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Angry? Venting to Others Probably Won't Help You
  • Posted March 19, 2024

Angry? Venting to Others Probably Won't Help You

Grumbling and grousing to others isn't an effective way of reducing rage, a new review shows.

Folks who vent about a source of anger might feel better in the moment, but that won't diminish their ire, researchers found.

Instead, stress-reducing techniques like deep breathing, mindfulness, meditation and yoga are much more effective alternatives than griping, results show.

“I think it's really important to bust the myth that if you're angry you should blow off steam -- get it off your chest,” said senior researcher Brad Bushman, a professor of communication at Ohio State University. “Venting anger might sound like a good idea, but there's not a shred of scientific evidence to support catharsis theory.”

For this analysis, researchers reviewed over 150 studies involving more than 10,000 participants.

They discovered that turning down the heat through stress-relieving activities is better at reducing anger because it lowers a person's fight-or-flight response.

On the other hand, venting about anger actually increased a person's agitation, as did physical activities like jogging.

“To reduce anger, it is better to engage in activities that decrease arousal levels,” Bushman said in a university news release. “Despite what popular wisdom may suggest, even going for a run is not an effective strategy because it increases arousal levels and ends up being counterproductive.”

Lead researcher Sophie Kjaervik, a postdoctoral fellow at Virginia Commonwealth University, said the study was inspired by the rising popularity of “rage rooms.”

In these venues, people are encouraged to smash items like glass, plates and electronics to work through their anger, Kjaervik said.

“I wanted to debunk the whole theory of expressing anger as a way of coping with it,” Kjaervik said. “We wanted to show that reducing arousal, and actually the physiological aspect of it, is really important.”

For the review, the research team focused on how a person's physical arousal might influence their anger.

They compared arousal-increasing activities like punching a bag, jogging, cycling and swimming against arousal-decreasing activities like deep breathing and meditation.

The findings, published March 11 in the journal Clinical Psychology Review, showed that arousal-decreasing activities were effective at managing anger in both lab experiments and real-world settings, and among varying groups of people.

By contrast, activities that increase arousal generally did nothing to control anger.

However, it wasn't always clear-cut which physical activities increase arousal, researchers noted.

Jogging was most likely to increase anger, but playing ball sports or taking part in a physical education class tended to decrease arousal.

That suggests, researchers said, that introducing an element of play into physical activity might increase positive emotions or counteract negative feelings.

“Certain physical activities that increase arousal may be good for your heart, but they're definitely not the best way to reduce anger,” Bushman said. “It's really a battle because angry people want to vent, but our research shows that any good feeling we get from venting actually reinforces aggression.”

More information

The American Psychological Association has more about anger management.

SOURCE: Ohio State University, news release, March 18, 2024 

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