Don’t be Narrow-Minded: How Complaining Shrinks the Hippocampus and Rewires the Brain for Negativity

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Don’t be Narrow-Minded: How Complaining Shrinks the Hippocampus and Rewires the Brain for Negativity

complaining is a bad habit to acquire/ Photo By Aleksandr Davydov via 123RF


A popular belief is that when one complains, they are able to release themselves from stress. Experts have proven that it actually does quite the opposite. It not only affects the mood of the person and the people around them, but it also has serious physical consequences on the brain.

Although complaining is enjoyable to some extent, it is as most know, a bad habit to acquire. When an individual complains more, the tendency of the brain is to have neurons join together to make it easier to process this negative information. It is quite similar to what happens when one exercises a muscle. Regularly exercising makes it easier to work out. In the same way, complaining turns into a negative kind of information that makes it so effortless for the brain to handle. As a result, a person may engage in complaining unconsciously.

In Trevor Blake’s Book titled Three Simple Steps: A Map to Success in Business and Life, various University of Stanford studies he mentioned showed that stress and complaining does not only influence how the brain deals with information, it also strips away neurons from the hippocampus, the region of the brain which is in charge of critical and intelligent thoughts.

Complaining and stress may also result in reducing the size of the hippocampus. Furthermore, besides all its harmful effects on the brain, it was also revealed that complaining also has adverse effects on the body.


Why Complaining Harms Mental and Physical Health

As stated by, these are the reasons why complaining harms both the mental and physical health of a person:

Brings synapses that represent negative thoughts closer

There are synapses all over the brain which are divided by an empty space known as the synaptic cleft. Each time a thought pops up, a synapse sends a chemical to another synapse through the cleft. In turn, this creates a bridge wherein an electrical signal passes and, accompanying its electric charge, is the significant information which the individual is thinking about.

Whenever the electrical charge is activated, the synapses draw nearer to each other to be able to lessen the distance that the charge has to pass through. This causes the brain to rearrange its synapses and in the process, it changes its circuitry. This also leads it to physically change in order for the needed synapses to be able to chemically connect more easily and for them to have a higher possibility of connecting. The chemical connection of the synapses makes them spark simultaneously. This spark will make the process of activating the negative thought smoother.

In other words, thinking a specific kind of thought makes it easier for a person to repeat the same kind of thought. Therefore thinking negative thoughts constantly makes it easy for them to generate several other similar thoughts. This also increases the probability of a person suddenly having negative thoughts.  

The individual causes the pair of synapses that embody their negative tendencies to become closer to each other by thought repetition. So, the moment they need to create a thought, the kind of thought that would be formed would be the negative rather than positive. This is because the negative thoughts are able to travel faster than the positive thoughts since they have a lesser distance to cross and make bridges between a pair of synapses more quickly.

Mirror neurons rewire the brain

Being in the company of one’s own negative thoughts can make the brain alter its circuitry. The same thing happens when they hang-out with negative people. To explain this, when an individual observes another person feeling an emotion, such happiness or anger, their brain attempts to “wear” the same emotion to get a glimpse of what the other person is experiencing. This emotion is “tried on” by firing the same kind of synapses as a way to try to relate to the witnessed emotion. This is what happens when someone is trying to empathize.

Weakens immune system and raises cortisol levels.

As the synapses of anger get triggered, the immune system also deteriorates. Due to the sparks of these synapses, their blood pressure increases. As a result, this puts them at risk of suffering from diabetes, obesity, heart diseases as well as other negative physical health conditions.

In a negative state, such as complaining, an individual gives off cortisol. High levels of cortisol can inhibit their learning and memory, make them gain weight, reduce the weight of their bones and affect their cholesterol, in addition to the ailments mentioned above.

Ways to Reduce Complaining

An individual’s brain can also be rewired in a positive way. Medium recommends that to be able to control how often one complains, they take the following measures:

Think carefully about whether their words encourage negative or positive thinking habits

Every time they are about to say something or react to anything, such as a text or an e-mail, they must think about whether it will spur more positive thinking habits or if it tends to create more negative thinking habits. If they catch themselves dwelling on thoughts that could become complaints, they should consciously and immediately stop these thoughts focus their energies on activities that would have more positive effects on them.

The author Blake advises, “You cannot delete a thought, but you can have a better thought. When you catch yourself in the middle of a complaint, stop, and reach for another thought.”

Reframe negative thoughts

Changing negative thoughts into positive ones will also help keep them from complaining. For instance, rather than thinking that a beautiful dress is too expensive, they can reframe it by thinking it would look nice in their shoes when they could finally afford it. Thinking of more optimistic thoughts increases brain productivity and creates health neurons.


changing negative thoughts into positive ones will also help keep them from complaining/ Photo By Dmytro Panchenko via 123RF


Change the course of a negative talk

In some cases, complaining may actually be a way of bonding with others. For example, students might complain to their classmates about a teacher they dislike. Even then, the negative effects of health that stem from complaining are not worth the sacrifice. If they wind up listening to their peers complaining and being negative for extended periods of time, this will cause them to act in that manner too.

Besides, choosing to have more positive people to be part of their social circle, they should also try to redirect negative conversations. To illustrate, if one of their coworkers is grumbling about the deadline of a project that they are part of, they can change the topic by saying if they are able to finish their project, this could provide them with the opportunity to have a salary increase or get promoted.

Look for a solution

When an individual complains, this does not lead them to find a way in order to solve their problems. Doing this just lets them vent or get buried deeper into their problems. In a study conducted by Guy Winch, a psychologist, and author of The Squeaky Wheel, it was discovered that instead of complaining to the company who made the product, 95% of customers who found some flaws in a product would complain about it to 16 people.

In the event that a problem arises, one should search for a concrete and effective solution which they can apply.

Be thankful

Practicing gratitude can make other people around them feel important and more appreciated. Since they can feel that someone values them, this may drive them to go beyond their expectations rather than acting on behaviors that tend to elicit complaints.

In addition to these steps, suggests that meditation and yoga may reinforce more positivity because these practices train the mind to be happy.



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