Why complaining is actually ruining your health

We might feel like venting is beneficial, but is complaining actually doing more harm than good?

Stressed woman cartoon
Having a good moan: we're all guilty of it at some stage or another. But while we're often encouraged to get things off our chest, science is telling quite a different story.
A 2016 study by Stanford University found the act of complaining shrinks your hippocampus, which is the part of the brain critical to problem solving.
So while it may be said that a problem shared is a problem halved, complaining could be drastically reducing your ability to solve the underlying issue itself.
Complaining is also known to cause a stress response in the body, releasing cortisol which raises blood pressure and blood sugar, both of which are seriously damaging to health over long periods.
But it isn't just our physical health that's at risk.
According to psychology professor, Gwendolyn Seidman, complaining can have a huge negative impact on emotions and relationships.
"Complaining can be annoying to the person who is listening to the complaints, especially when the complainer seems unwilling to do anything to resolve the issues about which they're complaining, and rejects help and advice about how to solve the problem," Seidman tells Danielle Braff.
In addition, complaining is bad for relationships because even if you counter it with a positive comment, it's the negative one that sticks, or so says psychologist Susan Heitler.
Complaining is also contagious, she tells Danielle, and it can lead to serious conflicts within a relationship.
Luckily, Heitler has some advice. If you're dealing with a complaint and want to steer the conversation into a more positive realm, try this trick.
The best response is to say: "Yes, and at the same time..."
There's no negative aspect to the sentence, but you are offering a different perspective.
Writer Braff uses the example that say, your partner is complaining that all your son does is play video games, you could respond by saying: "Yes, and at the same time, when it's cold, it's pretty hard for him to go outside."
Sometimes complainers just want validation and empathy - not advice
Likewise, psychologist Guy Winch recommends that when it comes to chronic complainers, it's counterproductive to try and tell them things "aren't as bad as they seem," or give them immediate advice to make things better.
"They [the complainer] often respond to sound advice either by explaining why the suggestions won't work or by actually becoming upset that the person offering it doesn't understand how unsolvable their problem actually is," he writes for Psychology Today.
"In the majority of situations (there are some obvious exceptions), you should avoid offering advice or solutions and stick to sympathy and emotional validation."
The quickest way to deal with someone who has these tendencies, says Winch, is to validate their feelings, express sympathy, but then redirect the complainer to a task at hand.
"For example, 'The printer jammed on you again? Gee, that's incredibly annoying! I know it's hard to shrug off those kinds of things but I hope you can be a trooper because we really have to get back to the Penske file...'"
However, according to Winch, giving up complaining altogether is not the answer, but actually learning to complain effectively.
"Complaining effectively and getting results can be incredibly empowering and it can affect our mood and self-esteem for the better," he writes on Psychology Today.
"By addressing issues in our relationship that need attention and problem solving them together and cooperatively, we can actually strengthen our relationships and become even closer (especially if your partner learns to complain correctly as well)."
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