University of Bristol: Five ways to strike a happy, healthy, and safe balance as England team shoots for Euro 2020 glory amidst COVID-19 pandemic

Get your chilled game on

It’s hard to stay level-headed with so much build-up and excitement about the final. Keeping things in perspective and enjoying the whole experience, beyond the final score, are great ways to stay positive even if the goals aren’t going our way.

“Watching, and also the lead-up to big games, can be nerve-wracking and get us into a state of anxiety leaving us feeling stressed and jittery. We could all benefit from taking a leaf out of Gareth Southgate’s style. He has been widely reported as focusing on more than just his players’ performance, investing time in talking to them about how they are feeling, and making sure they have fun off the pitch. By doing this he has removed the overwhelming pressure from his team and managed to get the best out of them, and they have talked about feeling relaxed and happy,” said Dr Nilu Ahmed, a behavioural psychologist at the University of Bristol.

“If, like Southgate and his team, we widen our lens to include all the other wonderful aspects of this tournament rather than focus on just the time on the pitch, it will help us to hold on to this sense of jubilation beyond the Euros. The tournament has already brought us so much pleasure; if we take a moment to reflect on these positive feelings, we can put ourselves in a joyful frame of mind – rather than feeling stressed about the outcome of the impending game. When preparing for the game and while watching, enjoy the moment – the anticipation, who you are watching it with, where you are watching. When we include these aspects in our whole football experience, there are positive elements we can savour regardless of the result. If we win, it just enhances that more!”

Play safe

England’s performance has been the perfect tonic to lift the nation’s spirits, but the COVID-19 continues and it’s important we don’t take our eye off the ball in playing our part to keep everyone safe. For instance, there is anecdotal evidence of the virus spreading rapidly in pubs, forcing people to self-isolate and disrupting plans.

“It’s great that everyone is enjoying the football, especially as England has done so well in the tournament. But evidence shows shouting and singing loudly at close proximity in an enclosed space increases the risk of transmission. Hugging strangers, which can happen as part of celebrations during and after a match, also presents risk particularly if you’re not wearing a mask and you’re being very vocal,” said Dr Bryan Bzdek, Lecturer in the university’s Aerosol Research Centre.

“If you’re going out to watch the game, try to find a venue that is screening it outside. If you’re having friends and family over to enjoy the festivities at home, create a well-ventilated space, for instance by opening the windows. Of course, cheering your team on is important, but there are also other ways you can do this like waving your arms and, hopefully, doing a victory dance.”

Stick to your diet goals

Feeling under pressure can be the perfect recipe for overeating without even realising it. Snacking while engrossed in the big game is a case in point.

“When you’re distracted, evidence shows it takes more to feel full. So watching a football match with a packet of biscuits or large bag of crisps on the coffee table is an invitation to overeat,” said Professor Jeff Brunstrom, Professor of Experimental Psychology.

“One solution is to replace, or at least limit the amount of, sugary and salty snacks with healthier choices like unsalted nuts and vegetable sticks with an avocado or natural yogurt dip. It’s best to keeping moreish snacks out of sight, particularly energy-dense options like chocolate, crisps and sweets.”

Ordering a takeaway is also likely to result in calorie overload and it could present a red card for your well-balanced diet.

“Take away foods, such as pizza, curry, or Chinese, tend to be very high in fat and salt. Portion control is also an issue, so it’s advisable to pre-plate meals, as there’s emerging evidence that social dining with large amounts of food on the table results in eating an awful lot more,” Professor Brunstrom said.

As for celebrating or commiserating with a kebab or pie and chips when the final whistle goes, there’s a word of advice.

Professor Brunstrom said: “These are most likely all extra calories, on top of your usual intake. Although this won’t have much immediate impact on your waistline, try not to make a habit of it, and look for some healthier options when the excitement is over.”

Look out for your team

The past few weeks have been a rollercoaster for seasoned fans as well as newcomers caught up in the football fervour. Going out or staying in to watch matches can create tension in relationships, especially if your plans and the teams you’re supporting conflict.

“Be mindful your tension about the game doesn’t spill into your relationships. As the tournament has progressed and the title comes tantalisingly closer, our energy can become overly focused on this and anything else feel like an irritating spoiler. We can lose sight of how much energy this has taken – have we neglected friends or family during this time?” said Dr Nilu Ahmed.

“Waiting for an evening kick off can lead to a day of tension rising – instead, why not spend the day with loved ones doing something other than being filled with nervous energy for the game? It will leave you in a more relaxed mood for the game and be a great compromise and change of energy for any non-football lovers in the home,” Dr Ahmed added.

“Just watching a high stakes game can be mentally and physically draining – when our team aren’t playing the way we want them too, or the other team are playing better, we may get annoyed and that negative mood can find its way directed at those closest to us. Why not get yourself a swear jar, and drop money in it each time you get frustrated – whatever the outcome of the game, you can treat yourself and loved ones with your own winnings!”

Kick binge drinking into touch

Watching the football and stressful situations often both lead to excessive alcohol consumption. When combined, it could prove a dangerous cocktail of long-term health risks, not to mention the more pressing prospect of a bad hangover.

Professor Marcus Munafo, Professor of Biological Psychology, said: “Many people use alcohol to relax, but it’s often the psychological effect of a beer or your favourite tipple that helps as much as the effect of alcohol itself.

“There’s a growing variety of low alcohol and alcohol-free products these days — beers, wines, and even spirits. So if you’re watching the game at home, make sure you’re well stocked up in advance. It’s also encouraging to see more pubs offering these options to customers, so don’t be shy to ask. Thanks to product development, the taste has much improved, adding to their appeal.”

But if you can’t resist opening a bottle of wine or beer, remember size matters.

“The size of wine glasses has grown over the years and this presents additional health risks. Using smaller glasses and buying half, rather than full-size, bottles can help you cut down alcohol consumption,” Professor Munafo added.

“Try to practice mindful drinking by focusing on the moment and savouring the experience.”

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