Have you ever written a strongly-worded (read: filled with F-bombs and exclamation points) letter to your boss, boyfriend, or professor with no intention of ever sending it to them? Did it feel… kind of amazing? If so, then congrats! You’ve engaged in a form of journaling called “vent writing.” And according to therapists, it can be really good for your mental health and interpersonal relationships. (Yes, really.)
Vent writing essentially involves writing down all of your pent-up angry thoughts and frustrations. Think of it as the polar opposite of gratitude journaling, which has you reflect on the things for which you’re grateful, like family, friends, or the latest season of Love is Blind. By contrast, vent writing invites you to dish about anything and everything that’s currently filling you with rage—an opportunity to share how you *really* feel about getting skipped over for that promotion at work or being ghosted by a recent Tinder hookup. It’s all about airing your grievances, no holds barred.
“Being able to really express what’s on my mind without someone else there to be hurt by it or have an opinion about it feels really freeing for me. I don’t have to censor myself.” –– Meredith Erin, Boredwalk CEO and author of Grievance Journal
Boredwalk CEO and co-founder Meredith Erin found vent writing so cathartic that she created a journal specifically for the practice, titled Grievance Journal. Erin says she struggled with the process of gratitude journaling and couldn’t seem to find a sense of peace when searching for the silver linings in her life.
“I tried so many things to find relief, including therapy, meditation, and of course, gratitude journaling,” says Erin. “I noticed my gratitude journals would always end up the same, with me noting that I am grateful for my partner, and [my] cat, and everything else is terrible. I never found gratitude journals helpful and the more I tried with them the worse I felt, because this tactic that supposedly worked for everyone didn’t work for me.”
The benefits of vent writing
According to marriage and family therapist Gayane Aramayan, LMFT, forcing yourself to constantly look on the bright side of things can be detrimental to your mental health and can lead to toxic positivity—the inauthentic forcing of good cheer that denies and represses so-called “negative” emotions.
“It can be very unhealthy if we’re just constantly looking at the brighter side,” says Aramayan. “I think both can be true: We can validate our emotions and see the positive side. I can feel really upset, but I can also know that tomorrow will be a better day.”
Before launching her career in therapy, Aramayan worked as a certified anger management coordinator, helping men and women navigate negative emotions and channel them in a healthy way. In her work, Aramayan discovered that many of her clients were taught to “suck it up” during their childhood, resulting in mishandled aggression later in life.
“Most of us weren’t told or taught to sit with our feelings, and now as adults, we don’t know what to do with them,” says Aramayan. “Anger itself isn’t bad. It’s a healthy emotion. But it’s how we express it that’s most important.”
Researchers have proven time and time again the powerful mental health benefits of journaling. A cumulative study of 20 peer-reviewed articles about the positive effects of journaling on mental illness revealed that regular and effective journaling can be therapeutic and positively impacts our cognitive processing and problem-solving abilities.
“Journaling has so much power in giving clarity,” says Aramayan. “It lowers heightened emotions and turns on the logical part of our brain and gives you a moment to reflect, and maybe think of the situation differently.”
Aramayan also shares that vent journaling gives you have a safe space for self expression and promotes emotion regulation, thereby sparing your loved ones from a harmful outburst and yourself from mental anguish. “When you don’t express your feelings, they come out in other ways,” she says. “Some people end up having a big explosion of feelings when they bottle things up, some people start experiencing anxiety attacks, or rage.”
It also helps that vent journaling is entirely private, meaning that you can say what you want, no holds barred. Erin says that writing without a recipient is one of the reasons why vent writing has been so impactful for her mental health. “It lets me get all my ugliest thoughts out without having to worry about a listener judging them,” says Erin. “Being able to really express what’s on my mind without someone else there to be hurt by it or have an opinion about it feels really freeing for me. I don’t have to censor myself. I don’t have to edit down my thoughts to make them comfortable for someone else.”
Ready to try your hand at vent writing? Ahead are five tips to get you started.
5 tips to start vent writing
1. Follow a prompt
Before you start scratching a lengthy stream of curse words into your journal, Aramayan recommends using writing prompts to guide your vent writing. Prompts allow you to dig into specific situations that may have upset you and can help you explore what triggered the negative emotions you feel. They can also help get your brain’s gears turning if you aren’t sure why you feel so shitty in the first place.
“If you’re writing ‘I’m so upset by this, this is pissing me off, and I hate everybody, and nothing is making me happy,’ it’s not necessarily going to make you feel better,” adds Aramayan.
Some writing prompt ideas include:
- What do you hate most about your job?
- What does your boyfriend do that gives you the ‘ick’?
- Describe a time where your parents embarrassed you.
The writing prompts in the Grievance Journal are specific and come with a fun dose of sarcasm, including questions like “What are the most disappointing purchases you’ve ever made?” and “What are the dumbest moves or TV shows?”
“We’ve broken up guided writing prompts with darkly funny quotes with space to doodle,” says Erin. “Being able to laugh at things being terrible always feels a little better, so that dose of humor really breaks up the darkness.”
2. Don’t censor yourself
To reap all the benefits of vent writing, it’s important to allow yourself the freedom of total self-expression. This isn’t the time to mince your words or stifle your stream of thought. Lean into your feelings and allow yourself to write without abandon.
Remember that there’s no human recipient of your vent writing, so no chance of offending someone you care about. This is your opportunity to say what you *wish* you could say to your loved ones IRL, but don’t out of the love and respect you have for them.
Erin adds that writing without inhibition also provides a certain sense of relief that self censorship simply cannot. “You know how you feel better when you’ve been queasy for a while and you finally throw up and you feel that sense of relief? That’s how I felt when I would write about what was bothering me,” says Erin.
3. Don’t be afraid to be petty about the small things
When it comes to vent writing, there’s no grievance too small. Did your roommate forget to put their wet clothes into the dryer? Write about it. Did you hit every red light on your commute to work this morning? Write about it. Was your kid being annoying AF today? Write about it.
While these annoyances may seem small in the grand scheme of things, they still illicit a negative emotion from you and are worthy of being explored.
“The little stuff like someone always spelling your name wrong, or your spouse always forgetting to hang up wet towels, can feel so trivial, like it doesn’t deserve to be voiced, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t bother you,” says Erin.”Those little things can feel like tiny raindrops filling a bucket. You could ignore a few, but thousands of them accumulating over time can cause an overflow and then you’re losing your temper over something that seems small, when really it’s not the small thing in isolation, it’s all the small things put together.”
4. Read and reflect on what you’ve written down
After you’ve aired out all of your grievances, Aramayan suggests sitting with your words and reflecting on everything you’ve written. What did your writing reveal about the situation? About yourself? What factors led to this negative emotion?
This important step in vent writing is what enables you to tackle future conflicts with a deeper knowledge of what triggers you and why. Erin adds that it can also reveal what your role in the conflict was, helping you adjust how you approach rifts going forward.
5. Store it in a safe place
Your vent writing journal is sacred, and it’s important to treat it as such. Find a safe place in your home to store it, one that isn’t easily accessible by other people in your household. While your journal certainly can’t get its feelings hurt, your loved ones can, so be sure to store it in a private area.
Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
- Sohal, Monika et al. “Efficacy of journaling in the management of mental illness: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” Family medicine and community health vol. 10,1 (2022): e001154. doi:10.1136/fmch-2021-001154
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