Venting is something many of us do as soon as we shut down our computers at the end of the working day, put on our coats and step out of the office.
Whether it’s at the pub with colleagues or on a Friday night over a bottle of wine with friends, most of us let rip about the trials and tribulations of work - from nightmare bosses to increasing workloads.
It’s seen as cathartic, even good for our wellbeing, to vent about things that have bothered us about work. Many of us believe that a moan is good for the soul, and clears our minds of the stresses of the working day. But is this true?
At first glance, venting seems sensible. But research suggests that verbalising our anger and frustration doesn’t actually make it go away - instead, it makes us feel worse. In 2017, researchers asked 112 employees in a variety of businesses to keep diaries of their work days, recording negative events, as well as writing down their moods, how much they complained, and whether they'd exaggerated the seriousness of any negative incidents.
The research, published in the European Journal of Work and Organisation Psychology, showed a pattern - the more someone vented, the worse they felt their days had gone. Complaining about work also affected their mood, even on days when they hadn’t complained.
Although we might not want to admit it, venting can actually make us feel more angry or upset. In 2013, a study found that people who routinely visit and post on “rant” websites are more likely to develop anger-management issues. They pick fights more easily and received warnings about their behaviour - even though most people admitted that posting on the sites made them feel better.
“Reading and writing online rants are likely unhealthy practices, as those who do them often are angrier and have more maladaptive expression styles than others,” the study authors wrote. “Likewise, reading and writing online rants are associated with negative shifts in mood for the vast majority of people.”
Ranting after work might feel good at the time, but it actually means we’re spending more time thinking about whatever has irritated us during the day. Rather than letting things go, we ruminate, stew and obsess over them. Even though the working day is over, our minds are still at work - and whatever bothered us at lunchtime is still affecting us at 9pm.
It’s important to be able to share your thoughts and feelings with your friends and family, and to be able to talk about something that is upsetting you. But when you’re letting off steam about something, it’s also important to consider the feelings of who you’re venting to.
It won’t come as a surprise to many that bad moods can be contagious. If you’re ever been on the receiving end of a rant, you may have ended up feeling irritable too.
In 2002, a study published in the journal Child Development examined teenage boys and girls at school, tracking their friendships through questionnaires. The results showed that friends who spent time extensively talking about negative feelings reported more destructive thought patterns - and even depression.
What’s more, though, is that the study showed partners were also adversely affected, and often experienced depressive symptoms too.
That being said, co-rumination is also crucial when it comes to building and maintaining close relationships. Our friendships are often based on our ability to talk freely with one another, to discuss challenges, difficulties and problems, as well as positive aspects of life.
Rather than keeping quiet about something that has upset us, we need to think more about the way we are talking to one another. And it’s also important to recognise the difference between venting - getting something off your chest - and complaining, when you’re ultimately seeking to change something.
Experts suggest other coping mechanisms to help dissipate anger, such as going for a walk, doing exercise or taking some deep breaths. Venting can be unavoidable though - and it can sometimes, albeit temporarily, feel good to let rip about something irritating.
But to avoid the negative impact of having a rant, it might be better to keep it to a minimum. If you’re in the pub with your friends after work, for example, maybe set yourself a few minutes to vent freely before moving on.