How complaining physically rewires your brain to be anxious and depressed
I’m pretty sure we can all pick out that one person who is a consistent negative ninny. The one person who we think sees the glass half empty, but who insists that they are just a hard-edged realist. For me, it is one of my long time childhood friends Sam.
Things are never good enough for Sam and she is always the victim of something. After knowing her for about 15 years now, I’m pretty used to her negativity and I can just let it roll right off my back.
But, this is only after a lot of practice. It really used to take a lot of my energy to be around her because it was so incredibly draining. There are a couple different types of draining energies but all of them stream from one core value: Negativity.
Now, I am not completely innocent of negativity. I too complain from time to time without even realizing I’m doing it. It’s pretty much a part of our culture nowadays. Dr. Robin Kowalski professor of psychology at Clemson University explains that everyone complains, at some point, at least a little. (1)
There are a few varieties when it comes to complainers. I’m sure you can stick a face to each different category.
Vent-ers: This is a very displeased person who doesn’t want to hear solutions, no matter how helpful they may be.
Sympathy Seekers: You know the type. The ones always fishing for attention with their “I’ve got it worse than you do” attitude or their constant and everything sucks demeanor.
Chronic Complainers: those living in a state of complaint, do something researchers call “ruminating.” This basically means thinking and complaining about a problem again and again. Instead of feeling a release after complaining, this sort of complaining can actually make things worse. It can cause even more worry and anxiety.
Ok, I’m not suggesting you give up all your bad habits and try to be a squeaky clean free-flying positive ninny. No, not even close. Bouts of negativity are normal and encouraged to reset our systems. What you want to be mindful of, is if you are being excessively negative. Why you ask? Because negativity breeds negativity.
Most of us may have been unintentionally reinforcing the nasty habit of complaining, by virtue of… complaining.
Negativity Rewires Your Brain:
Donald Hebb, a neuropsychologist, believed that neurons which fire together, wire together. What he meant by that is that groups of neurons connect in our brain as a result of particular life experiences. (2)
For instance, whenever we think a thought or have a feeling or physical sensation, thousands of neurons are triggered and they all get together to form a neural network. The brain learns to trigger the same neurons with repetitive thinking.
Basically, if you keep your mind focused on criticism, worry, and victimization, your mind will find it easier to bring up those same thoughts for similar situations. Our thought patterns wire our brains to react positively or negatively to the situations we are presented. We get good at what we practice, so why don’t we try being a little more positive?
Four tricks to avoid negativity:
Be grateful: Even for the smallest of things.
Catch yourself: Catch yourself in a complaint. Stop complaining. Congratulate yourself for being aware!
Make a new groove: We can create a brand new groove for pleasant feelings. The more often we allow our minds to remember the good stuff, the easier that kind of thinking becomes.
Practice wise effort: Wise effort is letting go of that which is not helpful and cultivating that which is skillful.