Health

Here's What Venting Does to Your Sanity

July 15th 2015

By:
Laura Donovan

I've always assumed it's better to get something off my chest than internalize my woes, but according to psychologist Jeffrey M. Lohr, that could actually be worse.

In a piece for NYMag.com's the Science of Us, Melissa Dahl divulges her tendency to go on Google Chat (G-Chat) diatribes when things aren't going in her favor. Ranting, of course, isn't just limiting to G-Chat conversations. I sent out plenty of rambling text messages to my boyfriend, best childhood friend, and mom when something is particularly bothersome, and while that may feel freeing in the moment, the long-term effects could be bad for your sanity.

"[It] just doesn’t work the way people think it does," Lohr told Dahl in an interview.

Eight years ago, Lohr and a few other researchers published findings that looked at decades of studies on the impact of venting.

"The concept of 'venting' is a commonly accepted means by which the negative consequences of anger can be ameliorated," the paper reads. "The concept has been incorporated into both self-help and psychological intervention procedures. Psychological research has shown virtually no support for the beneficial effects of venting, and instead suggests that venting increases the likelihood of anger expression and its negative consequences."

Brad Bushman, who co-authored the research, told NYMag.com that many love to complain and often find themselves lashing out when angry rather than doing something productive, healthy, or fun.

“Instead, people want to scream, shout, swear, hit, and kick,” he said.

Is venting more harmful for certain personality types?

In a 2011 interview, Bushman discussed a newer study on the impact of venting on perfectionists and said that venting is not the ideal approach to day-to-day travails no matter what personality type you have.

"Venting is not an effective strategy for anyone trying to cope with daily stress, whether they have perfectionistic tendencies or not," he said to MyHealthNewsDaily. "Research clearly shows that venting increases rather than decreases stress ... People say that venting feels good, but the good feeling doesn't last, and it only reinforces aggressive impulses."

Dr. Joachim Stoeber, who conducted the 2011 study on venting, said venting can compound the problem at hand and set a person back.

"[I]t is more helpful to try to accept what happened, look for positive aspects and—if it is a small thing—have a laugh about it," Dr. Stoeber said.

The research seemed to suggest it's best to look on the bright side of an unfortunate situation rather than stew in self-pity and rage.

"The finding that positive reframing was helpful for students high in perfectionistic concerns is particularly important because it suggests that even people high in perfectionistic concerns, who have a tendency to be dissatisfied no matter what they achieve, are able to experience high levels of satisfaction if they use positive reframing coping when dealing with perceived failures," Dr. Stoeber said.

Venting in a meaningful and healthy way

While many of us find out go-to venting buddies at work, it's not always the best idea to constantly dump your stresses on a colleague. If you're both unhappy with certain aspects of the job, the excess venting could make you even more frustrated. You also want to be careful about who you trust in the professional setting. In a previous role, I vented to the wrong person about a rude colleague one too many times and ended up losing my job.

Even if venting wasn't the cause for my demise at that company, none of that smack talk made me more functional or competent in that role.

Overtime, I've learned that airing my grievances in a journal helps a lot more than giving my friends and family an earful for the millionth time. They've got their own issues to deal with and don't need to hear about mine all the time. In my own personal notebook, I can say whatever I want and not ruin someone else's day with my negativity.