We all enjoy a bit of a moan sometimes but constant whining can actually be bad for us. Here we find out how we can stop. We’re all guilty of indulging in an occasional moan – about friends, co-workers, partners, the lousy weather, the late bus, the hideous traffic and the fact that Fridays never seem to come quickly enough.
But studies show that habitual grumbling is toxic: it takes a toll on your brain, your emotions, and your physical and mental health, whether you’re the one doing it or the one who’s exposed to it.
When you focus on the negative your body will respond in kind: stress hormones will flood your system, which can launch a whole cascade of issues such as driving up your blood pressure, impairing your cognitive abilities, suppressing your immune system and promoting inflammation.
“When you complain you can kick your sympathetic nervous system into overdrive,” says well-being expert Dr. Gia Sison.
“You can feel physically tense, your breath often becomes shallower and your thoughts can become very focused in a way that is not especially helpful. And the more often you complain, the more geared your brain becomes towards finding the bad things in every situation.”
Unfortunately, complaining comes naturally to us. Our brains have an in-built ‘negativity bias’ – a self protective mechanism that goes back to the dawn of humankind, when we were exposed to constant threats and our survival depended on our gut instincts. In other words, we’re unwittingly attracted to bad news.
“A lot of us find some enjoyment in complaining about life,” says Zaidah Payte, a clinical Payte psychologist.
“It makes us feel powerful, and it’s good to be able to blame others. When you complain, you’re not the problem – somebody else is letting you down, so you’re speaking from a position of innocence and blamelessness.”
But, contrary to popular belief, getting things off your chest is not always cathartic.
“If anything it’s just ingraining the habit of frustration and reminding you of it, making it more likely to persist,” Payte added.
“It’s not making you feel better, let alone the person you’re complaining to.”
How you can quit the complaining habit
Edit your complaints
No one can be in a state of Zen 24/7 so sometimes when someone says, ‘How are you?’, you need to explain if things are not great. But there’s a big difference between complaining to achieve a result and whingeing for whingeing’s sake. So learn to distinguish between the two.
“Interrogate your complaints to see if they contain a constructive element, that guides you towards fixing a problem, rather than just identifying a problem.”
Monitor your self-talk
You need to take a break from complaining internally too.
If you’re repeatedly telling yourself, ‘Life is not going well and I don’t have control over things’, that’s not a good message for a mind or a brain to have.
Practice mindful meditation
Spend some time watching the flow of your thoughts without judgement. Watching your complaints arise without getting emotionally engaged with them encourages them to recede much faster, and can help you develop the ability to simply drop complaints that appear in your head throughout the day.
“Learn to engage in ‘micro’ gratitude,” advises Payte. “Think about all the tiny things that have gone right in your day – including that the water was hot when you stepped into the shower, that your phone is still working, that you felt safe and unharmed walking down your street.”
Just as negative thinking can become a default habit, so can positive thinking – it’s just a matter of retraining your brain.
Consider how your moaning affects others
It not only damages your listener’s neurons and ruins their mood, it can be really irritating. You assume that other people share your standpoint, but that’s not always the case. It’s a bit of a selfish act to be spreading the negativity around – it goes beyond having solidarity over some shared misery, it’s just you bleating about how miserable your life is.
Accept that Life isn’t Perfect
When a complaint pops into your head, ask yourself: ‘Is there something that needs to be and can be done here? If there isn’t, you need to start shifting to a place of acceptance. If you’re complaining about a trivial issue, it’s worth trying to reappraise the situation or telling yourself how you might be able to live with it.
Avoid chronic complainers
Negativity is contagious – and habitual gripers want everybody to join their pity party. Resist the urge. If you make sympathetic clucking noises you’re rewarding their behavior. Stop paying attention. Or change the subject to derail them – that will get the message across that this isn’t the scintillating conversation the speaker thinks it is