Most days you will receive an email that makes you cross or upsets you in some way. What do you do about it? You have several options, of course. You can respond immediately, getting your frustration “off your chest”. Or you can think about it, ruminate on it and send a more considered reply a bit later on. You could also just ignore it, do nothing and move on.
Which way of dealing with such emails, though, do you think is the best for your mental health? The result from research conducted at Ohio State University could surprise you. The best course of action is to do nothing.
The study compared three types of behaviour following the receipt of a negative message. Some participants were asked to hit a punch bag while thinking of the sender. Other people taking part in the study were asked to hit the punch bag, but to think of keeping fit while they did it. A third group of individuals were asked to do nothing having received the negative message. Afterwards, tests of their mood were conducted.
It transpired that the people who had “vented” by taking out their anger against the sender were the ones in the most negative frame of mind. Far from helping them disperse their anger at the negative message, the angry response had actually made them feel worse. The people whose mood was uplifted were the people who did nothing.
Doing nothing is a strategy
This reminds me of a study I read several years ago about removing anxiety. I was, at the time, interested in finding out how to help people abolish the fear of public speaking. The study showed there were a few options – therapy, Neuro Linguistic Programming or doing nothing. It turned out that doing nothing was equally effective as any other method of removing anxiety.
This latest research on anger following negative messages is much the same. Doing nothing is a viable option.
But, in reality, are you doing nothing?
When you get a negative email, and you decide to respond, what happens is your brain now starts to get full of thoughts and emotions associated with that negativity. Even after you have sent your angry response, your mind takes a long time to get it out of your head. Indeed, it stays there until you get a response that might be hours later.
But if you do nothing, what happens? Instead, you carry on with other things. You get on with the rest of your work, you think about different things and all those negative thoughts and emotions have to be removed from your mind to make way for the positive thinking you are doing.
When you do “nothing” you are actually doing “something”. What you are doing is replacing the initial negative thoughts with alternative material. And that is why you feel better because you have cut-off the supply of negativity at its source.