Think of your head like a balloon. When frustrating things happen, you get angry and this balloon fills with hot air. Allow this balloon to keep inflating unchecked, and eventually it will pop. The idea of venting is that, every so often, you need to “blow off some steam.” Let out a little hot air by expressing your anger, and your head won’t explode.
But in reality, venting doesn’t work like this.
Emotionally replaying or retelling anger-inducing circumstances creates more anger. When you vent, you’re not letting off steam–you’re gathering even more steam. Venting tells your body to dump more cortisol (the fight or flight hormone, aka the “stress hormone”) into your system so that it can run from a tiger. Thing is, you’re not running from a tiger. You’re complaining about Bob from accounting.
If venting doesn’t work, why does it feel so good? You vent to your spouse, a colleague, a family member–someone you trust to be supportive. When you vent to this person, he will take your side, reinforce your interpretation of the situation. He will reflect back your strong feelings of being “right” where someone else is “wrong.” Of course this feels good. But whether or not you’re “in the right” isn’t the point. The point is venting is toxic to your body. It’s like you’re trying to punish the person that slipped you some poison by drinking more poison.
So what does work when you’re trying to overcome a stubborn challenge?
Concrete problem solving.
Don’t dwell on the problem–make a plan to address the problem. Big difference. You don’t have to resolve everything all at once, just decide on your next specific steps. A problem solving session has a beginning, middle and end. Worrying, blaming and resenting just go on and on.
Focusing on something positive.
Once you’ve identified the problem, generated possible solutions and decided on your next concrete steps, drop it like a hot potato. Remind yourself of all the things in your life that are going well. Remember similar challenges in the past that you successfully navigated. Rather than fixating on someone else’s imperfections, redirect your focus to your own positive qualities.
About the Author: James Robbins is a licensed professional counselor, published author and co-owner of Dallas Whole Life Counseling. He has over 15 years of experience helping people in various life stages that come from a wide variety of cultural, economic and family backgrounds. Learn more about his background by clicking here.