<Guest Post by Courtney Clark>
Don’t you hate that feeling when stress starts to build up, until you reach your boiling point and you feel like you just can’t take it any more? When most of us get to that point, there’s a solution: venting. You vent to your friends, your family, or other administrative professional colleagues, who understand the pressure of your job.
Venting makes us feel like we can take action, in a situation where we really don’t have any power. Since we don’t have enough control to change the situation, the only thing we can do is vent. Besides, venting makes us feel better. Or, at least, we think it does…
The truth? Research shows that venting is actually COUNTER-productive to feeling better. Venting behavior is a huge resilience-killer. At the Conference for Administrative Excellence this fall, I’m going to help you hone lots of skills to be more resilient to change and stressful situations in the workplace. But in the meantime, just putting a lid on your venting might actually make you feel a whole lot better.
I know it seems counter-intuitive to tell you to keep your stresses bottled up, but when scientists did research asking people to do this very thing, they found that one of two things happened – one group of people got incredibly frustrated. Because they didn’t have the little release of venting, their stress built up. But in the coming days, those people found creative ways to make changes to the situation. So they hit bottom with the situation, but at rock bottom a new solution emerged. The other group of people in the experiment stopped venting and found that without rehashing the situation, their frustration seemed to dissipate. It didn’t go away completely, but without the constant retelling of the story, the people actually became more calm and less angry.
There are two reasons venting actually drains your resilience. First, venting keeps your brain focused on a frustrating situation. You are rehashing it over and over, and doing so elevates the stressor to even bigger proportions in your mind. Simply by virtue of having the conversation, venting allows the problem to take up more space in your mind, instead of less.
Second, venting about a situation allows us to blow off just enough steam that we don’t really feel the need to make any changes to our situation. So we stay at status quo, because we’re now just calm enough that we no longer have the frustration-driven energy we had before the venting. THAT’s probably why they call it “venting.” We vent just enough of that boiling steam that the pot doesn’t completely overflow, but it’s still boiling in there.
Don’t confuse constructive conversation with venting. We all sometimes need the support of other people, particularly in the current economy, where administrative professionals are being asked to take on the duties of three people, and do more with less than ever before. Just make sure that your conversations are about seeking resolution, not plain venting.
Administrative work comes with a lot of stress, and venting may have been your default way of coping, but that might actually be killing your resilience. This week, try putting a lid on that boiling pot and try your own experiment to stop venting. See if – without the release of venting – you either get so heated up you can make change, or if you can dial the situation back in your mind by not talking about it so much. Venting feels good in the short term, but it’s doing you no favors, so let it go!
Courtney Clark works with organizations to build resilience in their team members, so they can handle challenge and struggle smart. She is the author of “The Giving Prescription,” a two-time cancer survivor, brain aneurysm survivor, keynote speaker, and founder of a nonprofit.