How football fans can care for their mental health during the coronavirus shutdown

As more and more of us rightly retreat into our homes because either we’re sick, we might be sick, we’ve come into contact with someone who is sick, or we just don’t want to risk carrying Covid-19, we need to look out for our mental health.
Many football fans have lost a major part of their lives with the shutdown due to the coronavirusMany football fans have lost a major part of their lives with the shutdown due to the coronavirus
Many football fans have lost a major part of their lives with the shutdown due to the coronavirus

It’s been overlooked – amongst all the talk of whether the season will finish, what will happen with the Euros, and so much more – that football is the connection to the outside world for so many.

Never mind not going to pubs and restaurants: the cancellation of all professional and semi-professional football activities is the true social isolation for hundreds of thousands across the country.

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It’s not just the match itself: it’s about the anticipation. Match day, sharing time with other fans – however small the interactions, they can so often make our week that bit better. After the match too, it’s something to talk about with friends, family, and on social media.

Sheffield is the home of football, and it has some of the most passionate fans in the world. Without the cheering on the stands, what are we going to do?

I have been astounded at how well the football community has responded to the football cancellations. From The Star’s Alex Miller live tweeting historical Wednesday matches to Leyton Orient establishing #UltimateQuaranTeam, fans are being kept engaged and entertained. Not only is this activity above and beyond, it’s quality content which is sparking discussion in a really positive manner. It’s bringing fans together, and providing a lifeline back to the game we all love so much.

In spite of all the wonderful efforts – from people who could have easily used this time to take a break – my big fear is that football fans are at risk of suffering from loneliness and depression during the indefinite amount of time we’re kept away from the terraces.

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There is never any shame in admitting that you’re not feeling great. From Winston Churchill to Dolly Parton – and so many others in between – mental health challenges have come at people from all walks of life. One in four people in the UK will suffer from them, so at a time like this, when the world seems a little bit darker than usual, it’s good to keep an eye on yourself and others around you.

Jane Bradley, therapist and owner of Rebel Therapy, says that there are signs that those around us may be suffering from some form of mental health issue: “Unexplained changes in sleep, appetite, concentration, weight or mood are all indicators that something could be wrong. For some people, common mental health issues like depression, stress and anxiety show up as physical pain, like headaches or grinding teeth, so it's probably worth a conversation if you recognise anything along these lines.”

Major causes of loneliness include bereavement, break ups, feeling isolated from work colleagues, and vitally in this instance, losing your social networks.

In many ways the football family are experiencing some, if not all, of these things at the moment. Whether you have lost your job, are self-isolating at home, or you have had your main source of social activity taken away from you, you may be lonely.

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Whilst all of the news headlines say that we have to be aware of being in physical contact with each other, we can’t lose the emotional contact we have with others. So, if you can, drop someone a text, give them a call, write them an email – or even a letter, or tweet them. They will appreciate it.

Top tips if you’re self-isolating:

- Try to get a good amount of sleep. It’s fine to have the odd lie in, but try to stick to your daily routine as much as possible.

- Keeping active is always a good idea, but in self-isolation it’s especially important. Your level of activity will be down without your daily routine, so it’s a good idea to check out the brilliant range of free NHS fitness activities HERE

- It’s also worth considering how much you eat given your potential drop in activity. This will be hard because eating can be comforting, but do what you can to eat healthily where possible. Jack Monroe has fantastic recipes using bits from the cupboard on a budget HERE

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- Just because you’re self-isolating doesn’t mean you’re only allowed to look at your own four walls. You can walk or jog as long as you stay away from other people and take sensible precautions like using hand sanitizer or wearing gloves.

- It’s important to keep up to date with the latest development – but you don’t have to watch everything. There is a 24/7 news cycle to fill, which means that we’re being overloaded with information. It’s okay to choose one neutral news outlet to watch or read to stay informed.

- While you might want to use alcohol to cope with what is happening around you, in the long run this can make you feel worse and can prevent you from dealing with underlying problems. Please drink responsibly.

Dominic Stevenson is a Sheffield Wednesday fan, and the author of Get Your Head In The Game a book about football and mental health. He is on Twitter @HatScarfShirt