Stating the negative isn't just damaging your mood—it's hurting your health. Fortunately, there are ways to break the bad habit.
Complaints are everywhere: On Twitter when flights are delayed, in most of your conversations, and probably on your mind right now (*ugh* Mondays).
In part, today's fast-paced society fuels complaints, argues Paul Davidson, Ph.D., a behavioral psychologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA. "While we used to give people plenty of time to respond to requests, with immediate access through our cell phones, we feel more pressured and impatient to get things done in the moment." When we don't, or when someone takes f-o-r-e-v-e-r to do something? We complain. (Related: Why You Really Need to Stop Answering Emails In the Middle of the Night)
Plus, when we (or loved ones) don't live up to Instagram-worthy, sky-high societal standards we...you guessed it...complain: I wish I could look like that, I can never find enough time, my co-worker is so annoying, I'm so tired. And so the cycle goes.
But here's the thing: Complaining—and thinking that in order for the world to be a tolerable place, something or someone has to change—weakens our ability to control some of our circumstances (or at the very least, our reactions to them), says Davidson.
Even more? "Research has shown that repetitive complaining can actually rewire your brain so that negativity becomes somewhat of a default setting," says Adam D. Borland, Psy.D., a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic. (No thanks!) And a constant stress cycle can potentially impact immune functioning, weight, blood pressure and cholesterol, and even memory and learning down the road, he notes. (Related: 20 Simple Stress Relief Techniques)
But here's the worst part about complaining: It prevents us from seeing the good—a sunny day, a little note your husband left you, the way a good workout leaves you feeling. "With complaining, nothing seems good enough; finding the fault in a situation becomes the norm. Complaining may lead to expecting the worst and disappointment," says Borland.
Cut out complaining—and build back some happy—with these six tips.
1. Before you complain, take a sec.
Ask yourself: What can I do to improve this situation? Maybe the answer is absolutely nothing except to focus on your reaction. That's fine. Davidson notes that analyzing a situation can help you understand what's in your control, what's not, and what kinds of *constructive* actions you can take. A few deep breaths or a short walk after a stressful situation can give you the emotional distance you need to come up with a better plan than venting, he says.
2. Spot dysfunctional thoughts.
We all do it, but overgeneralizing (this train is *always* late), catastrophizing (because I messed up, I'm never going to get another big work project again), or assuming you know what others are thinking (my boss is annoyed that I asked for that day off) can cause us to spiral—and then complain. Instead, seek out *actual* (keyword) evidence to support a more balanced perspective, suggests Davidson. Example: Has your boss truly done anything to indicate she's bothered by your day-off request? Or are you nervous about creating a bad impression and being overly critical of your ask? Looking for proof (or a lack of it) can put the world in perspective—and take you out of your own head.
3. Put yourself in someone else's shoes.
So, your best friend has bailed on you the last three times you've tried to get together. Instead of unloading onto another friend, consider what might be making her bail. "What you are reacting to may have much less to do with you and more about what another person is going through," says Davidson. And hey, it could even lead to a productive convo with your BFF, too.
4. Say thanks.
"When you focus on what is right in your life, it takes the spotlight off the negative and creates a sense of enrichment," says Davidson. "The more you do this, the more you strengthen the well-known attitude of gratitude, which dramatically decreases complaining." Before bed, write down a few things you're thankful for. Or, pick up a gratitude journal on Amazon to write in every a.m. (Related: 5 Proven Health Benefits of Gratitude)
5. Clean up your vocab.
"Being less judgmental in the language we use for ourselves encourages us to do the same for how we speak about others, leading to fewer complaints," says Davidson. Monitor "loaded phrases" such as "should," "could of," and "would of" in conversations with ourselves and others, suggests Borland. Try to compliment yourself and others where possible, too—even in response to small accomplishments.
6. Be a little confrontational.
Really bothered by something someone did or said or feel like there's an injustice that needs to be settled? Speak up. Saying something like: When you ___, I feel ___, and would appreciate it if you would ___, invites discussion, says Davidson. You're constructively sharing your feelings rather than simply complaining.