Most of us believe in the value of venting. “I just need to get it off my chest,” we say, or “I just need to blow off some steam.” By complaining, we believe that we won’t carry the negativity inside of us any more, because we let it out.

It makes so much sense! Except that it doesn’t work that way at all.

There are many ways we respond to negative emotions that give us temporary relief, but are bad for us (and sometimes those around us) in the long run: alcohol, drugs, and overeating, for example. Venting also falls into this category, and here are some reasons why.

 

 

1. Venting is bad for our brains.

Psychological experiments and studies over the decades have shown that complaining rewires our brains. It wears down a path of negativity, making it easier for our thoughts to travel in a negative direction in the future. (On the other hand, positive affirmations can keep us thinking clearly, even under stress.)

 

2. Venting keeps us focused on negativity longer.

Not too long ago, I saw someone on Facebook complaining about how irritated he’d been to be stuck in line behind a slow woman at the grocery store. I admit I was tempted to say to him that it was too bad she had cut into his online complaining time. 🙂

Seriously, by taking the time to write a post about it, he chose to prolong her negative impact on his life. If he’d been able to turn his thoughts to something else as soon as he got out to the parking lot, he would’ve been happier.

 

3. Venting draws others into our negativity.

Don’t get me wrong: when we’re facing a challenge, it makes sense to talk it over honestly with our friends and family. They can reassure us that we can handle it, and they can help us come up with strategies for doing so.

When we make a habit of venting your frustrations, however, we run the risk of bringing our friends and family down — and making conversations all about us rather than about them.

If we choose to post a rant on social media or an online forum, we may bring down a lot of people who are connected to us on the internet. Psychology professor Jeffrey Lohr memorably compares this to farting in an elevator. “I just want to vent.” Well, thanks a lot.

 

 

What We Can Try Instead

We’re all human, and we’re all going to complain and rant sometimes. But when we’re feeling angry or stressed, here are some alternate ways we can try responding to it.

Distraction

Watch or re-watch a funny movie or TV show. Read the first chapter of a new book. Our brains aren’t that good at following two storylines at once, so they’ll drop our personal “I am so mad/depressed/hurt/freaked out” storyline in order to follow another one for a while.

Gratitude

Even when things really, really suck, most of use have a lot of things to be grateful for. Maybe we’re cancer-free. Maybe we have electricity at our house. Or maybe we have as much fresh water as we want, without having to take more than a few dozen steps to get it.

Maybe some people we love very much are alive. Maybe our dogs or cats are alive.

When we think about some of the things we take for granted… and really think about how awful it would be not to have those things… our problems don’t seem quite as dire, after all.

Getting A Little Exercise

I know how irritating this advice is. I find it irritating myself, and I wish it weren’t true, but it is. A walk or a short workout lifts most people’s moods and burns off anger and resentment.

Asking for Support or Action

In the face of a societal problem, if we can suggest a way to help — even a small action that might be worth a try — it’s great to share that far and wide.

If we’re feeling down, we can be brief about the reason why, and ask people for reassurance. A lot of times, we vent in hopes that someone will offer encouragement in return. Why not be direct about it? It’s okay to ask for support, as long as we make a habit of supporting others as well. Which leads me to the last thing…

Saying Something Nice

Go leave a glowing review of a restaurant where you’ve always gotten good service. Or send someone a card just saying you’re thinking of them and hope they have a great day. It’s really hard to feel mad when you’re saying something nice, and hard to feel down about yourself when you’re putting someone else in a good mood.

 

What alternatives to venting work for you? Or do you believe in venting and think this is all nonsense? Let me know in the comments! Thanks so much for reading!