Scientists show constant complaining is not good for us

The harm in complaining

Beware, constant complaining harms our health.

The past couple years have provided abundant fodder for those who love to complain.

It’s been like a smorgasbord of dismal delights. Yet, for the chronic complainer, even joyous events offer opportunity to gripe and complain. No matter what’s happening, they’re sure to find the down-side, as the inner Eeyore surfaces. Even small inconveniences present ripe opportunity to complain and spread the negativity virus with anyone who’ll listen. Negativity is contagious.

I once found importance in complaining. Unlike Suzy Sunshine, I had a habit of airing my complaints as soon as I returned home after work. I kept a mental tally of the horrible drivers, the rude or goofy people, and every challenging situation to drag through my day and off-load on my poor husband when I got home.

My idea of newsworthy was the negative, never the good. I seemed to find importance in sharing negative stories, subconsciously bypassing all of the wonderful things that happened throughout my day. It wasn’t good for my health, never mind my relationships. I must have been like a dark cloud entering the house, because even hanging out with chronic complainers is destructive to our health.

Negative thoughts are stickier and harder to get rid of due to our brain’s inherent negativity bias. This is an evolutionary capacity of our brains to pay more attention to what’s threatening than to what’s good. While my life was never under threat, chronic complaining was keeping me stuck in a negative rut, making me blind to the good things in my life. It caused me to suffer. Something had to change and my mind is what needed changing.

Learning about the creative nature of my thoughts and examining my mental tendency toward the negative was a big wake-up call for me. Understanding the brain-science compelled me to form new habits, creating a happier, healthier life. It was easier than I believed.

Brain science reveals this common habit of complaining is addictive, and comes at a cost to our mental, emotional, and physical health. Complaining shrinks the hippocampus, the part of our brains responsible for memory and problem solving, and activates the fight-or-flight response, according to research from Stanford University.

Constant complaining increases levels of the stress hormone cortisol, putting us at risk of:

• heart disease and stroke

• high cholesterol

• obesity

• diabetes

• digestive problems

• decreased memory

• impaired ability to respond to new situations

• increased risk of depression

• shortened lifespan

Brain scientists know neurones that fire together, wire together.

Feeding negative thoughts strengthens those habits of mind, making it more likely we’ll continue down the same negative trend of thought in the future. It’s like a virus of mind that grows and gets stronger.

We don’t have to be a victim to our thoughts. The plastic or changeable nature of our brains makes it possible for us to rewire our brains for the positive.

Awareness is curative. Becoming aware of our tendencies of thought is important. In becoming aware of my habit to hold on to the negative events of my days and complain about them, I made a conscious choice to start to look for the good.

Interestingly, in a fairly short period of time, this also became a habit. My gratitude practice is essential.

Challenging things still happen, so it’s not about wearing rose-colored glasses or stuffing our feelings. Learning to vent when we must, but not staying stuck in the mental loop of complaining is important. Finding a way to air our grievances in a productive way is supportive to our health.

Before we complain, we have a choice. We can choose to create more space for happiness.


Hurrying through life only adds to our anxiety

Take a moment to breathe

Time-stress is a real thing, yet living life like it’s an emergency is expensive to our health.

Our bodies don’t know the difference between real and imagined. Think of a nice, juicy, ripe lemon for 30 seconds and you’ll salivate. While this is an obvious bodily response to thought, there are myriad more subtle, internal responses happening throughout our days. Our bodies respond to thoughts with chemical cascades that hurt and harm or help and heal.

Our habit of hurry is reaching epidemic proportion. An attitude of hurry creates tension and a resulting cascade of fight-or-flight chemicals, such as cortisol and adrenalin, to course through our bodies. These are necessary when we need to react quickly to danger but in the long-term create challenges for our bodies.

The stress response is essential to keeping us safe and alive. It helped our ancestors move quickly out of the way of sabre-toothed tigers and venomous snakes. It’s important if we need to react quickly to avoid danger.

The challenge is our perception of what’s life-threatening is often skewed. From a historical perspective, we live in relative safety, yet the epidemic of stress is increasing. The perceived pressure of time is a contributing factor.

With time being a precious commodity, life often feels like a pressure cooker. Products and advertising reflect today’s perceived need for speed with the enticing use of words such as instant and quick. We want to get wherever we are going or do what we are doing faster.

Some time ago, I recognized my habit of hurry. It was so prevalent my mind was racing and body tensed before my eyes opened in the morning. Shooting out of bed like I was shot from a cannon, I grew accustomed to feeling the pit in my gut because of my continued sense of urgency and need to hurry. It felt normal. But I was perpetually exhausted, living on nerve.

Hurry became my habit. Every delay in traffic and slow person at the grocery store increased the internal tension. Soon enough, my physical, mental, and emotional health reflected the effects of my self-induced chronic stress.

In a constant state of hurry, my immune system was compromised. It caused me to be sick more often and my mind didn’t work as well. It caused me to miss simple, obvious solutions and make mistakes. I grew more irritable and unhappy living in a self-induced habitual state of time-stress.

Research reveals a correlation between time pressure and negative effects on health and quality of life. Research also reveals our decision-making ability is compromised when we feel the pressure of time. While time can be a real pressure, the sense of needing to rush easily becomes a habit which prevents us from savouring the simple pleasures and from being able to think clearly.

I found a key to freedom when I recognized how pervasive my hurry habit had become and the effect it had on my life. I certainly wasn’t my best-self when I felt in a rush.

A simple remedy is to check in with ourselves throughout the day. Sitting in traffic is the perfect place to begin. Pause and notice when the sense of hurry is present and how it feels in your body, mind, and emotions. Then, relax, take a few deep belly breaths, soften your body, and notice how that feels. Consciously compare the feelings of tension with the feelings of relaxation.

Then ask yourself if there’s really a need for speed. What is the worst that could happen if something took a few seconds longer? Consider whether stress is worth spending your physical, mental, and emotional health.

We become more efficient and effective when we lose the sense of emergency and allow ourselves to feel a sense of calm, thereby deactivating the stress response. Instead of suffering time delays, I now use those inevitable waiting times for my own benefit.

Even when time-pressure is real, I choose not to be a victim to the stress response. Simply taking a few deep, slow breaths as I remember life is not an emergency has made life much more pleasurable.

The upcoming holiday season is the perfect time to pause, take a breath and relax rather than rush through events that are meant for us to enjoy.

Important to learn how to talk about death, dying and grief

Taboo topics

Sex and sexuality—the “facts of life”—were once taboo topics.

My mother was so uncomfortable with the topics, she simply left a book out for me to read when she thought the time was right. We never had “the talk.” Sex and sexuality were veiled in mystery and many pretended it didn’t happen.

That’s certainly changed. People are better informed and educated about this normal aspect of the life now. I love what my grandchildren know about sexuality and the procreative process. We can talk about it without discomfort. It’s refreshing.

Sex is a fact of life and learning about it, beyond rumour, myth and back-room whispers, is helpful. There’s more comfort in being able to talk about it and seek support with questions and challenges.

Whilst our society is more comfortable in discussing sexuality, we’ve still got room to grow in discussing other important facts of life—dying, death, and grief.

None of us gets out of this world alive. We’ll all experience grief, yet often know so little about it. Like sex, we’re better when we know more. As a society, we’re often so focussed on living we give very little thought to what happens at the end, or what happens when we lose a loved one.

Loss and grief can be isolating, just when we need support the most.

Death of a loved one can stop us dead in our tracks, turning our lives and emotions upside-down in the best of times.

Grief is often lonely, yet the pain of loss and grief has been magnified through the pandemic. Many have been left isolated in their grief as we’ve lost the ability to receive the important support of the usual rites and processes. People are suffering.

Grief’s not a predictable, neat process we emerge from after a set period of time. It’s often messy, affecting every level of our being, and it may show up in very unusual and confusing ways. Grief doesn’t wait until after a death to begin and often starts the moment a life-limiting diagnosis is received. Receiving wise support is essential, yet we often feel alone.

All too often, I hear people who feel abandoned by their friends when they need them most. People stay away in normal times due to their own discomfort with dying, death and grief. The restrictions of the pandemic have only increased the isolation.

Not only abandoned by friends, I used to abandon myself in grief, trying to stay busy to outrun the painful feelings. It didn’t work. Learning about grief has become a personal passion for me. I can now navigate my grief in a healthy, helpful way, making my life so much better, while allowing myself to be more present for others experiencing loss.

We can do better by learning more. Becoming knowledgeable about grief and how we can support ourselves and others is empowering, allowing us to give and receive the support that’s required.

Both the Central Okanagan Hospice Association (COHA) and the Canadian Hospice and Palliative Care Association (CHPCA) work to normalize conversations around the dying process and recognize grief and bereavement as a natural response to loss. They offer support to people experiencing grief across the spectrum.

COHA has experienced a greater number of younger people reaching out for support in recent months. In response, it has expanded its programs to meet the increased need, including expanded professional counselling services to include children and youths, as well as addressing topics such as anticipatory grief and navigating life when a loved-one is dying.

By offering vital pre-death and post-death support, the work COHA does is invaluable to our community. Donations can be made here.

November 14 is National Grief and Bereavement Day and CHPCA is offering programs of support.

A special grief and bereavement webinar is scheduled for Nov. 16 from 10 am. to 11 a.m., providing rich resources to the bereaved. It will also present a National Bereavement Day concert virtually, on Nov. 14 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., featuring musicians from every province and territory, to create space for grief and remembrance. These events are are free to attend, although donations will be appreciated.

Death, dying and grief are topics we need to discuss and learn more about to help us better navigate the inevitable pain of loss.


Important to practice self-forgiveness

Burden of guilt

I’m not the person I used to be, and that’s not a bad thing. I am so much more, and so are you. Our past doesn’t define us.

There’ve been many versions of me through the years, each of which has contributed to the person I am today. I’ll bet the same is true for you.

I’ve had great successes, yet I’ve made many mistakes and bad decisions. I’ve been kind and caring, yet I’ve also been unskilled and acted poorly. I’ve made great decisions, yet I’ve suffered from poor judgment at times. I’ve been good to many, yet I’ve also hurt people along the way.

There’s been the good and the bad, yet it’s usually the negative that I remember the most. This is because of the brain’s inherent negativity bias, or the tendency for our minds to be “teflon for the good, and Velcro for the bad”, according to Dr. Rick Hanson, psychologist and senior fellow of UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center. We can change this with practice.

For many years, remembering my mistakes and mis-steps caused me to suffer. It was like a bolt of lightning going through my body when I’d remember something I wasn’t proud of. The simple memory of them could plunge me into painful places. It was hard and I suffered, as I was dragged down the rabbit-hole of painful memories and self-judgment. I had to do something, and learning about self-forgiveness was essential.

Let’s be clear, forgiveness isn’t about minimizing or condoning what happened, it’s about letting go of the pain of carrying past hurts. This is true whether we’re speaking of forgiving others or forgiving ourselves. Forgiveness isn’t about excusing past mistakes; it’s about letting go of our own pain and suffering because of what’s happened.

While forgiveness practice can be challenging, the practice of self-forgiveness is routinely the hardest for people to engage in. It certainly was for me; I could forgive others much more quickly than I could forgive myself. I held myself to a higher standard and felt I must continue to pay for what I’d done wrong by holding myself more accountable. This wasn’t true, as it only caused me to feel defensive and shut-down.

When it came to my internal dialogue, I wouldn’t have spoken to a stranger as poorly as I spoke to myself. This had to change, so in addition to formal forgiveness practices, I also began a practice of becoming my own best friend. When painful memories of past mistakes surfaced, I’d simply ask myself what I’d say to someone I cared for deeply. I’d then offer myself the same care, wisdom, and consideration I’d give to another.

Practicing self-forgiveness has helped me apologize and make amends along the way, take responsibility for things I’ve done, and free myself from the limiting burden of guilt and shame. Self-forgiveness allowed me to view myself as a human-becoming, wiser and kinder from the experience.

Self-forgiveness has offered me a bird’s eye view of my life.

I’ve been able to put things in a truer perspective, to be able to see the good, and to realize that the mistakes and challenges in my life have offered me the best learning opportunities when I’m able to hold myself in compassion and practice self-forgiveness.

All forgiveness practices are processes, not events. With willingness and time, we can change the inherent negativity bias. In learning not to hold myself hostage and to forgive myself and my past, I’ve been able to heal and grow and become a better person.

I love this quote by Arielle Estoria: “Be kind to all the past versions of you. They are the soil in which you now bloom.”

More New Thought articles

About the Author

Corinne is first a wife, mother, and grandmother, whose eclectic background has created a rich alchemy that serves to inform her perspectives on life.

Corinne, a registered nurse with a master’s degree in Health Science, is a staff minister with the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna, and a hospice volunteer. She is an adjunct professor with the school of nursing  at UBC Okanagan, and is currently teaching smartUBC, a unique Mindfulness program offered at UBC, to the public. She is an invited speaker and presenter.

From diverse experience and knowledge, personally and professionally, Corinne has developed an extraordinary passion for helping people to gain a new perspective, awaken, and to recognize that we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts or to life; we are always at a point of change.

Through this column, Corinne blends her insights and research to provide food for the mind and the heart, to encourage an awakening of the power and potential within everyone.

Corinne lives in Kelowna with her husband of 41 years, and can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

Previous Stories