top of page
  • Writer's pictureWorld Half Full

Angry? Breathing is more effective than venting

HEALTH/LIFESTYLE



Venting about a source of anger might feel good in the moment, but it's not effective at reducing the rage, new research suggests. Instead, techniques often used to mitigate stress — deep breathing, mindfulness, meditation, yoga or even counting to 10 — are more effective at reducing anger and aggression.


Researchers analysed more than 150 studies involving more than 10,000 participants and found that what does work is lowering physiological arousal. In other words, turn down the heat. Activities that increase arousal overall had no effect on anger, and some such as jogging made it worse.


“I think it’s really important to bust the myth that if you’re angry you should blow off steam — get it off your chest,” says senior author Brad Bushman, professor of communication at Ohio State University. “Venting anger might sound like a good idea, but there’s not a shred of scientific evidence to support catharsis theory . . . It is better to engage in activities that decrease arousal levels. Despite what popular wisdom may suggest, even going for a run is not an effective strategy because it increases arousal levels and ends up being counterproductive.”


The study was led by first author Sophie Kjærvik, who completed the review for her Ohio State dissertation. It was published online March 11 in Clinical Psychology Review. Kjærvik, now a postdoctoral fellow at Virginia Commonwealth University, says the work was inspired in part by the rising popularity of rage rooms that promote smashing things such as glass, plates and electronics to work through angry feelings.


“I wanted to debunk the whole theory of expressing anger as a way of coping with it,” she says. “We wanted to show that reducing arousal, and actually the physiological aspect of it, is really important.”


The meta analysis involved people of different genders, races, ages and cultures. The study selection and analysis were guided by the Schachter-Singer two-factor theory, which assumes that all emotions, including anger, consist of physiological arousal and mental meanings. To get rid of anger, you can work on either of those.


Several earlier meta analyses have focused on changing mental meanings using cognitive behavioural therapy, which works. However, Kjærvik and Bushman say a meta analysis on the role of arousal would fill an important gap in understanding how to resolve anger. Their analysis focused on examining both arousal-increasing activities (e.g., hitting a bag, jogging, cycling, swimming) and arousal-reducing activities (e.g., deep breathing, relaxation, mindfulness, meditation, slow flow yoga and just taking time out).


“It was really interesting to see that progressive muscle relaxation and just relaxation in general might be as effective as approaches such as mindfulness and meditation,” Kjærvik says. “And yoga, which can be more arousing than meditation and mindfulness, is still a way of calming and focusing on your breath that has the similar effect in reducing anger.


“Obviously in today’s society, we’re all dealing with a lot of stress, and we need ways of coping with that, too. Showing that the same strategies that work for stress actually also work for anger is beneficial.”


By contrast, activities that increase arousal were generally ineffective, but also produced complex results. Jogging was the most likely to increase anger, while physical education classes and playing ball sports had an arousal-reducing effect — suggesting that introducing an element of play into physical activity may at least increase positive emotions or counteract negative feelings.


“Certain physical activities that increase arousal may be good for your heart, but they’re definitely not the best way to reduce anger,” Bushman notes. “It’s really a battle because angry people want to vent, but our research shows any good feeling we get from venting actually reinforces aggression.”


And those arousal-reducing methods are free or inexpensive and easy to find. “You don’t need to necessarily book an appointment with a cognitive behavioural therapist to deal with anger,” Kjærvik says.


Certain physical activities that increase arousal may be good for your heart, but they’re definitely not the best way to reduce anger. It’s really a battle because angry people want to vent, but our research shows any good feeling we get from venting actually reinforces aggression.

Brad Busman


Recent Posts

See All

Comentarios


bottom of page