Next time you're seething, take a deep breath...and step away from the keyboard. Online venting is all the rage right now (see: forums designed specifically for complaining, like JustRage.com and NotAlwaysRight.com). Too bad that both reading rant sites and posting on them can bring on negative mood shifts, according to researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
To get a better understanding of people's mindsets when they visit rant sites (on which people can anonymously vent about any topic they'd like) researchers conducted two studies. For the first one, they surveyed 32 users about their anger, their visitation habits, why they read other people's rants, and how ranting made them feel. "We found that people tend to rant because it makes them feel relaxed right after they do it," says Ryan C. Martin, PhD, the lead author of the study and chair of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Psychology department.
For the second study, 91 undergraduate students read other people's rants and explained how they felt afterward. They then wrote their own rants and reported back again. No surprise, the participants felt sadder after reading the rants. After writing them, they also felt less happy--as well as angrier.
Here's the thing about ranting: Despite the initial sense of relief you get afterward, separate research shows that venting causes more anger and aggression in the long-term. In fact, anything done with the intent of blowing off steam--whether it's writing a passive-aggressive email or mentally venting during a run--is counterproductive. Why? It prolongs the amount of time you spend focusing on negative feelings, says Martin.
Here's what you can do instead of going on a complaining bender: Brainstorm possible moves that would actually address what has you so upset, suggests Raymond Chip Tafrate, PhD, a clinical psychologist and co-author of Anger Management for Everyone: Seven Proven Ways to Control Anger and Live a Happier Life. For example, if you come home to find your roommate has left a pile of dishes in the sink--again--you could call up your sister to gripe. Or you could knock on your roommate's door and ask if she'd mind washing the pots and pans so you can use them to make dinner. "Anger can be a useful thing," says Tafrate. "It can energize you to take action."