Surprise! Venting Is Bad for Us


A story in tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal (yes, that’s right; you can read the next day’s Journal late in the evening on the night before) is titled, ‘Don’t Hit Send: Angry Emails Just Make You Angrier’,written by Elizabeth Bernstein..

The basic point of the article is that venting is bad for us, but most of us do not know that, and thus do not act accordingly.

Berstein notes that venting has an ancient history. Aristotle believed in catharsis—the purging of emotions. More recently, Sigmund Freud believed that if someone holds anger inside without letting it out, it will build to dangerous levels, much the way steam in a pressure cooker will build if it is not vented.

Brad Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University in Columbus, says most people still believe this to be true, even though there is no scientific research to support it.

Dr. Bushman notes that “just because something makes you feel better doesn’t mean it’s healthy.” He has conducted multiple studies that show that venting anger or frustration isn’t beneficial.

The problems of venting are magnified today with the easy access we have to online and social media communication tools.

Since many of us have ready access to a phone with such tools, we are able to “e-vent” almost immediately, before we’ve had a chance to calm down about someone or something that bothered us. We think “e-venting” is private but a rant posted on the Internet is just a click away from being shared. When it is done in private we are also unable to get immediate feedback from the recipient, thus potentially causing us to keep venting beyond an acceptable level.

So what do do instead to avoid e-venting (or venting in general) ? Here are some recommendations from Dr. Bushman:

  • delay our response by counting to 10 or 100
  • taking deep breaths
  • listen to calming music
  • turn off your computer or phone until your anger has subsided
  • read a nonviolent book
  • work on a crossword puzzle
  • take a walk
  • kiss your sweetheart
  • help someone in need
  • pet a puppy
  • eat something healthy

I must admit that I have always thought that venting was supposed to be good for you, even though I rarely engaged in it myself. As a result I often thought that I was creating problems for myself further down the road by not venting my problems or concerns. But apparently not venting seems to be the right approach after all.

Talk about dumb luck…

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