How Complaining Rewires Your Brain (and 5 Things to do About It)

How Complaining Rewires Your Brain and What to Do About it

Just like gossiping, complaining is one of those things that we know isn’t good for us. Still sometimes in the moment it feels good both to connect to another person and to vent about what ails you. But here’s the thing: complaining isn’t just a little bad for you, it’s really bad for both your mental and physical health.

Dr. Travis Bradberry, author of “Emotional Intelligence,” writes that complaining is bad for us just like sitting on the couch all day, drinking too much, or even smoking. Here’s why:

Why we Complain

Complaining sneaks up on you. It’s a bad habit like any other and sometimes we don’t even think about it. And while complaining is a negative thing, most of us do it for a positive reason: we want to connect. Many of us think that it’s easier to start a conversation with something negative because people are quicker to find common ground.

As we’re trying to connect, we’re also trying to find validation for the things we’re complaining about. Have you ever vented about something or someone that’s been upsetting you when you know there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it? Maybe you’re jealous of what someone has or someone’s accomplishments so you complain about them. It’s usually because you want someone to tell you that they agree.

The act of complaining is all about trying to avoid actually taking any real action. You’re basically complaining about the hindrances that are keeping you from meeting your goals so that you don’t have to actually work toward your goals.

How Complaining Rewires the Brain

When you think negativity often, you’re teaching your brain to continue to think this way. This occurs because the brain increasingly builds bridges or neural pathways that deepen as you use them. The more you fire a certain part of the brain, according to Dr. Bradberry, the more likely that by habit you exhibit this behavior because your brain wants to use as little energy as possible to get stuff done. That’s why the more you complain the more it becomes a default behavior.

It also damages the hippocampus. The more negativity you spew, or even think, the more you shrink the hippocampus, the part of the brain that’s responsible for problem-solving and the part of the brain that’s impacted with Alzheimer’s disease.

Plus, it’s Bad for your Health

Complaining is also bad for your health because it releases cortisol into the brain. It’s a chemical in the brain that’s released for survival purposes but today gets released when someone pulls out in front of you on the highway or when you’re late to the office. Too much cortisol in the body, no matter the cause, is not good for you. It increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and all sorts of chronic illnesses.

How to Stop Complaining and be More Positive

The good news is just as you can rewire your brain for negativity, you can also rewire it for positivity. Here’s how to stop being a “Negative Nancy”:

1. Define the solution to your complaints.

If you feel a complaint coming on, take a hard look at it. What actions can you take to fix the thing you’re complaining about? If there is no solution, then why are you complaining? Stop venting for no reason and move toward action.

2. Find gratitude.

If you’re grateful for what you have, you’re more likely to see the positive rather than the negative. A few times a week, write down the things large and small that you’re truly grateful for in your life. It can be anything from the baristas at your favorite coffee shop to cuddling with your cocker spaniel, to your loving spouse. Whatever it is, take a few moments to write down the items that come to mind in the moment. This keeps your brain from going in the negative direction.

3. Track your complaints.

Awareness is the first step to nipping a negative action in the bud. Most of us complain once per hour all day. If you jot it down when you complain, you can see where you fall on the complaining spectrum. The more you notice it, the less likely you are to keep complaining.

4. Find positive friends.

Unfortunately, according to Dr. Bradberry, complaining is like smoking, it’s negative to your health even if you experience it secondhand. The more you’re around a complainer, the more likely you are to complain. Not only that, but someone else’s complaints can also make you feel bad and still rewire your brain toward negativity. You can’t control this all the time, but you can make a real attempt to be around people that have a positive perspective on life. If you know you’re going to be around someone who generally complains a lot, get prepared. Say, for example, that your mother-in-law has a knack for turning even positive news into something crappy. Plan two to three positive subject changes like grandkids, a yummy recipe, or a great new book.

5. Take a look at the things that you complain about the most.

What are the things in your life that you complain about the most? Maybe it’s time to find solutions to the issues that plague you. Whether it’s your job, weight, or your lazy boyfriend, if you’re spending a bunch of time complaining about some aspect of your life, it could be time to do something about it. Especially when you consider that the very thing you’re complaining about is hurting both your mental and physical health.

Do you complain too much? What are you complaining about? Does it make you feel bad? We want to know! Drop us a line via Twitter @EcoSalon

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