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Does Venting Release Stress?

Are you better off expressing your anger or keeping it in? Popular psychological wisdom suggests that when you’re feeling angry, you should get it all out, releasing that pent-up hostility. Punch that pillow, wallop that punching bag, smash those dishes. You’ll feel better afterward. Right?

Maybe not. As author Carol Tavris comments in her important book, Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion, “Expressing anger makes you angrier, solidifies an angry attitude, and establishes a hostile habit.” Recent clinical studies have shown that emotional catharsis (the active expression of anger and hostility by physically releasing anger) can work against you.

Researchers found that when people acted out their anger in this way (hitting or punching something), they felt more aggressive afterward, not less aggressive. Worse, by giving people permission not to control their feelings, the people experienced more episodes of aggressive behavior in general. Does this mean you shouldn’t express your anger? No. It just means you may need to find better ways of doing it.

Does yelling dispel anger?

Yelling doesn’t appear to help reduce your anger. Screaming “You’re a stupid jerk and I hope you rot in hell!” to someone who has just done you wrong clearly has a lot of emotional appeal. And it may even feel pretty good in the short run.

However, it may not be the best thing for your health and overall stress level. When you yell, your body becomes stressed. Your heart rate increases. Raising your voice, and certainly yelling, can lead to an increase in blood pressure, as well.

In some individuals — Type-A personality types, for example — the increase in blood-pressure levels may be even greater. Yelling can have psychological effects, as well. In one study of 535 women, yelling, screaming, and lashing out resulted in greater feelings of low self-esteem.

Because in most cases the yelling did little to resolve the problem, the women felt — and were seen — as being out of control rather than taking charge and acting competently. You can be sure that yelling — and feeling out of control or incompetent — doesn’t elevate your sense of self-worth.

Should you suppress your anger?

Anger can be destructive when it steeps and simmers within you. Keeping your angry feelings inside of you, and keeping those feelings fresh by re-angering yourself over and over, is not the best choice. However, the long-standing belief that suppressed anger is the mother of just about every psychosomatic disease, from ulcers to constipation, may be ill-founded.

A big difference exists between letting all of your angry feelings spew forth in an uncontrolled manner and packaging it so your message will express your feelings but not trigger World War III. And, of course, an even better option is to resolve the conflict or fix the situation that is triggering your anger, reduce your anger level, or both.

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