Let me start with a sweeping statement. Everybody gets angry and some people might tell you that letting it out is important rather than bottling it in. Whether it’s to a coworker about your boss’s obnoxious request, to a friend about your boyfriend’s infuriating blunder, or to your brother about your mom’s invasive phone call — can seems like a good idea in the moment. Let it all out, and you’ll let it all go, right? Not so much. Studies show that venting doesn’t release anger; it just exacerbates it.
A number of studies have looked at the effects of venting anger. And whether you’re just generally blowing off steam, venting at work, or ranting online, studies have shown that it never makes you feel better. According to a 2007 study that reviewed nearly five decades of anger-expression research, there is no scientific support for any benefits of venting.
“The concept of ‘venting’ is a commonly accepted means by which the negative consequences of anger can be ameliorated,” the study authors write. “Psychological research has shown virtually no support for the beneficial effects of venting, and instead suggests that venting increases the likelihood of anger expression and its negative consequences.” Expressing anger doesn’t get the rage out, studies show, but just reminds you of your rage and gets you all riled up again. As Jeffrey Lohr, who published the 2007 study, explained to Science of Us, venting might “preserve rather than reduce hostile feelings.” Also, according to the research, people who vent a lot get angry more often.
A 2013 study, which looked at those who like to vent online or send angry tweets to release their frustrations, had similar findings. People who read or write online rants are angrier or more unhappy after doing so. “Reading and writing online rants are likely unhealthy practices, as those who do them often are angrier and have more maladaptive expression styles than others,” the study authors write. “Likewise, reading and writing online rants are associated with negative shifts in mood for the vast majority of people.”
And a study published in 2017 found that those who complained about annoyances at work, rather than being good sports about them, were more affected by those annoyances. “When sportsmanship was low, worse negative events took a greater toll on participants – they not only reported lower momentary mood and less satisfaction and pride with the work they’d been doing that same day, but they also tended to experience lower mood the next morning,” the study authors write. “But when sportsmanship was high – meaning that participants hadn’t complained, escalated minor issues, or stewed over things too much – bad events, even if rated as severe, didn’t impact mood or work engagement, that day or the next.”
So when your boss drives you to start punching walls, what should you do? You don’t need to bottle it up, necessarily. Experts suggest practical coping mechanisms like counting to ten, going for a walk, or taking some deep breaths. Or address the problem in a cooperative, rather than hostile, fashion. So cool and chill.