How grumpiness can affect your brain, and how to protect yourself from it
We all like a good moan from time to time. We complain about the weather, health, work colleagues, bosses, spouses, taxes, or the country – you name it! It is a good idea to learn techniques to avoid moaning, however, because it can have a negative impact on our brain and our health in general. Moaning can be quite pleasant, and, as a result, quite addictive. When we complain about something, we feel a temporary relief because we have had an opportunity to vent and share our negative experience or emotions with someone else. Our brain learns that this strategy of bringing temporary relief works, and it becomes addictive, just like anything else that brings us temporary pleasure.
However, if we look at what is happening in the brain, things don’t look quite so rosy. When we complain, moan, and focus on the unpleasant side of things, our brain releases cortisol, which is the stress hormone. Cortisol is a natural hormone which is produced in the brain to help us cope with dangerous situations, so it is normally quite a useful tool in the short term. However, prolonged production and presence of cortisol in our bodies can be the cause of many somatic illnesses. It can weaken the immune system and our heart, negatively impact on brain function (cognitive processes in particular), and even lead to obesity or diabetes. We don’t even have to moan ourselves. Listening to someone else complaining for even a few minutes can also increase our cortisol level.
So how can we reduce our own tendency to moan and complain, and also protect ourselves from the negative impact of others’ grumpiness?
- Ask yourself what is the purpose of the moaning. Will it lead to resolving the problem? For example, if you complain about poor service in a shop or restaurant, then you will resolve the problem by raising the issue, and improving the service in the long term. If we cannot identify the reason, then the chances are we are moaning just for the sake of it.
- Swap judgement for constructive description of the facts. For example, instead of saying ‘The waiter was rude’, describe what they have done, how you felt about it and what would need to change for you to return to that restaurant.
- Choose one thing you often complain about and look for a different interpretation of it. For example ‘It is good that it’s raining because the earth needs the water, and I can use this time to stay in and read my favourite book’.
- Do an experiment where you ‘forbid’ yourself from any kind of complaining or moaning for one day, no matter what happens! At the end of the day, examine the results, and how you felt. If it worked well, you may decide to repeat the experiment for another day, or maybe longer.
- Try to spend less time with people who always moan and complain.
- When you cannot avoid a certain environment where moaning is likely to occur, use mental techniques of separating yourself from the situation. For example, when in a room where a ‘group moan’ is taking place, remove yourself mentally by imagining that you are walking on a sunny beach.
- Encourage the ‘moaner’ to solve the problem. Some people will back off, and some will follow your hint and try to resolve the issue.
- Be assertive and refuse to co-moan. Say that it is not doing you any good.
We have a choice of how we view the world. How we view it will depend on how we interpret the situations, and what meanings we attribute to them. This technique is called ‘reframing’, and a counsellor can help with that. To give an example: a bad situation at work, which at the time may seem negative and moan-worthy, can in the long term turn out to be positive, as it inspires and motivates us to look for a better job. Changing the way you view things may not always be easy, but it has many benefits for your physical and mental health, so don’t be afraid to ask for help!
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