When encountering stressful events in daily life, venting to a friend about them may not always be helpful, a new study concludes.
The results showed that when people with some traits of perfectionism faced daily setbacks, venting to a friend often made them feel less satisfied about their circumstances than before they talked about it.
"Venting is not an effective strategy for anyone trying to cope with daily stress, whether they have perfectionistic tendencies or not," said social psychologist Brad J. Bushman, who teaches at Ohio State University and has researched aggression and coping, but was not involved in this study. "Research clearly shows that venting increases rather than decreases stress."
The study found, instead, three other strategies that were effective coping strategies for people dealing with setbacks: acceptance, humor and positive reframing, which means looking for something good in the otherwise stressful event.
"It's no use ruminating about small failures and setbacks and [dragging] yourself further down," said study author Dr. Joachim Stoeber, a psychologist at the University of Kent in England. "Instead, it is more helpful to try to accept what happened, look for positive aspects and — if it is a small thing —have a laugh about it."
Focus on perfectionism
The study included 149 Kent students with perfectionist traits. The participants completed daily diary reports for three to 14 days, noting the most bothersome failure they experienced each day, what strategies they used to cope with the failure and how satisfied they felt at the end of the day. Their coping strategies included using social support, self-distraction, denial, religion, venting, substance use, self-blame and withdrawing.
Of these, using social support, denial, venting, withdrawing, and self-blame made students feel worse instead of better, the researchers determined. The more the students used these strategies to cope, the less satisfied they felt at the end of the day.
In contrast, the more students used positive reframing, acceptance and humor, the better they felt at the end of the day, the study found.
Stoeber noted that the study's focus on people who have a perfectionist personality was significant, because they are generally less satisfied than others with daily setbacks.
"The finding that positive reframing was helpful for students high in perfectionistic concerns is particularly important because it suggests that even people high in perfectionistic concerns, who have a tendency to be dissatisfied no matter what they achieve, are able to experience high levels of satisfaction if they use positive reframing coping when dealing with perceived failures," he said.
The paper will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Anxiety, Stress & Coping.
Stoking the fire
The fact that venting is an unsuccessful way to cope with failure may seem counterintuitive to those who have been taught to share their negative feelings to try to "purge" them. But it actually creates more stress "because it keeps arousal levels high, aggressive thoughts active in memory, and angry feelings alive," Bushman said.
"People say that venting feels good, but the good feeling doesn't last, and it only reinforces aggressive impulses," Bushman told MyHealthNewsDaily.
He said that anger often precedes aggression, and venting is behaving aggressively (against people or inanimate objects). The reasons why we vent may simply be tied to evolutionary causes of aggression in humans.
Stoeber said that a helpful recommendation for anyone trying to cope with daily setbacks would be to try to find positive aspects and think of what happened in a more positive way; for example, by focusing on what has been achieved, rather than on what has not been achieved.
Pass it on: Venting to a friend may actually make you feel worse about a failure or setback.