Complaining Is Terrible For Your Health, According To Science

A negative outlook bears consequences for your well-being, both mentally and physically.


Complaining With A Purpose.

We all complain at times. We don’t do this to offend others. You and I want to let people know we are unhappy or frustrated. Our reasoning is simple: “Get the word out about your feelings and you’ll be happy.”

Sharing Negative Vibes.

Unfortunately, life doesn’t work like that and you and I suffer. Here’s how this flawed reasoning works: When you or I express our negative feelings (e.g., suffering), our comments make those around us feel more negative. They feel badly for us, and those feelings actually affect theirs and our thinking. When they respond to us, psychologist Jeffrey Lohr suggests in a recent podcast, that the result is not what our verbal venting intended.

Negativity and the Brain.

Our complaining is not good for our brains or our physical and mental health. Steven Parton, trained in processing (computer science) and thinking (psychology), recently reported that our complaining alters our thinking process. That alteration negatively affects our whole mental health, and perhaps our literal “life.”

Training Synapses.

A nerve pathway is a collection of nerve cells connected via “synaptic clefts,” the spaces between individual nerve cells. When a nerve cell fires, there is an electrochemical charge directed across that synaptic cleft to the next nerve cell adjacent to it. The ability of subsequent signals to cross the synaptic cleft is enhanced with each signal transmission. That is, there is a training effect resulting when you do the same thing again and again.

Brain Rewiring and Your Thinking.

This happens, Parton notes, because “every time this electrical charge is triggered, the synapses grow closer together in order to decrease the distance the electrical charge has to cross.” In effect, your cortex rewires itself. Parton suggests that the brain is “physically changing itself, to make it easier [for the nerves to work] together … to trigger” your future thoughts.

The “Short” Answer for Effects of Negative Thinking.

If you rethink a thought or solve a similar problem, it is mentally easier the second time around because your synapses are “sparking” to connect those nerve cells more efficiently. If you work negative thinking regularly, it is easier for your mind to be negative again. If you think positively, the same effect on repetitive thinking applies. In terms of “operant conditioning,” once a pattern is established, it is more likely to recur given similar circumstances. If you have negative thinking, you will be more likely to be negative in the future, given that you have set those synapses for a new behavioral pattern.

Programming the Synaptic Cleft for Repetitive Thinking.

From a synaptic standpoint, Parton suggests, enhancing the electrochemical connection of nerve cells across the synaptic cleft brings the likelihood of your repetition “proclivities closer and closer together” because resistance in the nerve pathway is reduced allowing faster access to earlier thinking than alternative thoughts, essentially completing a thought engram before any positive thinking can be constructed in your brain.

Effects of the Company You Keep.

You and I are social animals. We verbally share our ideas and thinking. Those shared thinking patterns reprogram our brains, sometimes with less work. Indoctrination as a process is successful because people hear and process what is heard, reinforcing those same auditory pathways and engrams comprising our thinking. Parton notes that “when we see someone experiencing … anger, sadness, happiness, etc, our brain 'tries out' that same emotion to imagine what the other person is going through.” That is, their speech causes your brain “to fire the same synapses in your own brain so that you can attempt to relate to the emotion you're observing.” This empathetic kind of thinking undergirds mob responses and shared music experiences on a concert level.

People Connections.

We all value positive thinking and resist negativity. The sense of Parton’s view is simple. You get happy by being around happy people because you rewire your brain with happy thoughts because of them. The reverse is true with negative people. If you want unhappiness, cultivate those negative people in your life. “Mom was right” when she told you to avoid bad company.

Attitude Affects Health.

You and I have it in our power to resist complaining behavior. Parton notes that “when your brain is firing off these synapses of anger, you’re weakening your immune system; you’re raising your blood pressure … [and] a plethora of other negative ailments.”

Controlling Cortisol, Key to Positive Behavior.

Our negativity behavior stimulates a release of cortisol on that synaptic level. Known as the “stress hormone,” cortisol will “interfere with learning and memory, lower immune function, and bone density, increase weight” and so forth. In Parton’s terms, negative behavior patterns trigger negative thinking, but also induce bad health in the process by enhancing the synaptic cleft and nerve pathways to cortisol.


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