It’s that time of year again: football season! For many, this is one of the best times of the year – what isn’t to like about getting together with friends and family to root on your favorite team? But for some men (and even quite a few women), it’s also the start of fantasy football season – a stretch of about five months in which they’re all-but-unreachable on Sundays as they monitor scores and check stats to see how their team is performing.
"Most anything can be good in moderation," says Sondra Crowder, LICSW, a licensed independent clinical social worker and licensed alcohol and drug counselor with Alegent Health Psychiatric Associates. "But most anything, in excess, can also be a problem if it starts to affect the people you care about or your duties at work or school."
Although there are hard-and-fast rules for diagnosing many behavioral addictions, Crowder says there are no such criteria for fantasy sports. But there are signs that could point to a problem. For example, you might need to address the issue if you:
- Start to lose track of time
- Have trouble completing tasks at work or home
- Find yourself isolated from family and friends
- Lie about the amount of time spent on fantasy sites
- Experience intense, uncontrollable feelings of pleasure or guilt while playing
- Increase the number of fantasy teams you control in order to get the same level of enjoyment
- Obsess about checking your team when you should be doing other things
- Get up in the middle of the night and the first thing you think to do is check your team
"We can’t say that if you spend more than five hours a week on fantasy sports that you automatically have a problem," she says. "It’s a lot like alcohol addiction. You don’t have to drink every day to be an alcoholic."
Fortunately, there are certain types of people who should be a little more concerned about developing an addiction to fantasy sports. Crowder says it’s a lot like what she sees in internet or online gaming addictions in that people who suffer from anxiety, excess stress or depression may use fantasy football as a way to distract from their feelings.
"But you have to be careful," Crowder warns. "Spending too much time alone – either watching games or researching players – may lead to an increase in feelings of stress, isolation and loneliness which can exacerbate the feelings you were trying to escape in the first place."
Once you have recognized that you have a behavioral addiction or that you are at greater risk, there are a number of strategies Crowder suggests to help.
- Keep a log. Track how much time you spend on Fantasy Football and what times of day you typically log on to do research or to set your team. Are there triggers in your day that lead you to spend hours working on your team when you planned to just check in for a few minutes?
- Make a schedule. Set goals for when you can focus on Fantasy Football – especially if your family is starting to complain. Only allow yourself to log on after the kids have gone to bed or for a few minutes over your lunch hour.
- Use it as a reward. Tell yourself that once you complete a more important task in your life – such as finishing the laundry or sending out that important report for work – then you can spend one hour doing fantasy research for that week.
- Make other plans. Always have a list of options for what you can do if you feel the compulsion to spend your extra time doing fantasy research. Go to lunch with a friend, spend time with your family or find any healthy activity to do, so long as it draws your attention away.
- Make a list. Identify all of the things in your life that you miss out on because of your time spent on fantasy sports. For example, do you skip out on Sunday trips to the park because you "have to" keep track of the games? Keep this list handy and review it when you start to spend too much time on fantasy football.
- Seek help. If the problem gets too out of hand, Crowder suggests cognitive behavioral therapy. During this therapy, you’ll be able to work through your thoughts and behaviors surrounding your addiction in order to help you deal with any uncomfortable emotions that may be causing the problem in the first place. And if it’s affecting your marriage, you may also want to seek marriage counseling.