It can feel so good to vent: to let loose and complain about your awful day, that horrible boss, or your annoying roommate until it's all out of your system. But, science says that if it's not kept in check, complaining can permanently damage your brain and your body.
Most people complain once a minute during a typical conversation. No surprise, since complaining feels good, but like all vices it's actually pretty bad for you.
Complainers brains are actually wired to repeat this behavior, so most of the time, they don't even know that they're doing it.
Complaining leads to brain damage.
Repeated complaining actually rewires your brain, so that over time, it's actually easier to be negative than to be positive. Complaining becomes your default behavior and even changes how people perceive you.
Chronic complaining doesn't just damage your friendships, or your perspective, but it also rewires other parts of your brain.
Stanford University research shows that complaining shrinks the hippocampus (the problem solving part of your brain) actually reducing your ability to process intelligent thought.
Worried? You should be. The hippocampus is one of the primary brain areas that is destroyed by Alzheimer's.
One hemisphere of a healthy brain on the left and one from a person who had Alzheimer's diseaseDenis Balibouse/REUTERS
Complaining will crush your immune system
Complainers have higher blood pressure and blood sugar because their brains are constantly releasing cortisol. Cortisol is the stress hormone that shifts your brain into fight-or-flight mode.
Constant complaining floods your body with cortisol and impairs your immune system. Chronic complainers are more susceptible to high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
It even makes your brain more vulnerable to strokes.
Toxic people are poisoning you
Even if you aren't a complainer yourself, hanging out with one will have the same effects on you. The human brain unconsciously mimics the moods of the people around it in a process called neuronal mirroring.
If you spend enough time with a negative Nelly, you're bound to start thinking and feeling the same way and, before you know it, you've joined the pity party.
Count your Blessings
If you're a complainer, do not despair! The wonderful thing about the human brain is that it's what scientists call plastic, meaning it can change. You can learn to re-wire your brain so that gratitude and critical thinking become your default reactions.
Researchers at the University of California discovered that people who practice daily gratitude have lower cortisol levels and less anxiety. In fact, taking the time to count your blessings actually reduces the stress hormone by 23%.
If you have to complain, do so with a solution in mind. Practice critical thinking and deal with the present moment.
- Identify the purpose: what do you want to get out of this?
- Start positive: use statements such as: "I like ___; however, I have an issue with ____"
- Be specific: deal with today's problem, don't gripe about something that happened 10 years ago.
- End on a high note: even if you don't resolve your complaint, thank the person for listening
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