Have you ever noticed how complaining a little can often lead to complaining a lot? It’s absolutely true that when something bad happens complaining loudly and passionately to anyone who will listen can be incredibly satisfying. But, it’s also true that the resulting satisfaction is often short-lived and ultimately does very little to relieve the problem that caused it in the first place. Instead, it makes us predisposed toward complaining in the future and creates a whole lot of negative effects that are by far more wide reaching than you can imagine.
In a social situation, the average person complains once a minute. As a matter of fact, this phenomena is so common, most of us never really realize just how often we are exposed to negative comments as well as how frequently we tend to spread them ourselves. It’s hard for us to comprehend how a half hour of complaining on a daily basis can do serious damage to our brains. But, that is exactly what happens since it has very real mental and physiological consequences that ultimately impact our health and the health of those who surround us. Hence it’s incredibly important to complain less.
Why We Have to Complain Less
The brain is the most complex organ in the body made up of billions and billions of nerve cells called neurons. Generally speaking, neurons communicate with other neurons by passing electrical and chemical signals through the synapses (contact points) that separate them. When we have a thought, a neuron shoots one of these signals to another neuron thereby building a bridge and drawing them closer together. In other words, the neurons that fire together ends up wiring together. The more we complain the more we structure our brains to keep doing it.
Furthermore, researchers at Stanford University have shown how complaining actually shrinks the hippocampus, which is the brain’s main center for problem-solving and intellectual thinking. This is considerably more frightening when we take into account that the hippocampus is the primary area destroyed by Alzheimer’s, a progressive degenerative disease that is also one of the most common forms of dementia. So, as you can see, the damage caused by complaining is both immediate and long-lasting, but that’s not all.
Now, you may recall from our previous posts that cortisol is a stress hormone that’s part of our fight-or-flight response. In other words, when we are faced with a particularly dangerous, stressful or unexpected situation, our bodies react by flooding our systems with hormones that aid our ability to think faster and move quicker by directing blood, oxygen, and energy from the rest of the body to areas that are essential for our immediate survival. Normally, these effects are temporary; returning to normal after the threat is over. But, when stress is chronic they do not.
Put simply, complaining does not allow us to move on from the event, forcing cortisol levels to remain spiked. When we engage in it, instead of getting something off our chests and feeling better, we are actually forcing our bodies to relive the stressful event over and over. As a result, we actually end up doing more harm than good, since we only end up increasing our aggravation ten-fold. This causes a number of serious issues, from high blood pressure and blood sugar to weakened immunity and problems with learning.
The damage we cause ourselves by engaging in complaining unfortunately also extends to others. Since people are social, we unintentionally and unconsciously tend to mimic the behavior of those who surround us. This process is referred to as neuronal mirroring. A mirror neuron is a neuron that fires when we perform an action as well as when we observe that action being performed by another person. So, by complaining in front of others, we are not only drawing them into our pity party, we are essentially rewiring their brains to do the same.
How to Complain Less Starting Today
Indeed, the negative effects of complaining are by far more wide reaching than most of us tend to realize. But, there is something you can do to change your behavior and lead a by far more satisfying life. Start practicing emotional hygiene by adapting goal-oriented complaining. Do not voice your dissatisfaction until you understand what got you upset in the first place, and what you’d like to get out of voicing it as a result. Remember, simply venting does absolutely nothing to resolve the issue, but having a specific aim very well may.
Keep in mind that you’re dealing with other people, who may or may not have anything to do with what got you upset, to begin with. When someone complains, it’s absolutely natural for people to get defensive, since a complaint is often delivered in the form of an accusation and significantly reduces their motivation to help you. Rather than start with a complaint, try to create a more collaborative atmosphere by giving the person a compliment, stating something positive, and being cooperative. Try to keep emotions to a minimum and strive to end the exchange on a good note.
Improve Your Life
Finally, when you realize that you’re about to start complaining, shift your focus to something you’re grateful for. This has been shown to reduce cortisol levels by almost 25%. Spending a bit of time thinking about what you’re grateful can cancel out the damage caused by complaining since you’re essentially building new neural connections that will make it easier to be positive in the future. And, as with everything else in life, be prepared to let go of our complaint. If you can’t solve a problem, there’s no need to dedicate precious time to dwelling on it.
Now that you know how to complain less, go spread some positivity to others!