Could Complaining Be An Unhealthy Habit?

Woman complaining to her husband

Most of us know that certain habits like smoking, overeating junk food, or lying on the couch all day contribute to an unhealthy lifestyle. But what about complaining? Could complaining be an unhealthy habit? Well, it could be. It depends on what kind of complainer you are.

Have you ever paid attention to your daily communication? Or, how much of your conversations contain complaints or negativity? You might be surprised to learn that complaining has the potential to be another bad habit that can wreak havoc on your health.

Three definitions of the word complain

1) To say that something is wrong or not satisfactory — (Cambridge English Dictionary)

2) To express grief, pain, or discontent — (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

3) To express dissatisfaction, pain, uneasiness, censure, resentment, or grief; find fault — (

Many years ago, my husband and I went out for dinner at a then-popular restaurant in town. I ordered a specialty hamburger that looked and smelled delicious when it came to the table. However, after the first bite (and here I apologize in advance), I discovered a foreign object in my food. Okay, if you must know—it was a long black hair. I know I know, I said I was sorry! 

Of course, I complained to the powers that be because something was definitely wrong and needed to be corrected. The waitress was as repulsed as I was. Ironically, my family was unaffected and proceeded to enjoy their meal. However, I chose to sit and sip my water, refusing to get anything to replace the hairy burger. Needless to say, even though I knew it was an unfortunate accident, I never could go back there. Truthfully, I may still be traumatized by the dining disaster.

3 Types Of Complainers

  • Venters
  • Problem Solvers
  • Chronic Complainers

Venters express emotional dissatisfaction (frustration, anger, disappointment, etc.) about particular experiences. Venting (blowing off steam) helps to relieve the inner tension they feel from a difficult situation. They vent, looking to receive attention and sympathy from their friends. They aren’t necessarily looking for advice or a solution to the problem; they want validation for their feelings.

Problem Solvers look at the problem, know it is vital to change it and create a plan to do so. Unfortunately, as one study suggested, these types of complaints make up fewer than 25 percent of all complaints.

Chronic complainers never seem to be satisfied but love to dwell on the problem and ignore solutions. They really feel their lives are full of hardship and challenges. They also seek sympathy and emotional validation.

My complaint at the restaurant obviously fell under the “problem solver” category. However, I will admit I have done my fair share of “venting” in other instances. Complaining comes naturally, and we all do it to some degree. In fact, without having to be taught, we start complaining while we are yet but mere children. I’m sure every child knows the phrase, “Quit your complaining!” And Lord only knows how many times we’ve uttered the phrase as a parent. And yet, the beat goes on!

Why Do We Complain?

Well, to begin with, it’s easy. And most people need to realize how often they do it. For them, it’s just become an old habit, and like most habits, it becomes second nature. Others find complaining an easy way to start a conversation or create a bond with those around them (a long line at the cashier, the traffic, the weather, etc.) Or some complain because it’s easier than finding and carrying out a solution, thereby avoiding responsibility. But mostly, people are just looking for validation for what they are going through. 

Can You Complain Too Much?

Yes, you can! Chronic complainers—you know who they are. When you see them coming, you’re weary before they even start talking. Nothing is ever good enough for them, and there’s always something wrong. Their focus is on the problem, and they ignore any solution offered.

As I stated before, most chronic complainers believe their lives are full of hardships and challenges, always getting the short end of the stick. And in truth, some people do have extra challenges in life. However, here, I am not speaking about such cases. Chronic complainers’ perceptions of their hardships are deeply seated in their sense of identity. If you were to come up with solutions to their problems, they would not be happy to hear them. Why? Because resolving the issues would then remove the public recognition of their hardships and threaten their identity and sense of self. They may even get upset with you and lament that you don’t understand their problems’ complexity.

Adverse Health Effects Of Complaining

Over time constant complaining can have a tremendous, although negative, impact on your brain function and adversely affect your physical well-being. When you complain repeatedly, your brain rewires to make future complaining more likely. It’s a process scientists like to describe as “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” And before you know it, being negative will be easier than being positive, regardless of your situation. 

Chronic complaining leaves you with a life full of dissatisfaction and frustrations. And suppose you believe you are powerless to do anything about your situation. In that case, it leaves you feeling helpless, hopeless, and like a victim. With your life so full of complaints, the frustrations and feelings of helplessness accumulate over time, eventually impacting your mood, self-esteem, and overall mental health.

The effects of excess complaining also take a toll on your physical health. How can that be, you ask? Well, It’s as simple as this: As you rattle on with all of your complaints, the more your cortisol (stress hormone) levels increase. Over time, it weakens your immune system, raises your blood pressure, and increases your risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and other adverse maladies.

“What’s the use of complaining about something you have no intentions of changing?” ― Mario L Castellanos

Often, the problems we complain about need solutions. And yes, sometimes our complaints are justified. But, while chronic complaining is not helpful, neither is suppressing your thoughts and feelings. Both can lead to long-term stress and health problems. 

Stay tuned for my next blog to learn how to deal with chronic complaining and if there is such a thing as “the right way” to complain. And in the meantime, if you are stuck in a cycle of complaining, working with a coach is an excellent way to learn techniques to change your mindset and make much-needed changes that can have meaningful consequences on your life.

Hi, I’m Kris Henderson, and I am here to help. I invite you to contact me or schedule your phone call today.

This article originally appeared on Counseling Solutions of West Michigan.