Football Field

Community Psychiatry’s Moe Gelbart, Ph.D was featured in Verywell Mind discussing the return of sports in the age of COVID-19.

Can the Return of Pro Sports Help Your Mental Health?

By: Sara Lindberg, M.Ed

As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the U.S., pro sports leagues are working to finalize their plans to return at some point later this summer or early fall. Although fans may not be allowed in the stands, there has been a lot of discussion and excitement around sports coming back, especially since so many of us consider sports viewing to be such an important part of our lives.

And while experts know that playing sports and being physically active can boost mental health,1 we’re not as familiar with the benefits of watching them from a distance. This may leave you wondering: Could the return of pro sports help improve your mental health? We asked three mental health experts to weigh in about the role viewership—even from a distance—plays in improving our mood.

How the Return of Sports Can Help Our Mental Health

We are living in an unprecedented time in modern history. Fear, anxiety, worry, and stress are mounting,2 and many people may seem unable to let go of the way life used to be prior to COVID-19. Although staying safe, wearing a mask, and maintaining social distance are the top priorities, finding ways to take a mental break from all that is going on is also important. And that’s where sports come in.

For some people, being able to watch their favorite pro golfer or baseball team offers some semblance of a return to normalcy, providing a meaningful connection to a greater community. But for others, it’s a way to escape—if only for a short while—from the isolation, anxiety, and stress of living in a pandemic.

“There are a multitude of psychological benefits to following and watching college and professional sports,” says Moe Gelbart, PhD, the director of practice development for Community Psychiatry.

“In addition to the thrill and excitement of competition, there is also the ability to vicariously identify with victory, the social attachment to the ‘tribe’ we identify with, and understanding the excellence of performance.”

Sports Can Give Us a Sense of Normalcy

For Gelbart, the return of professional sports is about a sense of normalcy and some brief escape from the enormous stress of illness, death, unemployment, anxiety, and fear about the future.

However, even in the best of times, Gelbart says spectator sports are undeniably popular given the myriad needs they fulfill in the viewer, from experiencing a swell of positive emotions to connecting with friends and family to feeling a deep appreciation for athletic greatness.

What About the Risk to Athletes?

Like most things in life, and particularly during the pandemic, Gelbart says all choices are on a risk/reward continuum. “As a society, we have to ask ourselves if the risks are worth the benefits,” he says.

On the positive side, Gelbart says it seems like the professional and collegiate programs are attempting to take the maximum protective procedures. However, the sports themselves require contact and exposure, and even worse, any degree of spectator involvement is still considerable risk. “It is a tough choice that will be different for everyone,” he adds.

Click here to read the entire article on Verywell Mind.

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