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How Complaining Rewires Your Brain for Negativity

Research shows that most people complain once a minute during a typical conversation. Complaining is tempting because it feels good, but like many other things that are enjoyable — such as smoking or eating a pound of bacon for breakfast – complaining isn’t good for you.

Your brain loves efficiency and doesn’t like to work any harder than it has to. When you repeat a behavior, such as complaining, your neurons branch out to each other to ease the flow of information. This makes it much easier to repeat that behavior in the future – so easy, in fact, that you might not even realize you’re doing it.

You can’t blame your brain. Who’d want to build a temporary bridge every time you need to cross a river? It makes a lot more sense to construct a permanent bridge. So, your neurons grow closer together, and the connections between them become more permanent. Scientists like to describe this process as, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”

Repeated complaining rewires your brain to make future complaining more likely. Over time, you find it’s easier to be negative than to be positive, regardless of what’s happening around you. Complaining becomes your default behavior, which changes how people perceive you.

And here’s the kicker: complaining damages other areas of your brain as well. Research from Stanford University has shown that complaining shrinks the hippocampus – an area of the brain that’s critical to problem solving and intelligent thought. Damage to the hippocampus is scary, especially when you consider that it’s one of the primary brain areas destroyed by Alzheimer’s.

Complaining is also bad for your health

While it’s not an exaggeration to say that complaining leads to brain damage, it doesn’t stop there. When you complain, your body releases the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol shifts you into fight-or-flight mode, directing oxygen, blood and energy away from everything but the systems that are essential to immediate survival. One effect of cortisol, for example, is to raise your blood pressure and blood sugar so that you’ll be prepared to either escape or defend yourself.

All the extra cortisol released by frequent complaining impairs your immune system and makes you more susceptible to high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and obesity. It even makes the brain more vulnerable to strokes.

It’s not just you…

Since human beings are inherently social, our brains naturally and unconsciously mimic the moods of those around us, particularly people we spend a great deal of time with. This process is called neuronal mirroring, and it’s the basis for our ability to feel empathy. The flip side, however, is that it makes complaining a lot like smoking – you don’t have to do it yourself to suffer the ill effects. You need to be cautious about spending time with people who complain about everything. Complainers want people to join their pity party so that they can feel better about themselves. Think of it this way: If a person were smoking, would you sit there all afternoon inhaling the second-hand smoke? You’d distance yourself, and you should do the same with complainers.


The solution to complaining

There are two things you can do when you feel the need to complain. One is to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. That is, when you feel like complaining, shift your attention to something that you’re grateful for. Taking time to contemplate what you’re grateful for isn’t merely the right thing to do; it reduces the stress hormone cortisol by 23%. Research conducted at the University of California, Davis, found that people who worked daily to cultivate an attitude of gratitude experienced improved mood and energy and substantially less anxiety due to lower cortisol levels. Any time you experience negative or pessimistic thoughts, use this as a cue to shift gears and to think about something positive. In time, a positive attitude will become a way of life.

The second thing you can do — and only when you have something that is truly worth complaining about – is to engage in solution-oriented complaining. Think of it as complaining with a purpose. Solution-oriented complaining should do the following:

  1. Have a clear purpose. Before complaining, know what outcome you’re looking for. If you can’t identify a purpose, there’s a good chance you just want to complain for its own sake, and that’s the kind of complaining you should nip in the bud.
  2. Start with something positive. It may seem counterintuitive to start a complaint with a compliment, but starting with a positive helps keep the other person from getting defensive. For example, before launching into a complaint about poor customer service, you could say something like, “I’ve been a customer for a very long time and have always been thrilled with your service…”
  3. Be specific. When you’re complaining it’s not a good time to dredge up every minor annoyance from the past 20 years. Just address the current situation and be as specific as possible. Instead of saying, “Your employee was rude to me,” describe specifically what the employee did that seemed rude.
  4. End on a positive. If you end your complaint with, “I’m never shopping here again,” the person who’s listening has no motivation to act on your complaint. In that case, you’re just venting, or complaining with no purpose other than to complain. Instead, restate your purpose, as well as your hope that the desired result can be achieved, for example, “I’d like to work this out so that we can keep our business relationship intact.”

Bringing It All Together

Just like smoking, drinking too much, and lying on the couch watching TV all day, complaining is bad for you. Put my advice to use, and you’ll reap the physical, mental and performance benefits that come with a positive frame of mind.

TRAVIS BRADBERRY       Entrepreneur.com      Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016
A version of this article appeared on TalentSmart and Entrepreneur.com.

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Could the ‘Stress Hormone’ Affect Weight and Memory?

Cortisol Controls Stress, but What Else?

By Matt McMillen      WebMD Health News      Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

Nov. 9, 2015 – Although cortisol is known as the “stress hormone,” researchers suspect it plays a much larger role in our health.

A recent study, for example, linked cortisol to memory in older adults. People with unusually high nighttime cortisol levels had reduced brain size and did more poorly on cognitive tests. Scientists are also investigating the hormone’s ties to heart disease risk and weight, to name a few.

“The effects of cortisol are felt over virtually the entire body,” says endocrinologist Robert Courgi, MD, who practices at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore, N.Y.

But researchers are just starting to understand what those effects are.

“Many of us endocrinologists are interested in this idea that our day-to-day cortisol levels, whether they are high or low, might make a difference to our overall health,” says Lynnette Nieman, MD, chief of the Endocrinology Consultation Service at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center. “But there aren’t a lot of data that speak to that question.”

In the brain study, researchers tested morning and evening cortisol levels in the saliva of 4,244 older adults. Those with higher evening levels appeared to have smaller brain volume and worse brain function, like processing speed and “executive functioning” skills, which include paying attention, switching focus, planning, and organization. Those with higher morning cortisol levels, though, appeared to have better brain function.

But the researchers couldn’t say which came first: unusually high cortisol or the reduced brain size.

“Clearly there is a physiologic relationship,” says Courgi, who wasn’t involved in the research. “But is it cause and effect? Is it because there’s too much cortisol that you’re having memory problems? Or does the loss of memory lead to elevated cortisol?”

Another link researchers are looking into is the hormone’s potential role in the number you see when you step on the scale.

“There’s concern that cortisol causes weight gain, but there’s also the question of cause and effect,” Courgi says. “Is it the weight gain that elevates the cortisol, or the elevated cortisol that leads to weight gain?”

Cortisol helps regulate blood sugar levels, metabolism, immune response, and blood pressure. It balances electrolytes, and it aids in pregnancy.

It’s made in the adrenal glands, which are located just above the kidneys. That production is controlled by hormones released by the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, both of which are found in the brain.

Stress, Cortisol, and Adrenal Fatigue

Stress, Cortisol

In times of great stress, cortisol floods the bloodstream, allowing energy sources to be available and preparing the body for the stress. When working properly, brain signals tamp down the production of cortisol after the danger has passed.

“It’s an important regulating feature that keeps us from getting really high cortisol levels,” Nieman says.

That feature doesn’t get your cortisol levels completely back to normal though, she says. While that may be cause for concern, especially for people who remain under constant stress, it’s a question that needs more research, Nieman says.

Stress can be psychological, such as that caused by problems at home or at work. It can also be physical. Fevers and low blood sugar, for example, are both stressors, Courgi says.

Stress isn’t the only cause of higher cortisol levels. Other culprits include:

  • Lifestyle habits, such as heavy drinking, smoking, lack of sleep, and a bad diet
  • Depression
  • Benign tumors on the pituitary gland or, more rarely, on the adrenal glands, can cause cortisol production to skyrocket, a condition called Cushing’s syndrome.

“There’s not a lot of evidence to suggest that people under chronic stress all have chronically elevated cortisol,” Nieman says. “But if they do, do they have high risk of medical diseases? And, if so, is it the high cortisol that’s causing it? You’d need to do a study that shows that reducing cortisol also reduced the risk of disease.”

Benefits of Lowering Cortisol?

Courgi and Nieman say more research is needed before they can say for sure that lowering levels of the hormone leads to better health. Still, Courgi says the evidence on cortisol’s effect on memory is compelling.

“The knowledge we have now certainly suggests that if you can reduce stress, reduce cortisol, you can prevent memory loss,” he says, “but we need more research to prove it.”

Practice healthy habits if you want to lower cortisol, he says. Quit smoking, and ease up on alcohol. Also, “mindful meditation, which calms and relaxes you and stops the wheels from spinning, has been proved to lower cortisol levels.”

Robert Courgi, MD, endocrinologist, Southside Hospital, Bay Shore, N.Y.
Lynnette Nieman, MD, senior investigator and chief, Endocrinology Consultation Service, National Institutes of Health Clinical Center, Bethesda, MD.

source: WebMD


Stress, Hormones, and Weight Gain

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD 
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

Most people admit that when they’re under stress, healthy eating habits can be difficult to maintain. Whether eating to fill an emotional need or grabbing fast food simply because there’s no time to prepare something healthy, a stressed-out lifestyle is rarely a healthy one. But weight gain when under stress may also be at least partly due to the body’s system of hormonal checks and balances, which can actually promote weight gain when you’re stressed out, according to some researchers.

Cortisol is a critical hormone with many actions in the body. Normally, cortisol is secreted by the adrenal glands in a pattern called a diurnal variation, meaning that levels of cortisol in the bloodstream vary depending upon the time of day (normally, cortisol levels are highest in the early morning and lowest around midnight). Cortisol is important for the maintenance of blood pressure as well as the provision of energy for the body. Cortisol stimulates fat and carbohydrate metabolism for fast energy, and stimulates insulin release and maintenance of blood sugar levels. The end result of these actions can be an increase in appetite.

Cortisol has been termed the “stress hormone” because excess cortisol is secreted during times of physical or psychological stress, and the normal pattern of cortisol secretion (with levels highest in the early morning and lowest at night) can be altered. This disruption of cortisol secretion may not only promote weight gain, but it can also affect where you put on the weight. Some studies have shown that stress and elevated cortisol tend to cause fat deposition in the abdominal area rather than in the hips. This fat deposition has been referred to as “toxic fat” since abdominal fat deposition is strongly correlated with the development of cardiovascular disease including heart attacks and strokes.

Stress is certainly not the only reason having for abnormal levels of cortisol. A number of diseases and conditions can result in abnormal levels of cortisol in the bloodstream. Cushing’s Syndrome is a term used by doctors to describe a condition in which various medical problems result in very high levels of cortisol, leading to changes in the body’s appearance and function.

Weight gain or loss is dependent on a number of factors including resting metabolic rate, food intake, amount of exercise, and even the types of food consumed and the times of day food is consumed. Genetic factors also likely influence our metabolism and may explain some people’s tendency to gain or lose weight more rapidly than others.

Whether or not a particular individual’s stress levels will result in high cortisol levels and weight gain is not readily predictable. The amount of cortisol secreted in response to stress can vary among individuals, with some persons being innately more “reactive” to stressful events. Studies of women who tended to react to stress with high levels of cortisol secretion have shown that these women also tended to eat more when under stress than women who secreted less cortisol. Another study demonstrated that women who stored their excess fat in the abdominal area had higher cortisol levels and reported more lifestyle stress than women who stored fat primarily in the hips.

The diet industry has attempted to capitalize on findings from these studies by promoting dietary supplements claiming to lower cortisol and enhance weight loss. No independent studies published in respected, peer-reviewed medical journals have shown that these supplements have any value in cortisol reduction or weight loss. In fact, exercise is the best method for lowering cortisol levels that have risen in response to stress and has the added benefit of burning calories to stimulate weight loss.

References: Peeke PM, Chrousos GP. Hypercortisolism and Obesity. Ann NY Acad Sci 1995 Dec 29; 771:665-76. Epel ES, McEwen B, Seeman T, Matthews K, Castellazzo G, Brownell KD, Bell J, Ickovics JR. Stress and body shape: stress-induced cortisol secretion is consistently greater among women with central fat. Psychosom Med. 2000 Sep-Oct; 62(5):623-32.

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