Dr. Helen

Does Complaining "Damage" Your Brain?

I sometimes think so and so does this research on the topic of complaining:

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 a pound of bacon for breakfast — complaining isn’t good for you.

Your brain loves efficiency and doesn’t like to work any harder than it has to. When you repeat a behavior, such as complaining, your neurons branch out to each other to ease the flow of information. This makes it much easier to repeat that behavior in the future — so easy, in fact, that you might not even realize you’re doing it.

You can’t blame your brain. Who’d want to build a temporary bridge every time you need to cross a river? It makes a lot more sense to construct a permanent bridge. So, your neurons grow closer together, and the connections between them become more permanent. Scientists like to describe this process as, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”

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.

I have often listed complaining as my hobby when asked on medical forms about that how you spend your time. I usually just put that down as a joke but maybe it’s not so funny.

There is a difference between complaining and stating a legitimate concern that requires attention but complaining just for the sake of it may not be a good strategy.

If you tend to complain, what is it typically about and do you think you could stop? Do you think it is healthier to stop?