Misery loves company, and it may come in the form of chronic complaining. Being around a complainer automatically can put a damper on your day if you don’t take steps to distance yourself. Being surrounded by hard-to-please family, friends, or co-workers creates more than merely a negative atmosphere. Indeed, it legitimately causes health consequences for you and them.
Researchers reveal how being around chronic complainers can put your health at risk.
3 Types of Complainers
Have you ever wondered why people complain? Why do some people often express displeasure while others only do so occasionally? What is a complaint?
In Psychology Today, a complaint is defined as an expression of dissatisfaction. The real problem arises in how a person expresses their dissatisfaction and how often. Most of us have a particular bar that must be reached to complain. However, some set that bar lower than others.
One of the biggest triggers for complaining is the individuals’ sense of control over the situation. The more powerless a person feels, the more they will complain. Other factors may be frustration tolerance, age, desire not to make a scene, or to “look good” to others.
Another factor may have nothing to do with the actual situation. A negative mindset tends only to see adverse events.
The environment may also play a role. A study shows that individual(s) raised or surrounded by negative thinkers tend to become negative in thinking as well and, therefore, will complain more frequently.
Not every complainer is the same.
There are three types of complainers:
1 – Chronic complainer.
We all have known a chronic complainer or have been one ourselves. This complainer only sees problems and not solutions. They tend to focus on how ‘bad’ a situation is regardless of its actual impact or consequence to their life.
They tend to be negative thinkers and have created a pattern of complaining, which some studies have shown may wire the brain to operate negatively. This affects their mental and physical health and impacts those around them. While called a chronic complainer, it does not need to be a constant, permanent condition. People with this mindset can change, but they will have to choose it, and it will take work.
2 – Venting complainer.
A complainer who vents focuses on displaying emotional dissatisfaction. Their attention is on themselves and how they feel regarding what they deem to be a negative situation. They are hoping to glean attention from those around them as opposed to finding a real solution to the problem. When someone provides a resolution, they only see a reason it won’t work.
3 – Instrumental complaining.
This is akin to constructive criticism. This complainer is seeking to solve an issue that has created dissatisfaction. They will present the problem toward the individuals most likely to be able to solve the problem.
Effects of being around complainers
In the same article, which outlined how a complainer is wiring their brain for negativity through their words, also describes how being surrounded by complainers negatively impacts others.
1. Sympathy turns to negativity
It turns out that our capacity for compassion, attempting to place ourselves in others’ shoes, also makes our emotions susceptible to experiencing the same anger, frustration, and dissatisfaction of the complainer. The more often you are around the individual complaining, the more neurons are being fired to associate with the emotions. Neurons that repeatedly fire in a pattern teach your brain to think in that manner.
2. Stress-induced health issues
Being around others with a cynical viewpoint on events, people, and life in general triggers stress in your brain and body. As your mind attempts to identify with the person complaining, you begin to feel the same emotions of anger, frustration, bitterness, and unhappiness. This interaction leads to stress that releases hormones to prepare you to act on the stress. The hormone released is cortisol.
Cortisol works in tandem with adrenaline as your hypothalamus responds to a perceived threat and tells your body to release the hormones. Adrenaline creates a rise in heart rate and blood pressure as your body prepares to “fight.” This increases blood flow to the muscles and brain to prepare you for action. Cortisol releases sugars to provide energy.
Over time, with a repeated pattern of this stress, you increase your chances of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
3. Shrinking your brain
In addition to the health problems created from stress, you are shrinking your brain when you expose it to repeated and constant levels of stress.
A study published in Stanford News Service demonstrated the effects of stress and stress hormones on wild baboons and rats. What they found was that chemicals called glucocorticoids release over time as a response to chronic stress, which caused the brain cells in rats to shrink.
Later, another study was done after performing an MRI on participants. This x-ray allowed scientists to compare hippocampi of people who have had long term depression with others of the same age, sex, height, and education but without depression. It was discovered that the hippocampi were 15% smaller in those with depression.
The same study compared Vietnam veterans experiencing PTSD with combat veterans without a history of PTSD. They found that hippocampi were 25% smaller.
In those cases, researchers could neither prove nor disprove that glucocorticoids caused the shrinkage. However, they did find this to be true in patients with Cushing’s disease, which made scientists believe they were on the right track with their studies in people with depression and PTSD. Cushing’s syndrome is a brain disease in which a tumor is stimulating the adrenal glands to release of glucocorticoids. In patients with Cushing’s Syndrome, scientists discovered the hippocampus was shrinking.
Your hippocampus is attributed to aiding the brain in memory, learning, spatial navigation, and goal-related behavior, among other necessary abilities.
Great ways to stay positive around complainers
Choose your daily friends wisely.
We can’t choose our family or co-workers, but we can choose our friends. Surround yourself with people who are more positive than negative.