Thursday, September 8, 2016

Complaining poisons your brain


Why do people complain? Certainly not to torture the others with their negativity, as many might think. Most people complain because doing so they better externalize their emotions and thoughts, or at least they think so.

However, science says that they are wrong. Complaining is not good for us, expressing negativity can make us feel worse. In fact, in some cases complaining may seem like a good idea, but ultimately, it never is, both for the person who complains and for the listener.

The problem resides in the brain. Complaining alters our neural networks and can have serious repercussions for our mental health. In fact, some neuroscientists have stated that complaints can come to kill us, literally.

Complaining strengthens the synapses of negativity

At this very moment in our brain we are producing many synapses. When we think of something, a neuron releases a series of neurotransmitters, through which it communicates with another neuron and establishes a sort of bridge through which passes an electrical signal. This is how the information is transmitted in the brain.

The interesting fact is that every time there is a synapse, this process gets underway. This will create real neural highways in our brains that allow us, for example, to drive automatically or walk without having to think about how to move our feet.

These circuits are not static, they can vary according to the practice, getting weakened or strengthened. Obviously, the more solid the connection, the more rapidly will be transmitted the information and we will be more efficient in this activity.

The problem is that when we complain and we are full of negative thoughts, we are promoting precisely those neural networks, thus feeding the negativity that leads to depression. The more we complain the more black we see the world, because we are just enhancing these neural pathways at the expense of others, that would be more positive and beneficial for our emotional health.

In fact, researchers at Yale University found that in people under stress or suffering from depression, there is a deregulation of synapses and it is produced a neural atrophy. In the brains of these people it is increased the production of a transcription factor called GATA1, which reduces the size, the projections and the complexity of dendrites, which are essential to transmit messages from one neuron to another.

You are a reflection of those around you

Complaining not only affects neuronal connections of the person who complains, but also of those around him. In fact, it is likely that after hearing a friend complaining for several hours, we feel like we’re emptied, as if our Energy were drained. It’s also likely that at that time we have a somewhat more pessimistic view of the world.

This is because our brain is programmed to be empathetic. Mirror neurons are responsible for us to experience the same feelings of the person that we face, whether joy, sadness or anger. Our brain tries to imagine what feels and thinks that person, in order to act accordingly and modulate our behavior.

In these cases, empathy becomes a double edged sword that we wield to ourselves, because when we hear a person complaining, in our brain are released the same neurotransmitters that are released in his. So, we end up being prisoners of his complaints.

The brain, a command center that controls the entire body

Complaining consolidates the “negative” synapses in the brain and these have a major impact on our health. When we feed sadness, resentment, anger and hatred, all of these emotions are reflected in our body. In fact, recently a group of reserchers of the Aalto University has created a body map of emotions, where you can see how these are reflected in specific areas.

We also must not forget that behind feelings and negative emotions often is hidden cortisol, a neurotransmitter that also acts as a hormone whose high levels have been linked with a depressed immune system, increased blood pressure and increased risk of developing diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disorders. Cortisol also impairs memory, increases the risk of suffering from depression and anxiety and, of course, reduces life expectancy.

There are no vegetarian lions

Clearly, this does not mean that we must never complain and that we must repress our emotions and feelings. In fact, sometimes complaining can be extremely liberating. But we must make sure it does not become a habit and, above all, that words are followed by actions.

So, the next time in your mind peeps a complaint, remember that “the lions are not vegetarians”. This means that, as you complain on their diet won’t change. If you really want to change something and do not transform yourself into their dinner, you better look for alternative strategies.

In other words, the universe is chaotic, sometimes terrible and unpredictable things happen over which we have no control. We can sit and cry and complain, or, on the contrary, we can take a proactive approach by asking what can we do to cope as best as possible the problems and if possible, to learn from them. The decision is in our hands.

Duman, R. S. (2014) Pathophysiology of depression and innovative treatments: remodeling glutamatergic synaptic connections. Dialogues Clin Neurosci; 16(1): 11–27.
Nummenmaaa, L. et. Al. (2014) Bodily maps of emotions. PNAS; 111(2): 646-651.
Duman, R. S. (2012) Decreased expression of synapse-related genes and loss of synapses in major depressive disorder. Nature Medicine; 18: 1413–1417.
Christoffel, D. J. et. Al. (2011) Structural and synaptic plasticity in stress-related disorders. Pathophysiology of depression and innovative treatments: remodeling glutamatergic synaptic connections. Rev Neurosci; 22(5): 535-549.
Schoorlemmer, R. M. et. Al. (2009) Relationships between cortisol level, mortality and chronic diseases in older persons. Clin Endocrinol; 71(6): 779-786.


Keep feeding your neurons

Complaining poisons your brain
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Jennifer Delgado Suárez

Psicologist by profession and passion, dedicated to to string words together. Discover my Books


Psychology as you never heard about...

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