How Venting Can Backfire And Make You Feel Worse

Love bitching it out to your girlfriends? According to our resident psychiatrist, a more positive spin is better in the long run.

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(Image credit: Klaus Vedfelt)

While venting might feel good in the moment, doing it over and over again without any resolution or forward progress can make you feel worse. Excessively complaining and rehashing personal problems with someone else is known as co-rumination, and research shows it can increase stress, especially in those who are already feeling down.

A patient who had a difficult relationship with her mother-in-law would spend hours going over the latest incident or insult with her best friend, speculating about what the monster-in-law might do next. It was their go-to conversation—or, as my patient called it, their weekly “bitchfest.” Afterward, she realized, she often felt even angrier and more frustrated.

The problem with venting is that it amplifies negativity. The more you think or talk about an issue, the more salient it becomes. It’s adding fuel to the fire. Next time you feel like doing so, try focusing on problem-solving or talking about something else entirely. Also, keep an eye on the clock. If you spend more than 15 minutes on the problem, it’s time to move on. Discourage venting from others as well. If your best friend calls you to talk about something that is bothering her, resist joining in and asking questions that encourage her to recount every little detail. “Start from the beginning and tell me everything!” will only lead to a play-by-play of what happened and what she was feeling. It encourages rumination. Consider asking a question that might enable her to gain distance from the situation and insight, such as: “If someone else were in this situation, what advice would you give her?” Rather than dwelling on the details, help her generate a plan of action.

A version of this article originally appeared in the February 2019 issue of Marie Claire.