Your Go-To Venting Technique May Be Making You More Angry

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The next time you’re filled with rage over an ex that did you dirty or a coworker that grinds your gears, you may want to rethink your go-to method for blowing off steam, if it involves a high-energy boxing class or an angry run. According to new research out of Ohio State University, venting anger via activities that increase arousal is not an effective anger management technique.

The review, based on 154 studies involving over 10,000 participants, analyzed the effectiveness of two types of anger management activities: those focused on decreasing arousal (e.g., deep breathing, mindfulness, meditation) and those that increase arousal (e.g., hitting a bag, jogging, cycling). The research found that “turning down the heat” via activities that decrease arousal was more effective than those that increase arousal. In fact, some activities, like jogging were found to make anger worse.

If you love to blow off steam by going out for a long run and listening to an angry playlist, you don’t have to quit the habit. But it’s probably a good idea to follow up that activity with a more chill activity that can actually manage anger. We’ve got a list of expert- and research-backed ideas for you here.

How to Manage Anger

When it comes to managing your anger, the key is to process, not vent. “Venting is not helpful in reducing rage, and can often cause a person to escalate,” explains Natalie Jones, PsyD, licensed psychotherapist and advisory board member for PS’s Condition Center. “What is helpful is processing what you’re angry about, and thinking about what triggered it, why you feel the need to be angry in this situation, and what other emotions your anger could be masking.”

To do this, you might try the following strategies:

Practice Mindfulness

Sit with yourself and evaluate what’s causing you to be angry and what symptoms and you’re experiencing because of anger, Dr. Jones says. Maybe it’s an increased heart rate, tense muscle, tightness in the chest. Try to relax as you process your symptoms and emotions. This might look like meditation, deep breathing and counting to 10, a yoga flow, repeating calming words and phrases to yourself, or visualizing an experience or memory that brings you peace.

Take a Break

Literally, take a time out, says Dr. Jones. Stepping away from the person that triggered you or the space in which you were triggered can be crucial in managing anger. That might look like going for a walk to put some space between you and your roommate or stepping outside the office for a coffee break to decompress and process. “Then you can revisit the person or situation that caused you to be angry and effectively communicate your concerns and/or needs,” Dr. Jones says.

Restructure Your Thinking

“Your anger or rage has gotten the best of you when it’s your primary emotion,” Dr. Jones says. If you notice signs that the anger has taken over — you’re totally preoccupied by reliving what happened; you’re cursing or using dramatic language; you’re exaggerating what happened or speaking or speaking in “universal language” (“no one ever” or “everyone always), try this technique from the American Psychological Association (APA), called cognitive restructuring.

Intentionally replace negative, exaggerated thoughts with expressive, yet rational ones. An example of this would be switching your internal narrative from “oh, it’s awful, it’s terrible, everything’s ruined,” to “it’s frustrating, and it’s understandable that I’m upset about it, but it’s not the end of the world and getting angry is not going to fix it anyhow,” per the APA. The switch helps you tap into your logical, rational brain, which calms you down.

Problem Solve

This step may naturally follow one of the earlier techniques. Once you’re feeling calmer, what can really help bring you out of your anger spiral is thinking to the future and problem solving. For instance, if what raised your temper was your spouse coming at you with a to-do list the instant you walked in the door, talk to them about giving you 15 minutes of low-stress personal time when you get home in the future. Or if you became frustrated with a problem at work, consider who you can ask for help. Give yourself grace — there may be no easy solve. But trying to think through next steps can help you feel proactive, in control, and calmer.

Seek Professional Help

While anger is a common emotion, for some people it’s more intense than others. When you see red all the time, when the people in your life have to walk on eggshells to prevent you from going off or they are afraid of you, or your anger causes you to get into altercations or trouble with law enforcement, those are all signs that anger has gotten the best of you, says Dr. Jones.

“You should seek help for your anger as soon as you realize that it is affecting your quality of life,” she tells PS. If anger impacts your relationship with yourself, your relationship with other people, your ability to do your job, or if it causes you to become self-destructive or engage in self-harm; those are all signs to seek help from a licensed mental health professional. They may recommend therapy, anger management classes, or in some cases, medication management.

Alexis Jones is the senior health editor at POPSUGAR. Her areas of expertise include women’s health, mental health, racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare, diversity in wellness, and chronic conditions. Prior to joining POPSUGAR, she was the senior editor at Health magazine. Her other bylines can be found at Women’s Health, Prevention, Marie Claire, and more.

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