Is venting healthy?

Kathryn Primm, DVM
Kathryn Primm, DVM

Kathryn Primm, DVM, owns Applebrook Animal Hospital in Ooltewah, Tennessee, but has a growing career as a writer, a speaker and an online voice for veterinarians and pet owners alike.

Vetted, Vetted January 2020, Volume 115, Issue 1

On the good side, veterinary websites and social media pages devoted to supporting struggling veterinary professionals are a good thing. On the bad side, when it turns to venting, that might be hurting, not helping.

One study found that while venting -- and even responding to venting -- can make the user feel good in the short term, in the long run, it can make you feel worse. (Rawpixel.com / stock.adobe.com)

We've all seen the news. Suicide rates among veterinarians are as high as 3.5 times the national average. We don't have to look far to find news about another heartbreaking death. We feel helpless, but one of the things we do is create support groups online and on social networking sites.

It seems like a great idea-other likeminded people rallying in support of you. Freud postulated in his writings that getting things off your chest-“catharsis”-is good for you too. This school of thought has long been discredited, but people still think that venting is a good way to deal with stress.

But is it really? Today, the veterinary profession is swarming with “support sites” all over social media. Veterinary professionals are made to feel like they're doing the “right thing” to be there reading, venting and commenting. We type, “You got this, girl!” and offer “thoughts and prayers.” We tell similar stories, and we all commiserate together. It feels good. It's helping, right? Research show that it might not be. 

One 2013 study explored the use of venting sites on the internet1. The study found that while venting (and even responding to venting) can make the user feel good in the short term, in the long run, it can make you feel worse. Subjects who vented their anger and stress repeatedly were more likely to experience more anger and express anger in maladaptive ways. A second part of the study showed that merely reading and responding to rants were associated with negative shifts in mood.

Good venting, bad venting

Psychologists' take on venting is nuanced. Read more on the topic here and here.

Another 2013 study found that especially for women, the need for close attachment and security from others to feel loved and cared about can be linked to an increased risk of depression. We seek this attachment in social networking to feel valued and cared about, but the researchers examined women who spent more time sharing negative experiences and feelings (called “corumination”) and found they were at the greatest risk of clinical depression.2 Having social relations and providing and receiving support can be an adaptive factor, but corumination can be a risk factor for negative mental health.

So, while our hearts are in the right place when we visit the social media pages and websites to vent, read and show support, we might not be achieving our objective. As is usually the case, finding a balance in what we allow our mind to digest is probably the best choice. Maybe instead of experiencing a stream of negativity, it may be better for your own health to avoid corumination and watch a funny cat video or two.

References

1. Martin RC, Coyier KR, VanSistine LM, Schroeder KL. Anger on the internet: The perceived value of rant-sites. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking 2013: 16(2). ahead of print: http://doi.org/10.1089/cyber.2012.0130

2. LC Bouchard, Shih JH. Gender differences in stress generation: Examination of interpersonal predictors. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 2013:32(4);424-45.

Kathryn Primm, DVM, the author of Tennessee Tails: Pets and Their People, owns Applebrook Animal Hospital in Ooltewah, Tennessee. She is a frequent contributor to dvm360.com and other publications, and she was the nation's first Fear Free certified professional.

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