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Football Therapy: Anger

Exploring the connections between life skills and fantasy football.

In addition to being a staff writer for Footballguys by night, I’m a therapist by day. No, I don’t put people on the couch like Sigmund does. I spend most of my day educating and empowering my clients to leave my office with fulfillment and purpose. What I’ve learned, and quite by accident might I add, is that many of the life skills that I teach and practice in therapy are actually applicable in the context of playing fantasy football. In these writings, I will seek to show the reader connections between these life skills and those needed to be a successful fantasy owner. My hope is not only to improve your prowess as an owner, but to give you skills that will help you lead a wonderful life.

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We’ve all been there -- that moment when our blood pressure begins to rise, our faces begin to flush, our fists begin to clench, and we feel so hot that someone could probably fry an egg on our foreheads. Whether provoked by being cut off in traffic, mistreated at work, an argument with a spouse, someone being an idiot on our league’s message board, or many other scenarios, anger comes forth suddenly. Left unchecked, anger can lead to action that sometimes has life altering consequences.

Mapping Anger

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Illustration by Holly Wilder/USC

A key to understanding anger is comprehending how it occurs in us biologically. An area of our brains called the cerebral cortex is the seat of logic, reason, and thinking. The emotional center of our brains is called the limbic system. It is much less developed than the cerebral cortex and is responsible for the fight or flight response. An area of our brain called the amygdala processes data and decides whether it needs to be sent to the cortex or the limbic system. When data is emotionally extreme in nature, our amygdala allows the limbic system to receive the information and react. This is known as an “amygdala hijack.” When the hijack occurs, hormones are released into the body that temporarily give a person extra energy. The cerebral cortex does not receive the information until later, making the initial reaction by the person just that -- a reaction, without the benefit of thinking it through. Often, this response is out of proportion to the offense that ignited it. As you can imagine, it can escalate to inappropriate and even dangerous levels.

Controlling Anger

Fortunately, there are things that we can do to prepare our minds to better handle anger-inducing situations. There are many great techniques out there, but here are some that I really like.

Look Up and Away

The fastest way to interrupt anger is to change our visuals right away. If you are looking down and brooding, look up! If you are looking at what is making your anger rise, look away! Breaking the visual plane can buy just enough time to keep anger from escalating and allow you to regain control. If you can dismiss yourself from the situation until you’ve cooled down, even better. If it’s a fantasy football game or message board post that has your blood boiling, turn off the computer and walk away.

Relaxation, Visualization, and Breathing

When we get angry, our physical systems gear up for battle. We can counteract this by doing activities designed to have the opposite effect. Relaxation, visualization, and breathing exercises allow our bodies to become less tense, more oxygenated, and help us increase our ability to think instead of react. Here is a simple exercise that incorporates all three:

  1. In a sitting or standing position that is comfortable to you, close your eyes and begin breathing slowly (through your diaphragm, not your chest) and deeply.

  2. Imagine that you are in a place that you enjoy being. Imagine even the smallest of details in that place.

  3. As you continue to imagine being in that place, begin to relax your head and neck. Then progress to your chest and arms. Continue relaxing each muscle until you conclude with your toes.

Express

When too much heat is created inside an object, it can cause a fire or even an explosion. To combat this, engineers create venting systems that remove heat from an area and keep temperature regulated. Just like these objects, people need to be able to vent, too. As Sigmund Bloom often reminds his listeners, fantasy football is a platform for us to express our emotions in ways that we cannot in the context of everyday living. Anger is one of those emotions.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with being angry. The problem comes when anger builds and causes a loss of control. It’s important to find healthy ways to prevent this buildup. Talking about the problem nonconfrontationally, perhaps even with an uninvolved party, can be a good way to express frustration and let off some steam.

Shift Your Perspective

Anger is an emotion rooted in negativity. It’s easy to become so biased toward a negative outlook that we create a destructive feedback loop. Our anger feeds our negativity and our negativity feeds our anger. Fostering gratitude is a wonderful way to keep our perspective a positive one.

Reframing is another tool that can be used to change the way we are viewing the situation and to diffuse anger. Instead of thinking of the injustice of what you are experiencing, restate the reason you are angry as a desire or wish not met. Then, where possible, construct a plan to achieve your goal.

Example: In his dynasty league, Bob begins to get angry when he realizes he is going to narrowly miss the playoffs. Using reframing, Bob restates the problem in the following way: “I was very close to making the playoffs this year. This offseason, I will identify the areas of my team that need improvement and make changes so that I can reach the playoffs next year.”

Final Thoughts

It is wise to direct your anger towards problems — not people; to focus your energies on answers — not excuses.” - William Arthur Ward

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured. - Mark Twain

Unfortunately, it’s all too common to see anger bleed into the wonderful game of fantasy football. We sometimes lose sight of the fact that it is just a game, something to be done for our enjoyment, to bond with others, and as an outlet for the stresses of everyday life. Reminding ourselves of these truths is absolutely essential when we become aggravated, lest our perspective become tainted and we walk away from this grand opportunity!