Everyone complains from time to time, but did you know that it could be damaging your health?
It’s a usual Monday in the office. Colleagues have a cup of much-needed caffeine in hand and… everyone’s complaining. About the traffic in the morning, the chilly weather, failed weekend plans, or the work load that’s accumulated on desks. Jump forward to the end of the day and you’re finally home with loved ones, but what
are you talking about? You’re grumbling again – about the co-worker who makes your work life more difficult, about
kids refusing to eat their dinner… Sound familiar?
Just stop and think about how much you’ve whinged today.
Did you know that constant complaining, and focusing on the negative and life’s chaos has a physical impact on your brain? As a muscle, your brain can adapt and rewire itself to work in ways that are useful. For example, repetitive activities like knitting or throwing a ball become easier the more you practise. Impulses travel through nerve endings to the brain, and when you repeat a behaviour, the brain recognises this and moves the synapses between the nerve
endings closer together, allowing the flow of information to move faster. Makes sense, right? Now here’s where
complaining comes in: your brain does exactly the same thing with your thoughts.
Daniella Rafaely, a psychology lecturer at Monash South Africa says, ‘The brain’s ability to adapt to new situations
and experiences by strengthening certain neural pathways and maximising their efficiency is a survival strategy that
has stood us in good stead as a species over millennia. However, this ability, known as experience-dependent
neuroplasticity, has its downsides too.’
How complaining affects your health
Set to default
The more your thoughts and thought processes are centred on complaining, the more your brain alters its structure, so that this becomes the dominant path your thoughts will take. Daniella continues: ‘The brain will literally adapt to all of the experiences it is exposed to, so if you utilise negative biases to make sense of situations (for example, believing that your friend didn’t call you back because she didn’t care about you, rather than because she’s busy),
then you’ll be consistently exposing your brain to negatively narrated experiences. Your brain, knowing that its job is
to maximise efficiency, will unfortunately start working very hard to strengthen these neural connections, thus
cementing the negative biases further, so that they’re more readily accessible to you.’
In essence, it becomes your default thought option; and a cycle of constant complaining becomes harder to break.
Those poster quotes were right: surround yourself with positive people. As social animals, we thrive on communication with others. However, when you interact with chronic complainers and emphatically negative
people, it slowly begins to impact on your thought behaviour. This is largely due to neural mirroring and the
neurons responsible for allowing you to empathise with others through imagination.
Will Bowen, founder of A Complaint Free World, says an alarming 78% of American workers estimate wasting more than 3-6 hours every week listening to co-workers complain! When faced with a bombardment of complaints from friends and colleagues, it begins to alter your own brain, leading to negative mannerisms developing within yourself.
Complaining frequently? You might also notice the disappearance of the positive people in your life, who may be feeling alienated by your continuous gripes and grumbles.
Constant moaning and protesting leads to stress, and when you’re stressed your body produces the steroid hormone, cortisol. In the correct quantities in your bloodstream, cortisol is extremely useful. It’s responsible for the ‘fight or flight’
mode, and activates a release in adrenaline and redirects blood flow to areas of your body that most need it for survival. It simultaneously raises your blood pressure and glucose levels. However, when you produce too much of
it, cortisol can have serious consequences. Too much cortisol weakens the immune system, increases the chance of developing heart conditions due to rising blood pressure, increases the risk of obesity and diabetes, and has psychological effects too – depression, and even the onset of mental illness.
On the extreme side, too much negativity can lead to an increased feeling of bitterness, which in itself can turn into a hostile emotion that can impact negatively on both body and mind.
‘Although we all complain from time to time, chronic complaining can result in a state of “rumination”, where our verbal and nonverbal expressions of dissatisfaction become circular and do not lead to any resolution. Ruminating, or endlessly dwelling on our dissatisfaction, causes us to complain in ways that may even entrench more deeply the negative aspects of our lives, leading to embitterment,’ says Daniella.
But life isn’t always seen through rose-tinted glasses, and complaining can be a positive thing, too – you can get rid of
frustrations and avoid mental health problems that might be caused by bottling up feelings. You need to be aware of negativity taking over your thoughts, and possibly blocking positive solutions when you’re faced with daily difficulties.
FEATURE: TARYN DAS NEVES PHOTO: FOTOLIA.COM