Stressed Out? Why You Shouldn’t Talk About It

According to a new study, the U.S. ranked 11th on a list of the most stressed-out nations (ironically far behind the number one India, a place where anti-stressing yoga has its origin). That’s the good news. The bad news is: Experts are now telling us to quit babbling about it, which is funny because all these years we have been encouraged to talk about our feelings because it was supposedly the healthy, mature thing to do (even though a bottle of wine and a 14th viewing of When Harry Met Sally would have done the trick sometimes).

But apparently, venting about the stress in our lives to our best girls is not the way to cope with our stress. I, for one, am glad to hear that because nothing ruins a girls’ night out more than someone sitting there ranting about her jerk of a boss or loser of a boyfriend. Can’t we just talk sex and gossip, ladies? According to one researcher, we should leave our stress at home.

“Venting is not an effective strategy for anyone trying to cope with daily stress,” said social psychologist Brad J. Bushman, who teaches at Ohio State University and has researched aggression and coping. “Research clearly shows that venting increases rather than decreases stress because it keeps arousal levels high, aggressive thoughts active in memory, and angry feelings alive.”

Instead — and not all that surprisingly, the study found more effective strategies at coping with stress. First they advise us to simply accept the situation (I’m stuck in traffic and there’s nothing I can do about it). Then we are supposed to use humor (I’m going to imagine everyone in their cars around me naked). And finally, we should use positive reframing, which is a method of finding something good in the otherwise stressful event (Hey, the guy in the red convertible next to me is hot — and now naked. Maybe I should accidentally let the wind drop my business card into his car).

Study author, Dr. Joachim Stoeber, a psychologist at the University of Kent in England concurs about not stressing about our stress.

“It’s no use ruminating about small failures and setbacks and [dragging] yourself further down. Instead, it is more helpful to try to accept what happened, look for positive aspects and — if it is a small thing —have a laugh about it.”

Tell us, what fun and creative methods do you have for dealing with stress?

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    • Bobbi Emel

      I think this is really interesting new research coming out about rumination increasing stress. It makes sense that continuing to talk about a stressful event might actually increase your stress rather than decrease it. However, let’s be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water. Using your social support system is a good resiliency skill and I think the key is in how you use it. “Just” venting will likely lead to more stress. But brainstorming problem-solving options, getting emotional validation, and learning that you are not alone with your stressful event are all productive ways to reduce your feelings of frustration and anxiety that can be done with other people. It’s especially wise, I think, to be around people who can gently remind you that, in the bigger picture, you might just be sweating the small stuff!

    • Kim Foster MD

      Yes, I’ve read this before (possibly in The Happiness Project somewhere?). It totally makes sense that venting and bitching, and all the negative energy that goes along with that, doesn’t exactly help cultivate a “positive mindset”.