Have you complained to anyone in the last twenty-four hours? If you did, you are in the majority. In fact research shows that most people on average complain once a minute during a conversation.
What you may not realize is that your brain actually rewires for negativity when you get into a habit of whining. Dr. Travis Bradberry is co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0. He talks in his book about how your brain loves efficiency. It doesn’t want to work harder than necessary in the transmission of information along neural pathways. He says,
Repeated complaining rewires your brain to make future complaining more likely. Over time, you find it’s easier to be negative than to be positive, regardless of what’s happening around you. Complaining becomes your default behavior, which changes how people perceive you.
And here’s the kicker: complaining damages other areas of your brain as well. Research from Stanford University has shown that complaining shrinks the hippocampus—an area of the brain that’s critical to problem solving and intelligent thought. Damage to the hippocampus is scary; especially when you consider that it’s one of the primary brain areas destroyed by Alzheimer’s.
While it’s not an exaggeration to say that complaining leads to brain damage, it doesn’t stop there. When you complain, your body releases the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol shifts you into fight-or-flight mode, directing oxygen, blood, and energy away from everything but the systems that are essential to immediate survival. One effect of cortisol, for example, is to raise your blood pressure and blood sugar so that you’ll be prepared to either escape or defend yourself.
All the extra cortisol released by frequent complaining impairs your immune system and makes you more susceptible to high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. It even makes the brain more vulnerable to strokes.
Yikes! The good thing about your brain is its neuroplasticity. New neural pathways can be established so that you can become a grateful person and a problem solver. You are not doomed to always be a complainer. You can develop new ways of thinking that will reduce your stress.
Sometimes though, the inner battle for our mind has more to do than simply learning new thoughts. There can be other health and spiritual factors that require intervention from those who can help us.