Sometimes, we feel like we just need to vent. After a tough day, ranting to your friends and family can be a relief.
Unfortunately, complaining can do more harm than good. In addition to influencing your friends’ moods, complaining can actually affect your body. Frequent complaining brings physiological changes, such as stress and poor sleep.
Most noticeably, complaining actually changes the way the brain functions.
Changes in the brain
Sounding off your frustrations seems like it would relieve stress, but it does the opposite. Every time you complain, your brain creates shortcuts to think more pessimistically. Therefore, when you verbalize a gloomy idea, the brain wires you to accept new information negatively, according to a 2007 study published in Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice. Your complaints in the present affect your future perspective.
Participants tried venting at inanimate objects, to people, and to the subjects of their frustration. However, this only increased the time participants were angry.
“What people fail to realize is that the anger would have dissipated had they not vented. Moreover, it would have dissipated more quickly had they not vented and tried to control their anger instead,” the researchers wrote.
Travis Bradberry, the co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, says complaining releases cortisol, otherwise known as the “stress hormone.” The hippocampus region of the brain produces cortisol, which is linked with several other physical health issues, including weight gain, lower immune function, and high blood pressure.
In a Berkeley study for the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers found those who consciously practiced gratitude chose to spend more time exercising than those who complained.
Instead of releasing your tension on anyone who will listen, try regular physical activity. Aerobic exercises, such as running, kickboxing, or cycling, give the added benefit of reducing cortisol.
Poor sleep quality
As it turns out, whining about your problems during the day can affect you at night. In the same Berkeley study, those who practiced gratitude slept longer and had a better quality of sleep than those who expressed annoyance or frustration. Moreover, the positive thinkers reported feeling more refreshed in the morning and had a better start for the day.
Mulling over your complaints at night will make falling asleep harder. “When you feel like complaining, shift your attention to something you’re grateful for,” suggests Bradberry. Try reflecting on the positive to find peace before bedtime.
To adjust your mindset, release what you can’t control and focus on what you can. You may not be able to change someone else, but one thing’s for sure: you do have the power to change yourself.