Venting or Distracting? How Friends Can Help You Cope

I talk a lot on this blog about how local friends are especially necessary for venting. I’d always rather blow off steam with a pal in person than over the phone. And I’m the type who likes to vent. If something’s on my mind, I want to talk about it. Always.

Recently my mind has been working overtime. Which, in turn, means my vocal chords have been doing the same.

Here’s the thing I’ve noticed. All the venting? It hasn’t been helping. It doesn’t make me feel better. In fact, it just exacerbates the problem. It gets me all worked up.

On her Happiness Project blog, author Gretchen Rubin addresses this exact issue. The idea that “venting anger relieves it” is one of her happiness myths.

“Contrary to popular notion, aggressive ‘venting’ doesn’t relieve bad feelings, but fuels them,” she writes. “Studies show that blowing up, punching a pillow, yelling, or slamming doors makes you feel worse, not better.”

That is not to say, however, that friends can’t make me feel better when I’m in a mood. In fact, good company is just the ticket. But instead of venting, I’ve found the best thing friends can do is talk with me about everything else. To take my mind off the supposed problem. It helps me to get perspective, take a breath, and get my bearings.

Now that I’m thinking (and writing) about this, I realize I must have already had this venting-is-destructive theory in the back of my head. Why? Because I think it was the cause of one of my most recent fights with a friend.

A few years ago a close friend was upset about an upcoming work situation. I thought, mistakenly, that she wouldn’t want to talk about it. I assumed distracting my friend would help her. It would take her mind off things and all that good stuff. So I started talking about something stupid and unrelated.

This was a bad idea. My friend felt I was being unsupportive, that I was changing the subject because I didn’t care. There was a fight. Blah, blah. We got over it.

It was a good reminder that it’s not my place to decide what will help someone else cope. I may be with Gretchen Rubin on the venting-as-coping-is-a-myth bandwagon, but imposing this view on a friend is probably not a good idea. At least, not when she is in the throws of a pissy mood.

So moral of this post: Venting may be bad, distracting may be better. But listening to a friend and giving her what she needs is most definitely best.

When you’re having a rough day, what do you need from friends: Someone you can sound off to? Or someone who’ll take your mind off things?


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9 responses to “Venting or Distracting? How Friends Can Help You Cope

  1. Ana

    Like everything else in life, I think it comes down to moderation (or as Gretchen Rubin would say “the opposite of a great truth is also true”). There is a line between venting (which I suppose literally means “releasing excess pressure”), which diminishes the bad feelings and perseverating (apparently this is misspelled, but I can’t figure out the right spelling!) which escalates the feeling. That line is probably different for everyone, as you noted with the example of your friend. For me, it may help to get the annoyance/problem off my chest by mentioning it once or twice, but beyond that, I’d like to get my mind off of it. Yesterday I had a crappy day with several disappointing events and some other worries. I was feeling sorry for myself and just downright sad, so I “vented” to a co-worker. Just hearing myself list the things out loud and hearing her say “Oh, you’ve had a crappy day, I’m so sorry” put things into perspective for me, and I realized that all of the things I was complaining about were honestly little things, and that I didn’t deserve so much sympathy. I instantly felt better. Another co-worker jumped in and offered suggestions and solutions to one of my dilemmas–which I took, and made me feel pro-active, less helpless, less woe-is-me and even better still. The major upside to this was that by the time I got home, and my husband asked “how was your day”, I didn’t have to regal him with a list of complaints and a bad attitude. It made our evening much more pleasant.
    When the problems really are big ones, to which there aren’t good solutions, or situations that I truly don’t have control over, I don’t want to spend time talking them to death. That is when I prefer to get my mind off of it, and nothing helps like spending time with a friend!
    Bottom line–depends on the person & the situation, and since even a BFF is not a mind-reader, it may be our responsibility to tell the friend what we need from them (i.e. “I just need to vent”, “I need your advice” or “ugh I’m tired of thinking of this, lets do something fun!”)

    The “venting” that you describe that involves outbursts of anger, on the other hand—never useful and only (for me, and most others in my experience) leads to shame & guilt.

    Sorry I wrote a book! This is fascinating to me, and I’m interested to see how others respond.

    • Suzannah

      I also find these sort of topics so interesting…how we interact with others and the effects it has on all our emotions..and like with your hubby, our other relationships.

  2. It really depends for me… Sometimes I need to vent, sometimes I need a distraction. It seems at some point, talking about it is no longer helpful as running over and over and over a situation just makes me more miserable. So when I get to that point, I will tell friends – “ok, we are done talking about X. I want to move on. But I reserve the right to complain about it in the future if I really need….”

  3. I occasionally need to vent, but at this point, I’ve gotten pretty good at not getting angry (which relieves me of the need to vent).

    If I’m upset/sad about something, sometimes I want to talk and sometimes I want to be distracted. Since I know I’m inconsistent, I’ll specifically tell whoever I’m with which I would prefer.

    Likewise, I will ask (if I’m not sure) if I’m the “ear” end of a situation like that.

    Being straightforward has worked well for me.

  4. Suzannah

    I am a huge venter, I admit it….but have come to realise who you choose to vent to us super important…some frienda in the attempt to supportive/ validating …. actually just add fuel to the fire!!, just get me more worked up.
    So I now recognize a friend who offers a new perspective, that helps to see all the sides of a situation is such a blessing….cuz if I have an “issue” in my life and a friend tries to distract me, I will feel dismissed (wrongly)….I have to talk it through or I will ruminate ( not sure of my spelling!)….
    So I think a friend who can help me see, that I maybe jumping to lots of conclusions, particularly of what other’s thoughts or motivations& intentions might be can almost be life changing….

  5. Venting can go either way and I think it depends on the situation. Sometimes while you are blowing off steam your co-workers or friends can commiserate with you and then bring you down to calmer place.
    I’m fortunate that I work with one of dearest friends, so we blow off steam together or to one another. We also know how to turn things into a funny situation so we end up laughing, which makes both of us feel better. My office is the TV “The Office”.

  6. Jess

    I really appreciate a friend who can do both – listen and offer sympathy/support, and also talk aboutt lighter topics. A conversation in which I feel heard, and can then laugh and feel better is priceless! 🙂

  7. I enjoy venting to friends and asking them the sixty-four thousand dollar question, “What would you do if you were in this situation?” It helps me gain perspective.

  8. Pingback: Friends Let You Vent | MWF Seeking BFF

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