Ahead of the Olympic Games, local therapists are reminding Austinites about psychological research that indicates tuning-in can actually help combat depression and anxiety, among other maladies.
William Schroeder, licensed therapist and co-founder of Just Mind, said, “There’s a mistaken belief that getting hooked on the Olympics is like any other unhealthy TV binge. In fact, rooting for our favorite team can help us better regulate our emotional responses to challenging life events. Even for kids.”
There are at least three ways watching the Olympics can boost our emotional and mental wellbeing:
1. We Feel “Awesome”: Testosterone levels spike when watching our teams compete and win, according to behavioral scientists (this happens in women as well). Curiously, even though we’re not the ones “winning”, this helps us develop our own feelings of self-mastery, or the idea that we are capable of achieving our goals.
2. Pleasure & Reward Centers Activated: Our brains often produce elevated levels of dopamine, which regulates pleasure and feelings of happiness. Dopamine is also often referred to as our “motivation molecule” – increasing its production helps motivate us to take on challenging tasks, and more quickly move through feelings of despair or incompetence.
3. We Feel Like We’re “In the Game”: Watching our teams activates “mirror neurons”, the cells in our brains that let us put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. This is especially helpful if we’re otherwise feeling isolated or lonely; even feeling connected to an athlete’s quest can help remind us of our shared humanity, and help us to push away negative feelings about ourselves. This is why our muscles often tense, or we grit our teeth with the onscreen action.
“If your child is having trouble connecting with his or her classmates, or isn’t feeling a lot of self-confidence in general, supporting them to root for their team may help them build the skills they need to be social, and develop more inner motivation,” said Teri Schroeder, a Just Mind therapist who often works with adolescents.
Just Mind therapists are available to speak about the relevant research.
Just Mind is a center of excellence focused on providing comprehensive psychological care to adults, couples, teenagers and children.