How Complaining Rewires your Brain for Negativity

Negative thinking and frequent complaining can actually rewire our brains for continued negativity.

Research shows that most people complain once a minute during a typical conversation. Complaining is tempting because it feels good. But like many other things that are enjoyable such as smoking or eating hot chips for breakfast, complaining isn’t good for you.

How complaining affects the brain

Our brains thrive on efficiency. They conserve energy and try not to work any harder than they have to. When you repeat a behaviour, such as complaining, the neurons in your brain branch out to each other, allowing the flow of information to the right place. Over time, as this behaviour is repeated, this flow of information becomes a well walked path where the destination is known and easy to get to. This makes it much easier to repeat that behaviour in the future – so easy, in fact, that you may not even realise you’re doing it. It is automatic.

The brain has done its job. It has produced an efficient process that doesn’t really require much energy. It has just built a permanent bridge, rather than a temporary one that constantly needs rebuilding. This allows your brain’s neurons to grow closer together, and the connections between them become more permanent. This is known as, “neurons that fire together, wire together.”

Constantly complaining causes these neurons to rewire. This allows future complaining to be more likely. Over time, this path is well-walked and negative thinking and complaining become easy. You can do it on autopilot without using much energy at all. Complaining has now become your default behaviour. Negative thinking has also become your default. This changes your persona for the people around you and how they view you. You are negative.

Complaining is also bad for your health

It doesn’t stop there. When you complain, your body releases cortisol – a stress hormone. When you go into fight or flight mode, your heart is racing, your breathing is fast and shallow – cortisol has kicked in. You are ready to flee or fight. This response directs oxygen, blood, and energy to only the systems that are essential for immediate survival.

Negative thinking and complaining affect the brain in so many ways. Having cortisol constantly released into your bloodstream causes changes in your body. For one, it impairs your immune system – we don’t need a fully active immune system when we are fleeing or fighting! High cortisol also makes you susceptible to high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. All of these can further lead to atherosclerosis, the leading cause of death in Australia. All of a sudden, constant complaining is now getting more than being a bit negative.

Look around you…

We, as human beings, naturally and unconsciously mimic the moods of people around us. Especially people that we spend a great deal of time with. And even if you are not the complainer, you are not immune to the ill effects of complaining. Just being in the presence of a complainer can increase your cortisol… and you know the rest.

The thing is, complainers, want you to join their side of the line. It makes them feel better about themselves. Think of a situation where you rebut a complainer…. it can get quite awkward or heated. They want you on their side. It strengthens them. Being in their company, taking on their negativity is toxic. This is no different from sitting next to a smoker all day, inhaling their passive smoke. Would you do that?!?

How to stop this

Knowing how complaining affects the brain and our behaviour is the first step in making change. Actively harbour an attitude of gratitude. When you feel the need to complain or catch yourself out complaining, think of something you are thankful for. It is easy. Rewire that brain. There are so many things to be thankful for. You need to focus on those. This will reduce the cortisol stress hormone. The University of California says that it will reduce your cortisol by up to 23% along with improving your mood and energy. You will also be less likely to be anxious with lowered cortisol levels.

Use this as motivation to shift your thoughts. At the start, you may need to do this consciously. Over time, as the complaining road is less traveled, that brain of yours will dissemble that permanent complaining bridge and make your gratitude bridge, which was once temporary, permanent. Over time, being a positive being will become a way of life for you. Your health will benefit, your mood will benefit and even your relationships may be better. Because at the end of the day, nobody likes a negative Nelly!

This blog post is an educational tool only.  It is not a replacement for medical advice from a registered and qualified doctor or health professional.

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