Although the urge to let off steam when we’re stressed may be universal, it’s not always clear whether doing so actually helps our stress levels or feeds them instead. But, thanks to a series of three studies, we have some new insights on venting.
The main takeaway? Venting may feel cathartic at the moment, but it also risks worsening your mood and spreading it to others — though there is a silver lining that venting constructively can help you move past the negativity instead of getting swept up in the heat of the moment. To vent constructively without increasing your stress levels, consider the following 3 tips.
First, share your frustrations with a challenger-listener. When you’re upset, you’re inclined to turn to a friend who will empathize and affirm that the pain you’re feeling is valid. But this reactive dynamic isn’t very conducive to working through the problem. To keep the conversation productive, engage with a challenger-listener, someone who will gently nudge you out of your own head and self-serving logic to help you see the situation more objectively. In other words, someone who helps you get to the root of the problem.
Secondly, label your feelings. Break down the broad, sweeping emotions you feel into smaller, more specific ones. Research shows anger is a wide cluster of feelings. If you get down to the specifics of that anger, such as I feel “unappreciated” or “betrayed”, it can help you solve the actual problem at hand.
Last tip: Have a solution at the ready. No one likes being on the receiving end of someone who’s wallowing in their own self-pity, so to avoid this perception, pair your complaint with a tangible action you plan on taking. If you can, come prepared with a solution for every complaint, just as you would with your boss, to show your colleague that you’re thinking proactively and aren’t just complaining for the sake of complaining.