Scientists show constant complaining is not good for us

The harm in complaining

Beware, constant complaining harms our health.

The past couple years have provided abundant fodder for those who love to complain.

It’s been like a smorgasbord of dismal delights. Yet, for the chronic complainer, even joyous events offer opportunity to gripe and complain. No matter what’s happening, they’re sure to find the down-side, as the inner Eeyore surfaces. Even small inconveniences present ripe opportunity to complain and spread the negativity virus with anyone who’ll listen. Negativity is contagious.

I once found importance in complaining. Unlike Suzy Sunshine, I had a habit of airing my complaints as soon as I returned home after work. I kept a mental tally of the horrible drivers, the rude or goofy people, and every challenging situation to drag through my day and off-load on my poor husband when I got home.

My idea of newsworthy was the negative, never the good. I seemed to find importance in sharing negative stories, subconsciously bypassing all of the wonderful things that happened throughout my day. It wasn’t good for my health, never mind my relationships. I must have been like a dark cloud entering the house, because even hanging out with chronic complainers is destructive to our health.

Negative thoughts are stickier and harder to get rid of due to our brain’s inherent negativity bias. This is an evolutionary capacity of our brains to pay more attention to what’s threatening than to what’s good. While my life was never under threat, chronic complaining was keeping me stuck in a negative rut, making me blind to the good things in my life. It caused me to suffer. Something had to change and my mind is what needed changing.

Learning about the creative nature of my thoughts and examining my mental tendency toward the negative was a big wake-up call for me. Understanding the brain-science compelled me to form new habits, creating a happier, healthier life. It was easier than I believed.

Brain science reveals this common habit of complaining is addictive, and comes at a cost to our mental, emotional, and physical health. Complaining shrinks the hippocampus, the part of our brains responsible for memory and problem solving, and activates the fight-or-flight response, according to research from Stanford University.

Constant complaining increases levels of the stress hormone cortisol, putting us at risk of:

• heart disease and stroke

• high cholesterol

• obesity

• diabetes

• digestive problems

• decreased memory

• impaired ability to respond to new situations

• increased risk of depression

• shortened lifespan

Brain scientists know neurones that fire together, wire together.

Feeding negative thoughts strengthens those habits of mind, making it more likely we’ll continue down the same negative trend of thought in the future. It’s like a virus of mind that grows and gets stronger.

We don’t have to be a victim to our thoughts. The plastic or changeable nature of our brains makes it possible for us to rewire our brains for the positive.

Awareness is curative. Becoming aware of our tendencies of thought is important. In becoming aware of my habit to hold on to the negative events of my days and complain about them, I made a conscious choice to start to look for the good.

Interestingly, in a fairly short period of time, this also became a habit. My gratitude practice is essential.

Challenging things still happen, so it’s not about wearing rose-colored glasses or stuffing our feelings. Learning to vent when we must, but not staying stuck in the mental loop of complaining is important. Finding a way to air our grievances in a productive way is supportive to our health.

Before we complain, we have a choice. We can choose to create more space for happiness.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Corinne is first a wife, mother, and grandmother, whose eclectic background has created a rich alchemy that serves to inform her perspectives on life.

An assistant minister at the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna, she is a retired nurse with a master’s degree in health science and is a hospice volunteer.  She is also an adjunct professor with the school of nursing  at UBC Okanagan and currently spends her time teaching smartUBC, a unique mindfulness program offered at UBC, to the public. 

She is a speaker and presenter and from her diverse experience and knowledge, both personally and professionally, she has developed an extraordinary passion for helping people gain a new perspective, awaken and recognize we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts, stress or to life. We are always at a point of change.

Through this column, Corinne blends her insights and research to provide food for the mind and the heart, to encourage an awakening of the power and potential within everyone.

Corinne lives in Kelowna with her husband of 44 years and can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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