How Complaining Affects the Brain and General Health

While we may think it feels good to vent, complaining has some adverse effects associated with it. Science has found it takes a toll on our brain and body.

complain-electionWhat aspects of life make peoouple want to complain? In the aftermath of the hotly contested recent presidential election, many people are grumbling regardless of their political persuasion. The frigid temperatures, ice and snow of winter also rank highly on the list of grievances in which people express displeasure. Yet these things are only the beginning. Many of us have fallen into the habit of making a host of complaints about small things, such as a bad hair day, to big things, like an unpleasant job, high cost of living or troubled relationships. Even when it seems like life is our oyster, we often overlook the positives and fuss about the one thorn among the roses.

Why isn’t complaining beneficial? Research shows it rewires our brain for negativity. The brain is designed to work efficiently. This means that when we repeat a thought, such as complaining, the nerve cells form a bridge between each other to expedite the passage of information. Therefore, the next time we have a similar type of thought, it becomes easier. This mechanism explains why certain thought patterns become engrained habits quickly.

Yet, the detrimental effects don’t stop there. A study from Stanford University shows complaining causes shrinkage of the hippocampus, the structure in the brain that plays a vital role in problem solving and other cognitive functions. As the hippocampus is one of the main areas of the brain harmed by Alzheimer’s, the ravages of the disease illustrate its critical function.

In addition to the damage to the brain resulting from complaining, this behavior also produces the release of the stress hormone cortisol. This is the fight-or-flight chemical the body produces when we encounter some danger, a response that is essential for survival. However, when high cortisol levels tend to linger, it results in high blood pressure, high blood sugar and impaired immunity, effects that predispose us to obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The ill effects of our complaining aren’t limited to ourselves: they also involve those around us. We tend to mirror the moods of our friends. For this reason, we should be cautious about having chronic complainers in our inner circle of companions.

gratitudeNow that we are aware of the problem of how complaining affects us, we can formulate a solution. The best way to deal with it is to develop an attitude of gratitude. Just as complaining acts as a poison, gratitude is good medicine. Research shows it lowers cortisol levels by 23 percent, as well as reduces blood pressure and cholesterol. It also decreases fatigue and depression. Gratitude is the perfect antidote for complaining, a behavior that steals our brainpower, happiness and physical wellbeing.

What have you observed about the effects of complaining in your own life or in the lives of others? Have you noticed that when you are grateful, you feel better all over? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.


The Huffington Post. (2016, December 26). How Complaining Rewires Your Brain For Negativity. Retrieved from

Gratitude Is Good Medicine. (2015, November 25). Retrieved from

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