Let's be real: The only thing people love more than complaining about how busy they are is complaining about how stressed they are. But why does it feel so good to vent about your stress?
Complaining might get a bad rap, but it's not always a bad thing to vent your feelings out — especially if you're stressed. Eva Stubits, PhD, a Houston-based clinical psychologist who specializes in stress management, says that talking about how stressed you are can help you get it out of your system, so to speak.
"[Venting] helps take the feelings out from inside of yourself, it helps you to process them," she says. "It’s kind of like the pressure cooker analogy: If you don’t open a lid periodically, the steam can build up and cause you to feel even more stressed. If you let it out, it can help you process whatever it is you’re worried about."
There's also actual evidence that complaining can help alleviate stress. In a study from last year, researchers found that venting in the workplace might actually be great for your mental health, helping you bond with co-workers and work through your feelings. And Dr. Stubits agrees that there's definitely something especially cathartic about complaining to a co-worker who gets why you're fretting about the company meeting, or to someone who just gets what you're going through in general.
"If you discuss how you feel with somebody who’s able to validate your feelings — whether they have personally experienced the same issues or not — that’s going to be helpful because everyone wants to feel heard," she says.
If you don’t open a lid periodically, the steam can build up and cause you to feel even more stressed.
Eva Stubits, PhD
But once you get it out of your system, she says, you do have to either move on or come up with some kind of solution to de-stress. Otherwise, you risk marinating in those feelings and getting even more stressed.
"A lot of times if you continue over and over to think about a negative experience, it can just remind you of those negative feelings," Dr. Stubits says. "At some point, it helps to talk about it and vent, and once you’ve processed it, it helps to either let it go and move on or come up with a plan as to how to deal with it and improve whatever the situation is."
If you want to be wary about complaining too much, she says a good rule of thumb is to make sure you aren't venting about something more than twice with any individual person. There's no real length of time during which you should be complaining, but if you find yourself unable to move on, that's when it might be an issue. And if you really can't stop thinking about how something is stressing you out, to the point where it's affecting your life, it might be something you want to work through with a mental health professional. But for the most part, it's okay to indulge in a little stress-venting every now and then.