Venting About Your Anger Could Instead Make the Emotion Worse

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Of all our emotions, anger can be the most difficult to control. It can cause us to do all sorts of things that we regret, like saying something terrible to someone we love or sending a nasty email to a colleague. And in some cases, it can make people do things that change the course of their lives. Road rage is a great example. According to AAA, road rage incidents have increased by 7 percent annually since 1996. 

Anger, in general, seems to be on the upswing. Social media may be playing a role in increasing rage, according to an August 2021 study published in Science Advances. Rising temperatures due to global climate change may also play a role. But whatever the reason, Americans are more pissed off than ever before. And it seems a lesson in anger management is in order, especially considering that many of us might be handling the problem all wrong. 

A review published this month in the journal Clinical Psychology Review found that venting anger may actually make the problem much worse because it serves to rev us up rather than calm us down.

Does Venting Actually Help?

Venting means expressing anger in any number of ways, such as through physical activities like running or anything you think might get the arousal out of your body. It might also mean talking bad about someone, screaming into a pillow, or smashing objects, says lead study author Sophie Kjaervik, a postdoctoral fellow at the Injury and Violence Prevention Program at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. 

Kjaervik did a meta-analysis of 154 articles on the subject of anger and found that venting anger actually made it worse. For the study, researchers looked at all activities related to increasing or decreasing arousal in moments of anger. 

“Combining venting with anger makes it worse because you become even more aroused,” says Kjaervik. Instead, when you’re angry, you want to cool down your arousal levels so that you can simultaneously cool down your anger, an emotion that makes us want to fight or be violent. 

Read More: Toxic Positivity Can Leave Negative Emotions Unaddressed and Impact Your Wellbeing

How to Calm Down When Angry

According to Paul Losoff, a psychologist who specializes in anger management in Northfield, Illinois, who was not involved in the study, angry moments aren’t times to make decisions, send emails, or make calls. In all cases, you might end up doing something that you wish you hadn’t. You can’t take back a nasty email, or words said in a frenzy, so it’s best not to have said them at all. 

“Although it’s extremely hard to reign in anger after it’s bubbled to the surface, there are a few tricks that may help in the moment,” says Lossoff. He says that deep breathing, yoga, taking a walk, or “taking a time out” can all help. 

Activities that reduce arousal are all good options. Still, in the moment when someone tells you to relax, it might make you want to do the opposite. It’s not easy to calm down on command. The best advice, says Kjaervik, is to step away and try and count to 10 or even 100, whatever time it takes for you to extract yourself from the situation. 

Read More: Why Are Emotions Contagious?

How to Deal with Road Rage

In a moment of road rage, try to remove yourself from thinking about being late or the person who’s driving too slow in front of you. Instead, be in the moment, take some deep breaths, and try to be present for the situation that you’re in. 

Being aggressive in traffic will not make you get to work any faster, and if you get in an accident, you’ll be a whole lot later or much worse. Having a mindfulness app on your phone can also help in a pinch so that you have someone to guide you through moments of brewing anger.

When you’re angry, it’s all about stepping away from the situation and doing everything you can not to get swept up in it. Anger is one of the most powerful emotions we feel, and it can cause us to make a lot of mistakes.

Read More: The Science Behind Why We Get Hangry

Article Sources

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Sara Novak is a science journalist based in South Carolina. In addition to writing for Discover, her work appears in Scientific American, Popular Science, New Scientist, Sierra Magazine, Astronomy Magazine, and many more. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from the Grady School of Journalism at the University of Georgia. She’s also a candidate for a master’s degree in science writing from Johns Hopkins University, (expected graduation 2023). Find her on socials @sarafnovak.

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