Of course, it depends on what you’re venting about; if it’s an emergency or some other immediate crisis, you should certainly call your bestie (schedule be damned). But if it can wait, it’s worth giving them a chance to prepare or opt out. Maybe your friend is also having a crappy day and just wants to be alone. Or perhaps they, too, are going through a nasty breakup and aren’t in the right headspace to give advice about your ex. That’s why Bsales suggests asking them if there’s a good day and time to talk about whatever tough thing you’re dealing with, whether it’s in-person or over the phone.
Think of it as a conversation—not just your personal vent session.
Even if your priority is to rant, it’s important to remember friendships are a two-way street. You may be the one with a pressing problem at the moment, but there’s still a way to make the conversation feel mutually supportive. One way to do this is to thank your friend for their time and return the favor, Bsales suggests. Ask them what’s going on in their life, say, or if there’s anything they want to get off their chest. “Hold space for them to express their emotions and, possibly, their desire to vent as well,” she says.
This is especially important when discussing more sensitive topics, like grief or abuse, Dr. Henry adds, in order to ensure you’re not inadvertently triggering them. For example, check in and ask if it’s okay to continue sharing or if they need a minute—or to change the subject. “Allow your friend to have a say in the conversation, because they want to be seen and heard too,” Dr. Henry says. “That reciprocity, of letting them know you’re here for them as well, is so important for a mutually supportive relationship.”
Find other ways to relieve stress.
When crisis strikes, your first instinct may be to run to your bestie and word-vomit any and everything going through your head. But try not to make it a habit, or else you’ll run the risk of overwhelming them, tiring them out, or making them feel lousy because they couldn’t help you, Dr. Henry and Bsales say.
“It’s important to learn to cope with stress and negative emotions on your own,” Bsales says, whether that means getting some mood-boosting activity (might we suggest a nature walk or a rage run?), writing your thoughts down (or trying a journaling alternative, like voice notes), or maybe taking a quick nap. What you do doesn’t matter so much, as long as it calms you down in the heat of the moment and allows you to take a minute before you dump your difficult emotions—anger, frustration, sadness, anxiety—onto your friend.
Know when it’s time to see a professional.
A friend can certainly support you through hard times, but if you’re struggling with ongoing, deeply rooted problems (like trauma of any kind or out-of-control anger), the best course of action is probably to see a licensed therapist—a.k.a. someone who is qualified to help you navigate your emotions. A mental health expert can help you work through painful thoughts and feelings and teach you healthy coping skills along the way, Bsales says. (If you’re not already working with a therapist, here are some tips for finding a culturally competent and affordable one.)