Venting feelings of frustration and anger may just make you feel worse
One way to cope with failure and stress is to vent. We have all seen it and probably have utilized that particular venue. Whether letting off steam to a friend or simply discharging the negative feelings out in public through snide remarks, cussing - or worse - venting is a commonplace way people choose to offload the unpleasant sensations of failure or anger.
Most of us probably believe that venting is relatively harmless, provided no property destruction or hurt feelings ensue in its wake. We have to do something with all that built-up tension, after all, and most of us would probably also attest that we feel better after an episode of venting. But just because we do may not be because of the venting itself. We associate feeling better after venting, but that may be due to the passage of time rather than the venting itself.
In fact, researchers now say that venting is not an effective strategy for coping with stress. Venting actually increases, not decreases the level of stress. Venting actually causes us to focus on the upsetting trigger instead of facilitating the passage of the feelings, which are transient anyway. Venting is akin to adding fuel to the pre-existing fire. Instead of letting it burn out naturally, we feed it.
The study included 149 Kent students with perfectionist traits. The participants completed daily diary reports for three to 14 days, noting the most bothersome failure they experienced each day, what strategies they used to cope with the failure and how satisfied they felt at the end of the day. Their coping strategies included using social support, self-distraction, denial, religion, venting, substance use, self-blame and withdrawing.
Surprisingly, using social support, denial, venting, withdrawing, and self-blame made students feel worse instead of better, the researchers determined. The more individuals used these strategies exclusively, the worse they felt. The study's focus on people who have a perfectionist personality was significant, because they are generally less satisfied than others with daily setbacks, and therefore less likely to use strategies that do work. For example, reframing, or seeing the positive in a situation, is one of the more effective ways of coping with stress but unlikely to be used by a perfectionist, for whom one flaw spoils the entire picture.
"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," said study author Dr. Joachim Stoeber, a psychologist at the University of Kent in England.
In our culture, our pop psychology wisdom dictates that sharing feelings helps to “purge” them, but it turns out that it does quite the opposite: “it keeps arousal levels high, aggressive thoughts active in memory, and angry feelings alive,” says Brad J. Bushman, who teaches at Ohio State University and has researched aggression and coping, but was not involved in this study.
"People say that venting feels good, but the good feeling doesn't last, and it only reinforces aggressive impulses," Bushman said.
Instead, positive reframing, humor and acceptance are coping strategies which have been found to help people cope with stress the most.
The paper will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Anxiety, Stress & Coping.