Emotional and Mental

4 Tips To Tame the Complaining and Make It Work for You

Published: Oct. 4, 2022

We all have that person in our lives. The one with the half-empty glass. They can’t help but see an outcome as turning out poorly and lack hope for anything exciting or good. All they seem to do is grumble and moan.

We all grumble and whine from time to time. And you most likely don’t see anything wrong with it because it’s human nature, right? Or is it something to be concerned about?

Chronic Complaining Affects Brain Function

It might surprise you to know that repeated complaining rewires our brains to make complaining more likely.

Research from Stanford University shows that complaining shrinks the hippocampus, an area of the brain that’s critical to problem-solving and intelligent thought. If you’re negative a majority of the time, it not only impacts our thinking but can also damage other areas of our brain and affect our overall health.

Complaining Is Bad for Your Health

When you complain and can’t do anything about it, the feelings intensify. This heightened physical energy causes adrenaline and revs up our bodies. Large amounts of cortisol, known as the stress hormone, are released. 
All the extra cortisol running through our bodies impairs our immune system and makes us more susceptible to high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and obesity. It even makes our brain more vulnerable to strokes. However, you’d have to be one heck of a regular complainer to experience these potentially serious side effects.

So this leaves us thinking, “Is there any advantage to complaining?”

The Upside to Complaining

Complaining in and of itself isn’t always a bad thing. When done mindfully, complaining can be beneficial for our well-being. You’ve probably said, “I’ve just got to get this off my chest,” and started a rant that made us feel better. Ranting is a way to express emotions and allows us to not keep things bottled up.

Complaining is inevitable from time to time, and it’s helpful to keep it as positive as possible. Below, staff at Best Care EAP share four tips to keep the grumbling and whining productive and healthy.

1. Stay in Control and Solve the Challenge

Jean Faber, MA, corporate director of the Best Care Employee Assistance Program and the Methodist Hospital Community Counseling Program, says it’s important to look at the problem or situation as a challenge that needs to be solved.

“We have to see the challenges that cause us to complain from the perspective of what’s in our power to control and what’s not in our power to control,” Faber said. “We should decide what to do about it and let the rest go.”

Faber suggests that breaking down the problem helps with finding a solution.

“Once we know what to do, we should meet the problem head on by breaking it into bite-size pieces so it’s easier to conquer,” she said. “It might mean we’re taking steps to solve the issue over a few days or weeks, but it gets done.”

2. Don’t Focus on “Why Me?”

Dealing with difficult circumstances is no doubt cause for complaining.

David Dechant, training consultant with Best Care EAP, says complaining with a focus on ourselves gives the illusion that we’re actually addressing the issue. But we’re not.

“We’ve got to stop asking, ‘Why me?’ because we run the risk of dredging up every annoyance from the past 10 years,” Dechant said. “Instead, zero in on the purpose for the complaint and ask, ‘What’s the most useful way to respond to the problem or circumstance that’s upsetting me?’”

In other words, to avoid complaining for the sake of complaining, we need to address the actual issue and choose to be intentional with finding a solution.

“Frustration is part of life,” Dechant said. “When we feel overwhelmed and throw our arms up and roll our eyes, that’s a ‘why me?’ response. We would do better to channel our energy to fixing the problem.”

3. Keep on the Sunny Side

One study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry found that on average, optimists tend to live longer than pessimists, and optimists were found to have a 55% lower risk of death.

“I’m a big believer in the power of gratitude and positivity,” said Brigette Morris, business development coordinator with Best Care EAP. “I feel it’s helpful to identify the circumstances in our work and lives that make us happy. Gratitude and positivity are definitely a choice.”

When you choose to change how you think, that behavior changes our words and actions, which impacts how people perceive us.

“It sort of comes down to attitude,” Morris said. “You have to be intentional when you decide to shift your focus to something you’re grateful for instead of being so quick to complain. Then you’re someone people want to be around.”

4. Have an Attitude of Gratitude

Taking time to contemplate what you’re grateful for doesn’t just leave us with a feeling of “I did the right thing.” Research conducted at the University of California, Davis found that people who worked daily to cultivate an attitude of gratitude experienced improved mood and energy, and less anxiety due to lower amounts of cortisol being released.

Being mindful of our thoughts and feelings and staying positive yields healthy benefits.

There’s an old saying: “You can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or you can rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.”

Next time you’re ready to launch into a rant, do your best to keep your perspective on the sunny side. In time, you can expect a new and improved way of life.

If you'd like to talk with a Best Care EAP counselor, please don't hesitate to schedule an appointment today. Call (402) 354-8000 or (800) 801-4182. You may also email us at eap@bestcareeap.org

About the Author

Lisa Dempsey serves on the Best Care Employee Assistance Program Sales and Marketing team as the coordinator of communications/promotions.

She works closely with clients to create promotional materials and helps generate content for the Best Care EAP website.

Dempsey enjoys learning about health topics by interviewing health care professionals. She also likes working collaboratively on ad campaigns and being involved at events within the community.

See more articles from Lisa Dempsey
Lisa Dempsey