Having a rough day? As initially satisfying as it might seem to fire off an angry text, or, better yet, hammer out a stream-of-consciousness rant to your best friend in Gchat , science says neither tactic is the best way to cope. Rather than help you move on from a given issue, venting—via any medium—merely ensures your anger will linger.
Jeffrey M. Lohr, a psychologist at the University of Arkansas, has studied the efficacy of venting when it comes to letting go of negative emotions. In 2007, Lohr published a paper in The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, assessing past studies about how angry rants impact us.
In one of the studies Lohr reviewed, which was conducted by a University of Missouri researcher in 1969, students were forced to sit through a convoluted lecture about how to construct an origami sailboat. Midway through the lesson, half of the students were given the chance to review the instructor’s performance using evaluation forms, while the other half stayed where they were. Everyone, including those who had already filled out a form, was asked to review their teacher at the end of the lesson. When the evaluations were collected, the researchers observed that those who were encouraged to let their frustrations out the first time around were much harsher in the subsequent review than those who hadn't yet filled out a form. The former group also copped to feeling hostile towards the ineffective instructor—leading Lohr and his colleagues to conclude that “expressing … anger seemed to preserve rather than reduce the hostile feelings.”
Of course, resisting the urge to rant (and rant … and rant) is difficult. Especially because, as Ohio State University psychology professor Brad Bushman has demonstrated through his research, people genuinely believe that complaining freely will help them feel better. While it’s never healthy to bottle up negative emotions, to truly move forward, you need to focus on potential solutions to your problem, rather than dwell on the problem itself. “The meaningful part is to say, ‘Okay, now I got that off my chest—what am I going to do about it?’” Bohr tells the Science of Us.
So the next time your boss, or your mom, or your significant other does something to anger you, try to use your Gchat box for something positive (like discussing what you can do to move on). Or just focus on the /ponystream.
[h/t Science of Us]