Why Complaining is Bad for your Health

Someone, and for the life of me I'm blanking on who, once told me that "complaining without a solution is just whining." It was a statement from her boss after she went to him about a work issue. The more I think about these words, the more they resonate. But, it wasn't until I read a study out of Stanford University, which found complaining is actually bad for your health, that the words really sunk in.

The study discovered that just one-half an hour of complaining daily damages a person's brain, and here's the catch: it doesn't matter if you're the one doing the grumbling OR the one listening to it -- it registers the exact same in your brain. "Exposure to negativity peels back neurons in the hippocampus—the part of the brain used for problem solving and cognitive function. Over time, complaining becomes a habit. If you’re surrounded by complainers, then you’re more likely become one." Yikes. 

Dr. Guy Winch, PhD. and author of The Squeaky Wheel, explains that venting causes two problems.  First, "research has found that 95% of consumers who have a problem with a product don’t complain to the company, but they will tell their tale to friends," he says. This is unproductive because we’re not complaining to the people who can resolve our issue. The second problem venting creates is it floods the bloodstream with cortisol, the stress hormone. "We tell ourselves that we need to get it off our chest, says Dr. Winch, "but each time we do, we get upset all over again and end up 10 to 12 times more aggravated." Rather than simply complaining, for the sake of venting, here are steps that one can take to effectively create change:

  1. Complain with a purpose, meaning figure out a solution before taking the issue to a company or a person. Do you want a discount on your next ticket, a complementary dessert or simply an apology? Figuring out the solution, before complaining, is the best way to get a favorable result.
  2. Start the complaint with a positive message (i.e I've been a loyal customer for years, but I'm unsatisfied with ...)
  3. Leave emotions out of it and stick to the facts.  One can debate emotions, but not facts.
  4. Use social media effectively.  Ask for help with a canceled flight, don't just complain about it. Companies are more likely to help if they know the problem, rather than having to go on the defensive and protect themselves from a anger filled rant.
  5. Let it go. Ask yourself if it will matter a year from now. Dr. Winch adds "These minor irritations can cost us mental health. How you handle complaints is a good example of your overall emotional hygiene."

I, for one, am guilty of complaining, but after reading this study, it's made me look at the way I handle difficult situations. I read this definition of a "Chronic Complainer": One who sees a glass that is slightly chipped holding water that isn’t cold enough, probably because it’s tap water when I asked for bottled water and wait! There’s a smudge on the rim, which means the glass isn’t clean. Now I’ll probably end up with some kind of virus. Why do these things always happen to me?" Whenever I feel the need to complain, I am reminded of the descriptor above and ask myself "is this necessary?" Often times I'm successful, sometimes I'm not, but I'm conscious of the habit and that's the first step in creating change.

How do you channel complaints effectively? Are there any situations where you've used these tips to create change and accomplish what you've set out to do? If so, please share in the comments below!


image via deathtothestockphoto