Take a moment to think about how many things you complain about per day: the weather, the traffic, your friends, your family, your boss, horrible service at a restaurant, how slow your internet is, the list goes on.
Complaining about these dissatisfactions on a regular basis may leave you feeling helpless, hopeless and victimised. Over time, the accumulation of these dissatisfactions and feelings of helplessness may have a negative impact on your mood, self-esteem and general mental health.
Complaining too much can create negative energy which makes it hard to create a positive outcome. In July 2006, Reverend Will Bowen had a vision of people focusing on and talking about the things they desire, rather than complaining about how things are. Bowen began teaching a series on prosperity which included the exploration of forming the habit of gratitude. Bowen purchased purple bracelets and asked the congregation to put them on one arm. When they caught themselves complaining they moved the bracelet to the other arm. This was repeated until they could go 21 days without complaining. Bowen’s idea of a “complaint free world” is now known worldwide with nearly 10 million purple bracelets sent to people in more than 106 countries.
Why is Complaining be Bad for You?!
The problem with many complaints today is that they can become a way to vent, as opposed to a way to problem solve. When you stay focused on a complaint, you are empowering negativity and allowing it to expand and take over. Thus, rather than resolving problems and creating change, complaining can become ineffective and create unnecessary stress.
The stress caused by complaining can have a lasting and negative impact on the brain. Studies have shown that even a few days of stress damages the neurons in the hippocampus (the part of the brain used for problem solving and cognitive functioning), and impairs its ability to create new neurons.
Over time this can result in the hippocampus shrinking, which can cause a decline in cognitive functions such as memory and the ability to adapt to new situations. A study by Hampel and colleagues (2008) has also found that the hippocampus is one of the first regions of the brain to suffer damage in those with Alzheimer’s disease.
Your brain’s hippocampus is impaired by your own complaining, but how is it affected by listening to the complaining of others?
Complaining can be compared to smoking, for the reason that you do not have to be the one complaining for it to affect your health. Listening to other people complaining can have the same negative impact on the brain, as it does when you are the one doing the complaining. Research conducted by Professor Sapolsky at Stanford’s medical school found that exposure to just 30 minutes of complaining and negativity (including viewing this on TV) per day can physically damage your brain. Sapolsky’s study also revealed that exposure to complaining and negativity causes your brain to have the same emotional reaction as that experienced when stressed.
How To Reduce Complaining
What can you do to reduce complaining and negativity in your life?
If you find your chronic complaining is starting to wear on your mental health, here are a few helpful tips:
- Acknowledge the negative things which happen to you and how they affect you. Acknowledge your frustration or anger about the situation or person or whatever triggered your complaint.
- Change your view of the problem. Problematic situations and people can give you an opportunity to learn and grow.
- Focus on solutions. If you stay focused on what is wrong, you could hinder your growth and keep the solutions from coming to you. Do something that will help your brain get into a creative problem solving mode.
- Get some distance. Go and do something to keep your mind off the complaint.
- Keep a gratitude journal. You can list or write about the things you are thankful for each day. Focusing on what you’re grateful for can help get your mind off your complaining. Gratitude can also re-energize your brain by reversing the negativity of complaining.
- Buy or make a bracelet. Using Bowen’s idea of the complaint free world bracelets, place a bracelet on one wrist and every time you complain, swap the bracelet to your other wrist. Keep doing this until you get to 21 consecutive days without complaining.
- Complaining and negativity coming from those around you can be challenging to deal with, but like our own complaining there are ways to manage it:
- Acknowledge and validate the complainer’s feelings. Express sympathy and understanding then redirect the focus to something else.
- Do not try to convince chronic complainers that things are “not that bad”. That is their cue to bring up additional dissatisfactions.
- Avoid mindlessly agreeing with the complainer. While it may be one of the fastest ways to get them to stop, they may now see you as an ally and continue to complain to you in the future.
- Set boundaries. Politely and sincerely let the complainer know that you like them and that you want to support them, but that you can no longer listen to how bad things are for them. Remember, you are not responsible for the happiness and wellbeing of others. If they respect your request, they may change the conversation to something that is not negative or a complaint.
- Avoid chronic complainers. If you have exhausted all other options and the complainer is still negatively impacting on your day, try avoid conversation with them.
If you find yourself constantly complaining or dwelling on the negatives aspects of life, instead of complaining, why not choose thoughts and words that will lead to a solution? Instead of wasting your time and energy complaining, use your energy to seek happiness. For more information on how to reduce complaining and negativity in your life, call M1 Psychology on (07) 3067 9129 to book an appointment with a qualified treating therapist.
- Bowen, W. (2007). A Complaint Free World. Three Rivers Press. New York.
- Bradberry, T. (2002). How Negativity and Complaining Literally Rot Your Brain. Retrieved via www.talentsmart.com
- Hampel, H., Bürger K, Teipel S. J., Bokde, A. L., Zetterberg, H., Blennow, K. (2008). Core candidate neurochemical and imaging biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimers & Dementia, 4(1), 38–48. doi:10.1016/j.jalz.2007.08.006.
- McEwen, B. S. (2004). Structural plasticity of the adult brain: how animal models help us understand brain changes in depression and systemic disorders related to depression. Dialogues in Clinical Neurosciences, 6(2), 119–133.
- Sapolsky, R. M. (1996). Stress, Glucocorticoids and Damage to the Nervous System: The Current State of Confusion. Department of Biological Sciences, 1 (1), 1-19. Doi:10.3109/10253899609001092
- Sapolsky, R. M. (1996). Why stress is bad for your brain. Science, 273(5276), 749-750.
- Winch, G. (2011). The Squeaky Wheel: Complaining the right way to get results, improve your relationship and enhance self esteem. Walker Publishing Company: New York.
- Vyas, A., Mitra, R., Rao, B. S., & Chattarji, S. (2002).Chronic Stress Induces Contrasting Patterns of Dendritic Remodeling in Hippocampal and Amygdaloid Neurons. The Journal of Neuroscience, 22(15), 6810–6818.