Suzanne Norman

Enlightened Living Articles

The Negative Effects of Complaining

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The more you complain, the more likely you are to choose negative over positive thinking in the long run.  Neuroscience research is discovering that each time you complain, your brain is actually physically rewiring itself, making it easier to adapt to that reaction in the future.  If the fact that you're breeding continual negative biases isn't enough to encourage you to stop complaining, would knowing that it can also damage your memory get you to pay attention?

MRI scans have shown that constant complaining can lead to the shrinkage of the hippocampus, the region of your brain responsible for cognitive functioning.  The smaller you hippocampus, the more likely you are are to have memory decline, as well as have difficulty adapting to new situations.  It doesn't stop there.  The more you complain, the more your cortisol levels increase.  We know that higher levels of cortisol are associated with health problems like increased depression, insomnia, high blood pressure, digestive problems, and potentially an increase risk of heart disease.  Cortisol is aptly named the stress hormone.

Now each of us has our moments of moaning and groaning.  Expressing complaints comes naturally to us, but we all know that person who likes to complain about everything.  No matter what they've got going on in their lives, good or bad, they can find a way to grumble about something.  We call these the "glass half empty" or pessimistic people, and they can be amusing.  But it turns out that constantly expressing negative sentiments may become subconscious habits that lead to harmful consequences to your health.  constant complaining over time can cause an immense impact on brain function and take it's toll on physical wellbeing.

While it may feel good to get some frustrations off your chest, it can be done in a positive and healthy way.  There is nothing wrong with expressing how you feel, and we certainly don't want to bury our feelings, but keeping it constructive can help you move forward, rather than getting stuck or spiraling downward.


Here are some tips to help you give complaining a rest and set you up for success and better health:

Define complaining:  When you begin to recognize the difference between a complaint and an observations, the conversation changes.  If you are pointing out that it's cold outside, that's an observation. But stated as "It's cold outside and I hate living here," is a complaint

Track your complaints:  Become aware of how often you complain, it may shock you. Begin to track how many times a day you are complaining and over time, you will catch it before it leaves your thoughts and becomes spoken, and eventually, you'll manage to control the thoughts.

Distance yourself from chronic complainers:  When listening to chronic complainers, it's easy to get pulled into the energy and begin complaining yourself. Instead, offer responses that are positive or uplifting.  It's likely that those who prefer to continue to complain may no longer vent or complain to you because their brains aren't being fed with negativity to satisfy their rant. 

Catch your complaining:  If you find yourself in a nag session, you can catch it and put a different, more positive spin on it to offset the negative effects.  If you hear yourself complaining, "I don't like driving to work." Immediately follow that with, "But I am so grateful to have a job, a car, and the ability to drive."  This brings the energy, and good chemicals, of gratitude into your body and mind.

Shift from "have to", to "get to":  This could be one of the most powerful ways to put an end to chronic complaining.  This simple shift turns your complaint into a choice.  When you say you HAVE to do something, it feels like a chore.  But shifting the statement to you GET to do something, turns it into a gift.  Instead of "I have to go to gym today," change it to "I get to go to the gym today."  It immediately turns into gratitude.

The more you practice these tips, the more natural they will become.  What are your next steps to kick the complaining habit?