Science Shows Complaining Rewires the Brain to Be Negative and How the Bible Gives a Solution
It truly amazes me when science “discovers” a Biblical truth.
For example, I’m noticing more and more how people like to utilize social media in order to “vent.” They believe that if they get their frustrations out, they will feel better. But this can easily turn into complaining. Frustrated tweets, complaint-filled Facebook posts, or just lots of mad emojis. Our children are learning to do this, too.
Is complaining really a bad thing?
Well, it turns out when we regularly express our frustrations in public, we not only don’t feel any better, but we also make everyone around us feel worse, too.
It’s contagious…like coughing without covering your mouth when you’re in a room full of people.
And scientific research shows us why.
It turns out that continual complaining is bad for our brains and even our health.
First, in order for our brains to send signals from one nerve to another, a chemical has to cross the space between them. This space is called a synapse, and once the chemical crosses it, the electrical signal can continue along the next nerve.
But each time the electrical charge travels from one nerve to another, the synaptic space gets a little smaller. That means the distance between nerves is closer so that the distance the chemicals have to travel becomes shorter.
You see, our amazing brains actually adjust their circuitry, physically changing so that it becomes easier for commonly traveled synapses to share the chemical link and continue the electrical signals. That makes thought processes happen faster.
Kind of like the rapid thought memory built in once you memorize a vocabulary word. The pathways for that thought have been built, the synapses are shorter, and that specific thought process is easier to recall because you’ve used it a lot in order to memorize it.
So…if having a thought makes it easier to have that thought again, repeated negative thoughts make it easier to think of more negative thoughts. In fact, you might react with negative thoughts regarding some random idea that pops into your head because those negative pathways are well-traveled.
The more and more you complain or think negatively, you shorten those synapses so that when you want to form a new thought, the thought that wins is the one that has less distance to travel. Therefore you could react negatively to something just because that is the easiest way for your brain to process it.
Add to that the fact that when you are around other complainers, your brain tries out that same emotion in order to empathize with the other people.
Being around complainers actually makes you more likely to complain.
Finally, when your brain thinks negatively, believe it or not, your immune system is negatively affected, too. Your body becomes stressed. In response to that, it releases a hormone called cortisol which increases your blood pressure, affects learning and memory, lowers the body’s immunity, and increases weight gain and cholesterol build-up in the circulatory system.
All this was discovered through a research study, and their solution to this problem is using what they call the “power of positivity” or thinking positively. (Lohr, Jeffrey. The Pseudopsychology of Venting in the Treatment of Anger, Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, 2007). They feel like we have the power within ourselves to pull us out of those depths. They’re basically saying, “Just STOP it!”
First of all, this is not a new discovery. It is, in fact, a Biblical principle. Philippians 2:14 says, “Do all things without grumbling or questioning,” and 1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells us to “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
We are told not to complain and to be thankful…even in times of difficulty. When we are given a directive in scripture, it is for our benefit, both to build maturity and for our overall health. In fact, we are also encouraged not to complain for the sake of those around us:
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29
Speaking uplifting words gives grace to those who hear them. So it follows that the opposite – venting – would bring others down.
That’s just what the study discovered!
But the Bible goes one further. It helps us to overcome complaining by building contentment.
The apostle, Paul, shares in Philippians 4:11-12 (my emphasis added):
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need."
What is that secret? Paul tells us in the next verse:
“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
You see, we can overcome our tendency to complain and bring those around us down by calling out to Christ for His strength. That will build contentment! That will bring health!
I want to end with this encouragement in Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 (again, my emphasis added):
“I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God's gift to man.
So science is discovering what the Bible is already telling us: complaining brings us and those around us down. It is not healthful to our bodies. However, calling on the strength of Christ for contentment and joy in all our circumstances gives us an eternal perspective; We know God is in control and nothing takes Him by surprise. He is omniscient and loves us. We can bring our frustrations before him – that will bring contentment and build us up!