Is Venting Your Anger a Good Idea?

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Anger can be difficult and distressing emotion. To deal with it, many people feel that venting their anger is the best solution. Many people who have struggled with bouts of anger in the past have been encouraged to let it all out. However, some research suggests that venting anger may not be as healthy as once thought. 

This article discusses what it means to vent anger and why it may not be an effective way to manage this emotion. It also explores more effective ways to cope and when to seek the help of a professional.

What Does It Mean to Vent Anger?

Anger is a normal human emotion. While it can be controllable in most circumstances, sometimes it may build over time until people feel they have reached their breaking point. At other times, people might experience such intense bouts of anger that they feel compelled to lash out through yelling, self-harm, or other dangerous behaviors.

People who experience this kind of anger may have a hard time controlling it. They are often advised to manage their anger by venting or "letting off steam." Sometimes this takes the form of relatively benign behaviors. Examples include stomping feet, punching a pillow, throwing another soft object, or yelling in the shower.

While it might seem like letting out anger by directing it toward something harmless might be helpful, this approach may not be the best solution.

Does Venting Help Manage Anger?

The idea that letting off steam can help you manage your anger is not new. For many decades, mental health professionals thought this type of venting was essential to anger management. Healthcare providers described the release of intense emotions as catharsis.

However, more recent research suggests that venting anger in this way doesn't dissipate it. Instead, venting anger may make these feelings worse.

Even in its most harmless forms, letting off steam is not an effective way to control your anger. These supposedly harmless forms of venting have been shown to increase aggressive behavior later. It trains your body to use violence as a way to manage your emotions.

Acting out feelings of anger reinforces those neural pathways that are primed for anger. By strengthening these pathways, people are more likely to respond and act out with anger in the future.

Recap

Venting anger in the absence of appropriate feedback tends to be unhelpful. 

Effects of Venting Anger

Becoming physically aggressive in harmful ways could lead to serious consequences. In some cases, venting can escalate to the point where it causes physical harm to the self, others, or property. Even less destructive forms of venting anger can have consequences, including:

  • Greater feelings of stress and anxiety
  • Increased negative emotions and moods
  • Impaired interpersonal relationships
  • Problems at work, at home, or in social situations
  • Physical issues including sleep disruptions, muscle tension, headaches, and digestive problems

In addition to venting anger in the real world, venting emotions online has also gained popularity in recent years. People often post comments, posts, or other online content designed to air their frustrations and get feelings of anger off their chest. Unfortunately, this online emotional venting appears to be just as ineffective as offline. 

In a 2013 study, researchers found that while people felt temporarily more relaxed after posting their vented anger online, they were more likely to experience more anger and express those feelings in maladaptive ways. The study also found that reading and writing these online rants had a serious emotional impact. These online emotional grievances were associated with negative shifts in mood.

While you may temporarily feel better, the act of venting can lead you to have more difficulty with anger down the road.

Other research has shown that venting other emotions, such as anxiety, stress, or grief can also have adverse effects. Emotional venting, for example, has been shown to increase the risk of experiencing generalized anxiety disorder.

Recap

In the past, therapists have advised people to do things like punch a pillow, but we now know that this isn't always the best advice; it's an unsustainable solution with potentially negative consequences. Venting can increase feelings of anger and have negative effects on mood. In some cases, it can also lead to injury or legal consequences.

What to Do Instead

Rather than venting, there are more effective strategies you can use to cope with your frustrations. Some techniques that will allow you to manage your anger more productively include:

  • Take a break: Give yourself some time away from what angers you. Whether it's an ex-partner or a former friend, stepping outside or leaving a party early to avoid them can help prevent the rage from starting in the first place.
  • Exercise: Take a walk or hit the gym. That will allow you to expend energy without engaging in any harmful behaviors, and it can reduce stress too.
  • Write it down: Jot down how you're feeling in a journal or your personal blog. However, rather than simply ruminating over negative emotions, use this opportunity to think of positive steps you can take to solve the problem. Or try focusing on more positive emotions, such as feelings of gratitude rather than feelings of anger.

When to Talk to a Professional

If you are struggling to cope with feelings of anger or other strong emotions, consider talking to a healthcare provider or a mental health professional. A therapist can evaluate your symptoms and help you find ways to manage what you are feeling.

Periods of intense anger be a sign of a mental health condition such as borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, or intermittent explosive disorder.

If you are struggling to manage feelings of rage, your therapist might recommend some type of anger management therapy. Two options that might help:

Anger Management Classes

In some cases, a therapist might recommend anger management classes. These classes focus on helping people find ways to calm down and better regulate their emotions. These may take the form of an educational class, in person or online, but some are delivered in group therapy or individual therapy format.

Rather than venting anger, people may learn strategies such as how to:

  • Change their thoughts by reframing the situation
  • Use deep breathing
  • Practice progressive muscle relaxation

In addition to learning techniques that can be used to calm down quickly in the heat of the moment, people also learn about strategies to decrease feelings of anger, irritation, and frustration over the long term. For example, many people find regular physical activity, mindfulness, meditation, and yoga to be helpful. Developing an anger management plan can also be beneficial.

Recap

During anger management class, people learn more about how to identify signs of anger and recognize the situations that tend to trigger it. They also learn about healthier ways to respond.

A Word From Verywell

Finding healthy ways to manage your anger can help minimize the stress, frustration, and damage that intense emotions can cause. Rather than venting your anger, focus on finding productive and healthy ways to regulate your emotions in the moment.

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