Should you let off steam when you're angry – here's what science says

It is generally accepted that you need to express your anger, or, simply put, “let off steam” so that negative emotions “do not accumulate.” This expression itself suggests that negative emotions come out like steam from under a lid with a saucepan, after which the person calms down. You can “let off steam” in different ways, for example, in one of the Philippine restaurants, visitors are offered to break dishes to vent their anger and get rid of stress (not for free, of course). At first glance, everything is logical – if you give free rein to your emotions, they will go away. However, there is actually no scientific evidence that it actually helps calm people down. Moreover, in some cases, expressing anger only intensifies it. But this does not mean that anger should be ignored.

Is it necessary to “let off steam” during anger? This is what science says. There is an opinion that it is useful to “let off steam” when angry, but the results of the study say the opposite. Photo.

There is a belief that it's good to let off steam when you're angry, but research suggests otherwise

Expressing anger doesn't help relieve stress

A recent meta-analytic review based on studies of more 150 studies by various scientists have shown that the “catharsis theory” is erroneous, that is, you are unlikely to be able to relieve stress and get rid of anger simply by shouting or breaking dishes. “By letting off steam,” a person further reinforces his negative emotions, or, as they say, “turns on.”

Also, many people, instead of “blowing off steam,” try to get rid of anger through physical activity. For example, they hit a punching bag, do pull-ups on a horizontal bar, or perform other exercises. As scientists report, this is indeed useful, but only for physical health, but it also does not help get rid of anger. Even jogging is not an effective method, as it increases arousal levels and can be counterproductive in the long run.

It should be noted that in total, more than 10 thousand people of different ages, genders, cultures and ethnic groups took part in the studies. Considering the scale of the work, there is no reason not to trust these conclusions.

Expressing anger does not help relieve stress. Talking about a stressful situation will help reduce anger. Photo.The study's findings do not necessarily mean that anger should be ignored. But there is a more effective way to get rid of it than just screaming or doing push-ups. According to scientists, the first thing you need to do is talk about your anger. Reflection will help us understand why we are angry, and also find a way to solve the problem, or at least prevent the situation from happening again in the future.

In addition, reasoning about a stressful situation will help to avoid emotional justification, that is, a thinking error in which a person draws conclusions only on his emotions, while ignoring real facts. This is an important step towards healthy emotional processing. However, not everyone can begin to reason and understand the causes of stress when under stress.

Anger management – how to avoid emotional actions

Research has shown that the key to controlling anger is to reduce the physiological arousal associated with anger itself or the physical activity it causes. Activities that reduce arousal can help, such as slow yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, diaphragmatic breathing, or even just taking a deep breath and counting to ten.

Anger management - how to avoid emotional actions. Meditation is an effective remedy for anger. Photo.

Meditation is an effective remedy for anger

Research has shown that calming activities reduce anger in both laboratory and real-world settings, regardless of participant demographics or other variables. Moreover, progressive muscle relaxation and even simple relaxation turned out to be as effective as a conscious approach to the situation and meditation.

Progressive muscle relaxation is a method in which, as a result of alternating sequential tension of certain muscle groups for a few seconds, a state of rest and relaxation of the whole body is achieved.

Anger management - how to avoid emotional actions. Active games that bring pleasure help to overcome a stressful situation. Photo.

Active games that are fun help overcome stressful situations

Additionally, scientists pay attention to the fact that not all types of physical activity can be harmful. For example, playing with a ball and, in general, all types of activities associated with games reduce physiological arousal. From this we can conclude that only those physical activities that bring pleasure are useful.

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Finally, let us remind you that negative emotions — this isn't always a bad thing. Sometimes a person even needs them. For example, constant positivity has a negative impact on mental health. And one study showed that pessimists are wiser than optimists. However, negative emotions should also be in moderation.