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Do you know anyone who is a whiner?

Of course you do! It’s the person who complains about everything, all of the time, without any purpose except to make them feel better and you feel worse. If you don’t know anyone like that, you’ve clearly never visited social media…

Did you know that excessive complaining can actually shrink your brain, causing literal, physical brain damage?

Back in 1996, Stanford University researchers found, using high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, “links between long-term stressful life experiences, long-term exposure to hormones produced during stress, and shrinking of the hippocampus. In case your wondering, the “hippocampus” is the part of the brain that’s critical to problem-solving and intelligent and emotional thought. It’s actually one of the primary areas destroyed by Alzheimer’s. Complaining can also cause real damage to the hippocampus, no Alzheimer’s needed.

Here’s how all this works–

Complaining feels good. At least, for a little while. It lets us “vent” our frustrations, seemingly bringing an end to our worries, but what it’s really doing is releasing harmful stress hormones like cortisol. With all that cortisol pulsing through your body, you may feel as though you’re getting ready for a fight or flight situation.

Neurologically speaking, if you are a habitual complainer, the neurons in your brain branch out to each other in order to make the flow of information easier. If you continue to complain—and studies show that habitual complainers complain once a minute in regular conversation, — your brain basically builds a permanent bridge to negativity. Repeated complaining simply rewires your brain to make future complaining more likely meaning that complaining will become your default behavior. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

And no one likes a Negative Nelly. They suck the life and joy out of any situation.

Just like smoking is bad for the smoker and second-hand smoke is bad for those who are around the smoker, the same rings true for griping and complaining.

Even if you’re not the one doing the complaining, engaging or encouraging it can have the same impact on your mental health, which can lead to other adverse effects like decreased productivity and increased cortisol levels. 

So what should you do?

Well, if you must complain, and we all do from time to time, make sure you’re not making a habit out of it.

  • Focus on the solution, not the problem. Complaining doesn’t fix anything. Try to find and vocalize solutions.
  • Be specific in pinpointing what the actual issue is. Don’t just complain about the last 20 years of everything going to pot. If there is something that needs attention, zero in on it. Leave all the other stuff that doesn’t directly pertain to it, out. In other words, don’t make mountains out of molehills.
  • Be positive. Sandwich your complaint with two positives. How? Look for something positive, or at least not absolutely terrible, about the situation. Could it be worse? Probably. Even if it’s just something little, find something positive to say.
  • Be grateful. Just as we train ourselves to be whiny, we can train ourselves to be grateful. Those neurons that make bridges to negative information can also make bridges of positivity and thankfulness.

Complaining can literally kill you slowly.

Donald Hebb, a Canadian neuropsychologist, said in 1949, Synapses that fire together wire together.

Basically, it means that when you repeat an experience over and over, the brain learns to trigger the same neurons each time.

You can train your brain. And RE-train it, if necessary.

“An attitude of gratitude” isn’t just a cliche’ saying, it’s a way of living and it can physically rewire your brain to be healthy and whole.

Remember that the next time things are going your way. You always have a choice as to how you will respond. You’re the only one who has the power to make that choice.

Choose wisely.