How to Vent More Healthfully

Home / Therapies & Treatments / How to Vent More Healthfully


How to Vent More Healthfully

friends, fighting, arguing, argue, complain, vent, venting, complainingDon’t you just hate it when … I mean, it’s just so … argh! We all have our ways of venting, and many experts agree that it can be helpful sometimes. But did you know there’s actually a healthy way to vent? Here’s the difference between just complaining and venting to find a solution.

Why Simply Complaining Doesn’t Work

The brain is already hardwired to look for threats and do what it can to avoid them. This built-in protection stems from our ancestors, who had to outrun saber-toothed tigers and not be trampled by wooly mammoths. We don’t have those threats, but feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or anxious prompts a lot of negative thoughts as a means to assess perceived “danger” and find a way out of it.

Unfortunately, scientists discovered that negative behaviors such as repeated complaining actually rewire your brain—and as a result, you’ll be more likely to do it in the future. This is because the brain has formed a connection between complaining and threat and will follow that path because it’s the easiest “way out.” This behavior might also damage the brain in the long run, resulting in cognitive difficulties.

Some studies indicate that constant complaining has an adverse effect on your mental, emotional, and physical health, too. Being around constant negativity causes spikes in cortisol, the stress hormone, for both the person complaining and the person listening. Elevated cortisol is a contributing factor to other health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, muscle tension, and sleeplessness. And even listening to someone else complain a lot can affect your ability to function.

Additionally, sometimes venting just makes some people experience more aggravation if they believe their feelings aren’t being validated—and they complain even more! This pattern of behavior is referred to by mental health professionals as “addictive venting.”

But what if you’re frustrated or unhappy or a little peeved? How can you process those emotions effectively? A short walk outside is always a good idea and, in many situations, so is knowing how to vent constructively.

First, Find a “Challenger Listener”

It’s helpful to have a responsive listener in your corner with whom you feel safe and can open up about your thoughts and feelings. What’s even more effective when you have an issue, you’re stewing over is to have a “challenger listener” — “someone who challenges the venter to reappraise and get to the root of the problem,” according to Kristin Behfar, a professor of strategic leadership and ethics at the United States Army War College.

In her workplace studies, she finds that people vent up to four times a day. So, choosing the right person to talk to about your issues matters, whether at work or in your personal life, because if it’s just someone supportive, you might get locked in an endless loop—remember, negativity breeds more negativity—and not resolve the issue, which will make you feel even worse.

Conversely, a challenger listener helps you break out of that loop by putting an end to the—dare we say it? —whining and focus on finding a solution. It might just be for the moment, but it’s a step in the right direction. Sure, at first you might not like the fact that this person isn’t just supporting your grievances 100 percent, but as you work together to resolve the issue, you’ll feel better in the long run.

Then, Learn to Vent Constructively

Practicing various methods for healthful venting helps you recognize that as a human being, circumstances are going to affect you in ways you don’t expect or like. But here’s what you can do about it:

  • Wellness company Thrive suggests labeling your feelings so you can truly understand what’s bothering you: “…instead of complaining, ‘I’m so mad,’ pinpoint the underlying emotions, such as ‘let down,’ ‘impatient,’ ‘betrayed,’ or ‘unappreciated,’” Once you understand what’s at the core, you’ll have a better chance at addressing it more clearly.
  • The Greater Good Science Center recommends seeking out someone for help in “reframing your experience by asking ‘How should I think about this differently?’ or ‘What should I do in this situation?’” This way, instead of simply unloading, you’re both dedicated to coming up with solutions.
  • Write it all out in a journal. This helps you tap into a stream of consciousness thought process, so you don’t mull over everything constantly. Then, list out some options for moving forward that can happen both in the short term and more permanently.
  • Try Pastor Will Bowen’s 21-Day No Complaining Challenge and track what you notice about yourself and the world around you.

Whole Person Wellness at Seabrook

Part of a successful daily recovery practice is recognizing when certain behaviors no longer serve you. More importantly, it also reinforces that you have the ability to incorporate new mental, emotional, and physical techniques for living well. If you’d like more help establishing long-term health, our team in New Jersey can help.