Venting: Is it Helpful or Harmful?

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Getting "it" off your chest can feel really good.

Discussing your frustrations with a friend, family member, or coworker enables you to express your emotions and helps you feel closer to those with whom you share your feelings. But, venting alone can be counterproductive — fueling anger, resentment, and assumptions of entitlement.

"Be mindful of venting too often."

"Prolonged or repeated venting can become unproductive," says Firdaus S. Dhabhar, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine's Department of Psychiatry, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. "When your venting becomes chronic and you keep venting to one person after another, it can increase rather than decrease your chronic stress." 

Discussing your problems with someone you trust isn't a bad thing, "as long as it's not done for too long or too often," Dr. Dhabhar says. Rehashing the same problem again and again probably won't make you feel better nor lead you to a solution.

How to vent effectively

"Venting may reduce your stress, anger, confusion, or frustration. That can be beneficial," he says. "Venting that heightens these emotions is not."

Amid your verbal rampage, take a breath. Ask yourself if you are paying attention to the other person.

"Be open to questions from the person who is listening. Those who care for you may want to understand your situation better," Dr. Dhabhar says. "Be open to feedback in case they have something to suggest. Feedback from someone who cares about you and has listened to you carefully can be very helpful."

ventingWho's the right person to confide in?

If you get frustrated at work, you may be tempted to dump on the nearest coworker. But that person may not be invested in you, your satisfaction with your job, or your emotional wellbeing. While your colleagues may share your work-related concerns, they may not have the time — or mental bandwidth — to discuss them with you.

"Find someone to talk to who truly cares about you and is a patient and empathetic person," says Dr. Dhabhar. "However, be mindful not to overburden such folks who show patience, kindness, and empathy. Their naturally helpful nature can make them attractive 'go-to' people for many who need to vent."

Be intentional when sharing your everyday frustrations with your romantic partner. It's easy to come home and launch into stories about your day that quickly devolve into longwinded venting sessions. Avoid making your partner a sounding board for everything that irks you, as that can shift the dynamic of your relationship into a negative headspace. The next thing you know, you and your partner could be complaining rather than bringing out the best in each other.

Partners need to support each other during hard times. Finding the right time to have a meaningful heart-to-heart conversation about something can be more productive.

Try to limit your unloading sessions to moments when your confidante can actively listen. Speak with them on their terms, and be considerate of their time and attention. Approach it as a back-and-forth, inclusive conversation, not a one-way lecture. When they need someone to open up to, make yourself available to return the favor.

If you don't have someone like this in your life, consider speaking to a therapist or counselor. A professional can dedicate time to you and may have more effective feedback to offer.

Venting isn't helping. What else can I do?

"Think of things you have to be grateful for," Dr. Dhabhar says. "When we take a step back, look at the big picture, and think about all the things that we have to be thankful for, we realize that most (though not all) situations that are stressful or upsetting are not worth it. And they're certainly not worth stressing about chronically or repeatedly."

Distract yourself from the source of your frustration. Spend time with people you have meaningful connections with and focus on positive things. Allow those negative feelings to subside while you talk and laugh about other items you have in common.

Dr. Dhabhar also recommends channeling your energy into productive, healthy activities like exercise, spending time in nature, working on your hobbies, listening to music, meditating, or sleeping. You may wake up to a new perspective on, or solution to, whatever was bothering you.


Dana Kantrowitz is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.


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