Having a moan can be a conversational ice-breaker. A trouble shared lightens our mental load and facilitates gaining other perspectives. Having a rant makes us feel good, especially if we get validated, and it is also a way to bond and connect. In small doses, the verbalisation of gripes can be a stress reliever. Some people are heavily burdened with real problems, so who can blame them for moaning?
However, others complain about what seems minor, and moan incessantly on a regular basis. In a survey conducted in the UK, it was revealed people spend, on average, 10,000 minutes a year moaning. The survey claimed that millennials whinged the most. Weather and politics dominated as the leading source of moans, with relationships, work colleagues and rude clients also featuring.
In Ireland, weather-related moans top the polls – it is too windy, too wet and too hot. We also give out about prices, politicians, work, referees, traffic, public transport and feeling tired.
While moaning in short bursts, every now and then, has a positive effect, excessive whining is not good for our physical and psychological health. Chronic complaining induces negativity, rewires the brain and activates the stress hormone cortisol. The immune system gets weakened and blood pressure rises, increasing the risk for obesity, heart disease and other ailments.
Although we might feel that venting releases pent-up pressure, it actually fuels negativity rather than ameliorates it. Going on about something or someone ignites negative feelings as you relive the scene. And ranting online will not make you feel better. Instead of blowing off steam, it fuels the fire. People often complain to gain support, but if it is repetitive and intense, it wears down the patience of others.
Complaining triggers anxiety and depression as individuals get stuck in negative emotions
Frequent whining becomes habitual and increases the likelihood of feeling negative about other aspects of life. Research has found that complaining triggers anxiety and depression as individuals get stuck in negative emotions.
Psychologist Jeffrey Lohr of the University of Arkansas explains it like this: "People don't break wind in elevators more than they have to. Venting anger is . . . similar to emotional farting in a closed area."
It is not a pleasant experience for everyone in your line of fire and it is not socially appropriate. Another downside to excessive moaning is that it leads to inaction. It can be astonishing how many hours a person can clock up moaning about a boss, another person, a situation and so forth. And the same stories get repeated over and over with no real changes made.
In the workplace, like the spreading of a yawn, there is an emotional contagion effect. The target often gets demonised. Negative cliques develop based on unhealthy interactions. Whining colleagues have been found to be a leading source of annoyance to colleagues in a survey of office habits.
A negative culture, office layout, a lack of structure, unclear roles and too much idle time all can foster moaning on the job. While constructive complaining at work is healthy, constant whining casts a dark cloud over an organisational culture. It exaggerates challenges, is emotionally draining and impacts negatively on morale, creativity and productivity. Over time, it leads workers to hate their jobs.
Monitor yourself for three days and mentally count how many times you whinge
Are you moaning more than you realise, or would you like to moan less?
Self-awareness is the first step. Monitor yourself for three days and mentally count how many times you whinge. Be aware when you are moaning. Will Bowen founded the movement ‘A complaint free world’ and challenges you to give up moaning for 21 days. Ask yourself – is it reality based and how much does it really matter? Identify the moany themes and triggers.
Rather than dumping all your moans on others, write them down. Pause and assess how it might be impacting the listener. Do they seem bored? Do they look fed up?
Be mindful of body language and social cues. Some people go off on a monologue talking “at” the other person. If you are compelled to have a moan, give it a time limit. Develop a habit of asking the other person about their life and reflect on what has been going on for them. Perhaps they have had a bereavement, lost their job, have relationship difficulties. Be aware when it may not be the right time for you to indulge in your moaning. Move from this habitual way of being towards a more solution-seeking position.
If issues arise, aim to address them. Practise daily letting go of minor gripes and grumbles to build up your tolerance level. Have a close look at what is really going on with you. The moan often is not the real issue but reflects bigger problems. Perhaps you need therapeutic support? Maybe it is time to change a legacy of moaning you inherited? Cultivate a more positive and optimistic frame of mind and reap the rewards.
Prolonged exposure is detrimental to your own wellbeing and you will end up with a moan infection
What about handling a moan? It doesn’t help the other person to facilitate endless ranting and moaning. And prolonged exposure is detrimental to your own wellbeing and you will end up with a moan infection. If you feel comfortable with the other person, try to point it out diplomatically. Be a role model by focusing on solutions and addressing issues.
Ask questions and encourage them to reflect. “This issue has been recurring quite a lot, what do you think is the best way to handle it?”or “What would you like to see happening?”
You can also divert their attention from the moan and discuss neutral or upbeat topics. Or throw in some humour to diffuse the whining. Try to tactfully give their moan a time limit and highlight the silver lining.
In small doses, a good old moan can facilitate bonding, alleviate stress, help to gain a different perspective and generate solutions. Sharing feelings, pointing out if something is not right or instrumental complaining is healthy. However, if it is constant and excessive, it is bad for your physical and psychological health. It drains personal and communal energy. Moaning has a negative impact on others and impedes healthy interactions.
Grumbling won’t make you happier.