When Sports Become Stress — How Cricket Is Playing With Kashmir

“Post-match,” Dr. Yasir said, “we see most of the patients, especially youngsters with chest heaviness, stress and other ailments.”

A Kashmiri cricket fan’s Lal Chowk stunt recently ended on a summon before a sorry statement highlighted the underlying stress.

But the dramatic twists in the recently-concluded T20 World Cup only recreated the classic commentary and a living-room commotion in Kashmir.

This sports spirit, however, came at the cost of distress, once again.

Mumtaza becomes anxious every time there’s a cricket match between India and Pakistan. Her husband’s die-hard support for a particular team keeps her on edge.

Being a heart patient, her husband gets hypertensive. “I try to calm him down,” Mumtaza said. “I keep telling him that this is just a cricket match but if his team loses, he thinks as if he has lost everything. He doesn’t eat throughout the match and becomes very aggressive.”

A father of two, Mumtaza’s husband survived a heart attack back in 2010. Doctors then clearly advised her not to break any bad news to him. “But then,” she says, “these cricket matches only come to torment me.”

The tense cricket fans often abuse players and get into heated arguments online. Even the commentators advise people during the close contest that “this match is not for weak-hearted people”. “And yet,” wonders Mumtaza, “people still watch it.”

A number of cricket matches lately proved to be nail-biting contests. These high-tension games only surged stress in the region where the cricket craze and mental distress is huge.

Several studies conducted from time to time have revealed the prevalence of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder among the people of Kashmir.

According to a survey conducted by international humanitarian organisation—Médecins Sans Frontières or Doctors Without Borders (MSF), over 45 per cent of the population of Kashmir is suffering from mental distress.

“The clinical footfall of this distressed group surges during the high-voltage cricket matches,” Dr. Yasir Rather, a noted psychiatrist and professor at the Institute of Mental Health & Neurosciences (IMHANS) in Srinagar, told Kashmir Observer. “The real problem is a mindset. If people don’t take these matches seriously, then they can definitely save themselves from getting hyper.”

But as of now, there may not be many cricket-related clinical cases around, said Dr. Masood Maqbool, a clinical psychologist at IMHANS, it still can’t rule out the problem.

“Such patients should avoid watching the game by just checking the scores after 20 or 30 minutes,” the medico advised. “They can even watch match highlights later in order to avoid stress.”

Clearly, if the predominance of emotions during a game is uncontrolled, then the stress level will be high, said Dr. Abdul Majid, HOD at Department of Psychiatry, SKIMS Medical College, Bemina.

“Once you are under stress, you release catecholamine,” Dr. Majid said.

“We call it sympathetic hormone as it can increase your heart rate, breathing and put a lot of exertion/stress on your heart. At that time, neurotransmitters in the brain can be disturbed because of the stress.”

Since the stress level in the Kashmiri population is already high, mental health experts warn, the cricket contests will only exacerbate their underlying psychological distress, like panic attacks.

“Post-match,” Dr. Yasir continued, “we see most of the patients, especially youngsters with chest heaviness, stress and other ailments.”

Another psychiatrist told Kashmir Observer that he at least saw 10 such patients during the recent T20 world cup.

“People relate a simple cricket match with a larger issue and thus become stressful and anxious,” he said. “This is not a good sign. People should take a cricket match as a game and enjoy it, rather than making it a matter of life and death.”

But the social media posts reveal how much people take a cricket match “on the heart”.

On 11 November 2021, a man from Central Kashmir’s Budgam reportedly died due to heart-attack after Pakistan lost to Australia in a tense semi-final of the T20 World Cup in Dubai.

But as the law-enforcement agencies have put embargo on the “green support” now, scholar Shameem Nazir cautions against sending any wrong message through social media or on the ground.

“People will imitate such message,” the Sociology scholar said. “Looking a cricket match through some other perspective needs to be discarded. Cricket should be treated as cricket.”

Even after beating the opposite side, the players console and encourage other players.

“That should be our approach,” said Dr. Majid. “The mature people should infuse the same sentiments into the kids. If you relate or connect it with any other thing, then the game becomes a problem and it will eat-up your mental health.”

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Auqib Javeed

Auqib Javeed is special correspondent with Kashmir Observer and tweets @AuqibJaveed

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