The Negative Impact of Complaining


If you ask my mom, I am a pro complainer. When I was teaching in Florida I admittedly fell into a pretty bad habit of focusing on all the negative aspects of my job and life, and even exaggerated to make a lot of situations seem worse than they really were. Being the victim was weirdly comforting, and I validated my complaining saying that I needed to “vent.”

I know people are probably feeling sorry for my mom right now, but I feel comfortable assuming that I am not the only one who has ridden the complain train before, and often.

Unfortunately for those of us that fall into this common habit, not only does it have a negative effect on ourselves both physically and emotionally, but also those that are listening to the negativity.

An article by Inc. explains this destruction in further detail, starting with possibly the best quote from a scientist ever:

“People don’t break wind in elevators more than they have to. Venting anger is … similar to emotional farting in a closed area. It sounds like a good idea, but it’s dead wrong,” said psychologist Jeffrey Lohr, who studies venting.

If I’m understanding correctly, he’s telling us to not unleash SBD (silent but deadlies) on people. Sound advice.

But really, the brain is a scary and complicated place, and complaining has a much deeper impact than just whining about the lack of snacks in the break room then going about your day. First, similar to how you can get into any habit, when you start jumping to negative conclusions, it makes it easier for you to have more negative thoughts in the future. So complaining is not an isolated incident. The negative thought muscles get strengthened, making it easier for you to be a pessimistic polly when something challenging or out of the ordinary happens.

When you complain to someone else (hello, mom and roommates) it also increases the chances that they will more quickly jump to a negative thought as well. While empathy is appreciated, unfortunately their brain mimics your thought process and they are more likely to also view situations in a bad light.

Not surprisingly, complaining also triggers stress hormones, which is pretty obviously not a good thing. Stress can cause trouble sleeping, headaches and high blood pressure just to name a few negative impacts. Now my poor mom can’t sleep, all because I complained about Debbie the secretary not faxing my documents!

So how do we not keep all of our emotions trapped up inside, but also not continuously be leaving a trail of gloom in our wake? One of the best practices I use is to become more aware of how I talk about a hard day when it happens and to not only focus on the bad. I allow myself to vent for a few minutes, but then force myself to state something positive. This way, I have a reality check that the world isn’t ending and it opens up my perspective to potentially find opportunity to improve whatever I am complaining about.

My roommate allows thirty minutes on Fridays to complain with one of her co-workers/friends. This gives them the chance to get things off of their chest, but they are very aware that it is their time to “vent” and that they have to leave it behind and start off the weekend on a positive note.

We all have bad days and may need some time to wallow, but make sure to stay aware of your complaining and not end up in a rut of always seeing the negative side of situations.

How do you stay positive and stop yourself from complaining?

Happiness Think & Feel

About Catherine Toupin

Born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, Catherine is a proud graduate of two great Midwestern schools: the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the University of Notre Dame. After receiving a degree in English and Communication, Catherine chose to take a risk and teach teenagers in Florabama for two years. Living in a location with warm weather year-round rekindled Catherine’s love of long outdoor runs (and of relaxing on a beach). Catherine has since taken a Meeting Planning job in Chicago, and though the views are slightly different, she still enjoys runs along the lake shore path and being outdoors as much as possible.