Anxiety Management

World Cup “Fanxiety”? Doc’s Tips for Stressed Fans

  • Psychologist prescribes big match stressbusters for frazzled fans

  • Do you have the symptoms? Racing heart; sweaty palms; dread of extra time, penalties; urge to hide behind the furniture.

  • Tension too much? Try earlobe massage; alternate nostril breathing; yoga pose, says anxiety specialist

Players are not the only ones under pressure at this World Cup, says a top anxiety specialist.

Many watching fans, also suffer – from “World Cup fanxiety” at times of big match tension, says Dr. Shaun Nanavati, neuroscientist and Chief Science Officer of the anxiety management app, AQ™ – and it will only get worse come the knock-out stage, when extra time and penalty shoot-outs kick in.

Symptoms of acute “fanxiety” include:
• Spiking heart rate
• Sweaty palms
• Rapid breathing
• Dread of extra time and penalties
• Urge to cover your eyes and hide behind the furniture

Dr. Shaun Nanavati is also a keen soccer fan, who knows the stress that many fellow fans suffer.

Fanxiety can strike fans at any point but tends to get worse towards the end of close games, especially in extra time, and worst of all during penalty shoot-outs. 

“If fans want to know exactly when they’re feeling most anxious, AQ tracks your anxiety level in real time and provides real-time interventions to lower it,” says Dr. Nanavati. 

AQ’s “SOS Library” features over a dozen short exercises to provide immediate stress relief. He draws on these and other sources for his four relaxation tips for stressed-out World Cup fans:

  • Earlobe Massage: The technique of massaging your own ear lobes, long used in Chinese medicine, immediately slows the heart rate and reduces anxiety – due to a nerve in the earlobe (the vagus nerve) that connects directly to the heart, to slow its rate.
  • Alternate Nostril Breathing: This simple breathing exercise lowers heart-rate, stress, and anxiety and syncs the two halves of the brain.
  • Feet Up Against A Wall: Make gravity your friend with this simple pose, by lying on your back and resting your feet up against a wall, at right angles to your upper body, while slowly breathing in and out. This slows the heart and calms the nerves, relieving stress and tension. Allow at least 10 minutes for full benefit but if you start before the end of extra time and continue throughout the penalty shoot-out, it will help get you through both.
  • Downward Facing Dog: This classic yoga pose – which involves stretching forward onto your hands, with your head lowered and your body in an inverted V-shape – helps relieve tension from the neck and back and mimics the effect of many anxiety drugs by boosting the flow of blood to the brain, so helping relieve stress and anxiety.

For players – but NOT fans – wanting to calm their nerves before the pressure of a penalty shoot-out Dr. Nanavati recommends performing a two-minute headstand straight after the end of extra time: to increase blood flow to the brain.

While this may be good advice for pro athletes, who have practised headstands in training, the downward facing dog pose is an easier, safer alternative for fans.

It has the added advantage of making it hard to watch the game at the same time – and, indeed,  is perfect for performing while hiding behind the furniture.


AQ™ is the world’s first app that tracks and measures your anxiety and mental health in real time – and provides targeted, real-time advice and treatments to manage your anxiety and improve your mental health and performance.

Created by Mindwell Labs, AQ™ is your personal mental health coach, in your pocket. AQ’s patent-pending proprietary technology and AI analyzes your vitals collected by the Apple Watch and tells you if you’re anxious or calm in real-time. AQ™ uses your mental health profile to provide you with personalized care based on your specific needs. You currently need an Apple Watch to use AQ™ but will soon be able to use any smartwatch. AQ™ is available for free download on the App Store; try the premium version, with full personalization and all features, totally free for 14 days; pay $39.99/year or $4.99/month after the free trial.