Complaining makes us more than just negative people

The cost of complaining

Most of us know someone who complains too much, the over-complainer who seems to find their importance in griping about everything.

You know, it's that person whose food is never right at the restaurant, who finds a problem in any good thing that’s happening and to whom the glass is always half-empty. He or she is hard to be around.

It may be even more difficult when we are one of those people.

Our complaining and negative thoughts are far from innocent. Due to our mind’s neuroplastic nature, dwelling in complaint rewires our brains to pay more attention to what’s negative than the good, hence the chronic nature of the habit of complaining.

Chronic complaining keeps us stuck in a negative rut, making us blind to the good things in life. 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 griping and complaining are ways to vent our frustrations and concerns, they can be very seductive and even addictive. Their cost is great.

Not only does this habit affect our relationships, it also affects our health. Our thoughts are creative and we are the first ones to experience the effects of our thinking nature. For the good or the bad, our bodies benefit or suffer according to where we spend our mental attention.

Because our bodies don’t know the difference between what’s real and imagined, dwelling in complaint and challenge causes a cascade of stress chemicals to pour through our bodies. It causes us to suffer.

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 neurons 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 our habits of holding on to the negative events of our days and complain about them, we can make a conscious choice of looking for the good, and making this our habit.

One simple practice is called “three good things”. Simply choose a time, or set an alert on your phone to remind you daily to pause and mentally list three good things that have happened in the day. Spend some time considering what’s gone well, from the simple to the grand.

As simple as this practice is, it’s helpful in rewiring your brain to notice the good. I choose to practice this several times daily, especially if I’m feeling drawn to what’s negative. In addition, a gratitude practice or journal is helpful.

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 and acknowledging what is good within our lives. So, let’s begin right now, and list three good things.

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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