Think It’s Helpful to Vent?  Think Again.

Think It’s Helpful to Vent? Think Again.

Venting.  We all do it.  You know what I’m talking about.  You’re frustrated, irritated, and annoyed.  Your speech quickens, your volume increases, and you just get on a roll.  And if you’re anything like me, you wave your arms around wildly, stopping every three seconds to say, “Seriously?!?!”  (And yes, all that punctation is apparent in my venting.)  We’ve all been there.  We’re at our limit, and we’re word vomit venting all about it.



I hear a lot of people mention how helpful it is for them to vent, to talk about it, and to get it out.  Well, I hate to burst your venting bubble, but guess what?  Research says that venting isn’t all that helpful.  In fact, it can be quite harmful.

So what’s up with this finding?  You thought it was helpful to express yourself, right?  Well, venting is a specific kind of expressing yourself, one that typically causes us to focus on the negatives.  We get worked up and spend an enormous amount of time, energy, and emotion speaking our frustration.  With each and every word, exasperated sigh, and waving gesture, we relive the very thing that we’re venting about.  We give this frustrating, irritating, slightly annoying thing even more air time in our lives than it’s already taken up, and before you know it, we’re completely wrapped in it.


A couple weeks ago, I called my parents on the way home from work, and my dad answered, thoughtfully asking how my day was.  (The poor guy didn’t know what he was in for.)  For the next fifteen minutes, I proceeded to rant and rave about how annoying a specific somebody’s actions were and how I couldn’t possibly understand their train of thought.  I mean, “seriously?!?!”  My voice got louder, my sighs became more frequent, and I struggled to come up for air.  After 15 minutes of venting, do you want to know how I felt?  Frustrated, irritated, confused, and worked up, exactly the same as before, and probably, a little worse.  (Props to my sweet dad for listening and offering gentle support.)


Venting absorbs an enormous amount of time and energy, keeping us stuck in a difficult place.  And if you’re thinking a quick vent on Facebook or Twitter will help reduce your frustration?  Nope, not so.  This social media spill has the same impact as an in person rant, sometimes, even more so.


So if venting isn’t the answer, what is?  That’s a good question.  Here are a few ideas.


Take a breath.  Or a of couple breaths for that matter.  Calm down, and gather your thoughts.


Ask yourself, “do I really want to spend more time on this?”  Last week, when I came home from work, Matt, my husband, asked how my day was.  I opened my mouth, got three words into a vent, and then realized, I didn’t want to spend more time on the issue I was about to vent.  It wasn’t that important.


Dig beneath the anger and express what you’re feeling.  Remember that post about anger as a secondary emotion?  Identify what you’re really feeling, and express that in a calm and proportional manner.


Time it.  If you absolutely feel like you have to vent, (and please hear me strongly cautioning against it), set a timer for two minutes or less.  (Literally, set a timer on your phone, watch, or microwave, and when the time runs out, stop venting.)  It’ll be hard, but put a period on the end of that sentence and call it a wrap.


So next time you go to vent, think twice.  It’s more harmful than you think.


    1. Dr. Allison

      Jen, thanks for your thoughtful comment! I’m totally a fan of discussing it with someone. (I’m in the wrong profession if I think discussing our experience isn’t helpful lol.) But I think there’s a huge difference between DISCUSSING/PROCESSING and venting. Often venting is a sort of thoughtless rant that prompts us to relive the stressor, whereas talking through it calmly and intentionally can help us understand the experience and our reaction better. I hope that makes sense; let me know your thoughts! I’m so happy to have you here at Dr. Allison Answers! 🙂

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