can watch the games, have fun with your bracket and not go off the deep end when the shot clock starts ticking. You can control your stress with a few simple tips that will help you survive the season. Start by using the athletes as inspiration and get your butt up and moving. The temptation to stay glued to the couch is real, but exercising can help you combat stress by activating endorphins and other neurochemicals that make you feel good. Plus, according to the Mayo Clinic, exercise can refocus your mind on your activity and not a disappointing game.
Avoid bad behaviors. Scrap pizza and wings for a healthy diet of whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Don’t go overboard with alcohol and tobacco. Taking care of yourself is going to make you feel better all around. Stay on top of your health and you can stay on top of stress.
Use March Madness as an excuse to be extra social, too. According to the Mayo Clinic, social contact is a great stress relief. It can provide support and give you a shoulder to lean on when times get tough. Laugh a lot, too. It will lighten your mental load and spark positive physical changes in your body. This will help you feel less stressed no matter how much money you sunk into your failing bracket.
Enjoy March Madness the right way without all of the stress that comes from some light gambling and a deep devotion to a basketball team. Take care of your mind, take care of your body and don’t take things you can’t control too seriously.