Venting has an ancient history. Aristotle believed in catharsis—the purging of emotions. More recently, Sigmund Freud talked about the hydraulic model, saying that if someone holds anger inside without letting it out, it will build to dangerous levels, much the way steam in a pressure cooker will build if it is not vented. Dr. Bushman says most people still believe this to be true, even though there is no scientific research to support it. ...
Dr. Bushman has conducted multiple studies that show that venting anger or frustration isn’t beneficial. In one study, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin in 2002, he asked 600 college students to write an essay on abortion. He matched each student with a “partner”—in reality a researcher—who purported to have the opposite view and rated the student’s essay negatively on organization, writing style and originality.
Dr. Bushman then divided the students into three groups: The “rumination” group was instructed to hit a punching bag while thinking about the person who graded their essay. The “distraction” group was told to hit the punching bag while thinking about becoming physically fit. And the control group did nothing. Then each student reported his or her mood, choosing from angry adjectives such as “mean,” “hostile” and “irritated” and feel-good adjectives such as “calm,” “happy” and “relaxed.”
The students in the rumination group were the most angry and most aggressive, while those in the control group, who did nothing to vent, were the least angry or aggressive, the study found. ...
If venting just makes us madder and meaner, what should we do instead? Dr. Bushman recommends addressing both the physiological and cognitive components of our anger.
To calm our body down, we should delay our response, counting to 10 or, as Thomas Jeffersonis said to have suggested, 100. Dr. Bushman also recommends trying to relax by taking deep breaths or listening to calming music.
Turn off your computer or phone until your anger has subsided. You might even consider blocking a person’s phone number temporarily, so that you won’t be tempted to text or email.
To quiet your mind, Dr. Bushman suggests distractions such as reading a nonviolent book, working on a crossword puzzle, taking a walk.
Do something that is incompatible with anger or aggression: Kiss your sweetheart, help someone in need, pet a puppy.
Try to distance yourself from the incident that upset you. Observe the situation as if you are an outsider.
Eat something healthy. “People who are hungry are cranky,” Dr. Bushman says.
--Elizabeth Bernstein, WSJ, on the virtues of following Philippians 2:14