Quit Whining

By Sharon Naylor

November 12, 2013 5 min read

No one likes to spend time with a constant complainer. The tireless whiner can drain everyone's energy, suck the air out of the room, encourage visitors to depart quickly and cause family dinners to end in a hurry. While everyone expresses complaints from time to time, the constant complainer expresses grievances far, far more often than positive thoughts. Some are so mired in negativity that their friends and family would be surprised if they ever uttered a positive statement or an expression of satisfaction.

It can be difficult to see your own flaws or accurately assess whether your penchant for complaining is on the too-frequent side, so ask a trusted, honest friend: "Do I need to work on being more positive in the things I talk about?" Your friend may be more comfortable answering genuinely to your stated plan to work on what you've identified as a potential problem.

As you explore your complaining habit, think about the types of things you usually whine about. The traffic, the wait at the doctor's office, the weather -- these are all things outside of your control. Once when you identify these triggers, perhaps by marking them in a journal you keep to work on this self-improvement project, you can then work on how to deal with the unchangeable conditions of life without voicing your displeasure about them. "A long wait at the doctor's office now gives me more time to work on my word puzzles," says retiree Anne James. "I used to upset my daughter, who came with me to the doctor, by complaining about the long wait, but now I'm happy to have more puzzle time."

Are you complaining about the way other people perform tasks? Perhaps you don't like the way your housecleaners vacuum your living room rug in different patterns. If you can't create a sense of peace with at least knowing your rugs are clean, then simply ask your housecleaning team to vacuum in straight lines. If you're sweet and polite, they won't mind.

Are you complaining about other people's personal business and how they live their lives? Drop this one quickly, or you'll soon have no one to talk to. Psychologists say that focusing on other people's lifestyles can reveal your dissatisfaction with your own lifestyle, so the revelation that you're unhappy with your kids' parenting styles could have at its core a dissatisfaction with your involvement level in your grandkids' lives or your regrets about how you parented. This one could call for some short-term counseling as you work through deeper issues that can trap you in dissatisfaction.

Some habits are simply hardwired. The experts at AgingCare.com say that if you grew up with negative parents, you may only understand this snappish way to communicate. Complaining is what you know; however, no matter how old you are, you can work on breaking a negative pattern you establish when you were young.

And then there's complaining caused by medications. AgingCare.com says some types of medications that have irritability as a side effect. Anti-seizure medicines, blood pressure medications, some anti-inflammatories and other drugs can cause personality changes marked by irritability and negativity, so see your doctor if you notice you're feeling usually negative or angry recently. You may need a simple change of medications, or your doctor's exam may reveal that you have a level of depression that may be helped by antidepressants. Some undiagnosed health issues -- AgingCare.com notes bladder infections as one -- can also be revealed by negative behavioral issues, providing your doctor with a key clue to getting you the medical solution you need to be healthier and happier.

Pain, too, can make you irritable and lead to more complaints, so talk to your doctor about your options in pain reduction and maintenance.

Robin Kowalski, Ph.D., psychology professor at Clemson University and author of "Complaining, Teasing and Other Annoying Behaviors," says that complaining can be a way to get attention. "If complaining did not serve some beneficial function, the behavior would die off," she says.

But complaining about pain related to medical conditions can be beneficial to a point. "Research suggests that not talking about these serious conditions may actually impair your immune system, Kowalski says. But when complaints are constant, the benefits are lost and revving yourself into a negative state can cause higher blood pressure and heart-damaging anger.

So at your next doctor's appointment, make it a point to talk about your negative state of mind, and don't turn away from a medical suggestion for counseling. A healthy strategy may be talking out your worries, fears and frustrations to a psychological professional who can teach you healthier coping and communication skills that will give you better quality of life, greater happiness and a circle of loved ones and friends far happier to be in your presence.

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