We all do it. Something goes wrong and we instinctively vent to our friend, co-worker, or family member. While it’s important to express our feelings, what we say and how we say it has a significant impact on our wellbeing. You may know that complaining isn’t good for your mental health, but have you ever wondered what complaining does to your brain?
Changes Brain Pathways
Your brain is constantly on the hunt for the easy button. It’s naturally driven to find the easiest route from point A to point B. You know this process as a habit. When your brain develops habits, the neural structure of your brain changes along it. Your neurons create bridges that make the behavior repeatable. What complaining does to your brain is creates a negativity pathway that becomes easier and easier to repeat. The resulting pattern of negativity overtakes positive feelings and emotions and becomes your default way of responding to life. People notice and may begin to withdraw from you, impacting your relational wellbeing along with your emotional health.
Observable changes have also been discovered in the hippocampus of the brain. Researchers at Stanford University noticed that the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for problem-solving and intellectual thinking, shrinks with complaining. When you consider what complaining does to your brain’s hippocampus, it’s startling to recognize that this behavior acts similarly to Alzheimer’s in the way it leads to physical deterioration of the brain structure.
Elevated Cortisol Levels
The cortisol response to complaining is similar to the response your body has to stress. Cortisol levels rise along with complaining, which leads to higher blood pressure, an impaired immune system, and a higher likelihood of metabolic syndrome and other chronic diseases. Being in a constant state of fight or flight is another indicator of what complaining does to your brain and why it’s important to manage this response.
Impact on Others
You’ve likely heard it said that you are a reflection of the people who surround you. If you are surrounded by people who complain, or you are the complainer, that habit will quickly become the norm. Your brain is wired to mirror the behavior of those around you. What complaining does to your brain is to signal others to “try it on,” too. It’s not just social norms that encourage this behavior but your brain biology that prompts you to mimic the behavior. The longer you are surrounded by others who complain, the more likely you are to adopt this habit. It takes a conscious decision and awareness to break from the complainers if this is a habit you would like to break.
The average person complains anywhere from 15-30 times each day. When you understand more completely what complaining does to your brain, you may consider how to reduce the number of complaints you lodge each day.
Just as your brain can rewire itself for negativity, it can also do so for positivity. Make it a point to be encouraging to others, practice gratitude more often, and minimize your exposure to other complainers so that you can build a happy and healthy brain.