Many of us at the Sedona Community Center practice a wellness approach to life that includes a healthy habit of keeping our minds on pleasant, productive thoughts—free of clutter, if you will. Besides the obvious–‘don’t worry, be happy’–there are compelling scientific reasons that indicate it pays to train our brains to stay off the negative and onto the positive. Still, that urge to complain can strike even the most optimistic person, and don’t all of us know that one person that seems to gripe continuously?
There are a variety of complainers, says Robin Kowalski, professor of psychology at Clemson University. Robin cites three main categories. There’s The Venters. These people want to let it all out and rarely take any offers for a solution. Then there are the Sympathy Seekers They will always one-up you with problems or illness—whatever it is, they have it worse. And lastly, there are the Chronic Complainers. These folks simply live in a state of complaining; ruminating on a problem again and again. Contrary to a common belief, complaining does not typically offer feelings of release, but actually can make things worse. And here’s why—
Rick Hanson, a psychologist and Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley explains the ill effects of worry this way, “…people who routinely experience chronic stress—particularly acute, even traumatic stress—release the hormone cortisol, which literally eats away, almost like an acid bath, at the hippocampus, which is a part of the brain that’s very engaged in visual-spatial memory as well as memory for context and setting. For example, adults who have had that history of stress and lost up to 25 percent of the volume of this critically important part of the brain are less able to form new memories.” Complaining and chronic worrying not only drains others around you, it drains your brain as well.
Another intriguing brain/mind function that molds our thought patterns is called experience-dependent neuroplasticity. Back in 1949, Donald Hebb, a Canadian neuropsychologist, coined the phrase ‘neurons that fire together, wire together.’ Neuroscience research has found that when we experience feelings, physical sensations, or thoughts, neurons are triggered and form a neural network. When we engage in repetitious thought, our brains trigger that same group of neurons. Eventually, if we keep playing those repeating records of self-criticism, worry, or ill will, our brains begin to assist us, rather quickly, in finding the pathways to think those same thoughts again and again.
Conversely, in a favorable vein, we trigger desired brain results when we focus on pleasing thoughts such as gratitude, think about those we love, and utilize meditation techniques. These healthy habits can produce ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters like nor-epinephrine and dopamine. The more advantageous practices we have, the more our brains, and therefore, our minds benefit. For example, studies show that our brains can become measurably thicker in key areas such as the insula and the pre-frontal cortex through meditation. Not surprisingly, these areas help us to be tuned into our deeper feelings, our physical state-of-being, and increase our attention span and ability to focus. So it becomes a grand, positive loop—the more we practice healthy mind habits, the more our brain supports those thoughts, and the cycle continues.
Ultimately, how we respond to the day-to-day events and activities in our life shape us for the future. As one wise sage put it, “Today I can complain because the weather is rainy or I can be thankful that the grass is getting watered for free.” At the Sedona Community Center we promote positive, healthy lifestyles through a variety of resources. Through participating in art classes, meditation, fitness, personal growth sessions, and a commitment to wholesome nutrition, the community members who harness these positive activities enjoy a more happy, healthy lifestyle. We would love to have you join us! Like us on Facebook, visit our website at www.sccsedona.org or drop by the Center at 2615 Melody Lane, Sedona, 86336, to learn more about your Community Center.