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How Negativity and Complaining Literally Rot Your Brain

By Dr. Travis Bradberry

Rodent studies have long shown that stress can have a lasting, negative impact on the brain. Exposure to even a few days of stress compromises the effectiveness of the neurons in the hippocampus—an important area of the brain responsible for reasoning and memory. Weeks of stress cause reversible damage to neuronal dendrites (the small “arms” that neurons use to communicate with each other), and months of stress can permanently destroy neurons.

Evidence of the same effect in humans has long been scant. However, recent improvements in MRI resolution mean scientists can now see the same effects of stress in people. Stress is a formidable threat for those of us who want to think clearly, reason effectively, and have a decent memory.

Negative People Are Stressful: Just Ask Little Harry

Most sources of stress are easy to identify. If your non-profit is waiting to land a grant that your organization needs to function, or you are working on the biggest project of your career, you’re bound to feel stress, but the unexpected sources of stress are the ones that can take you by surprise and harm your brain. Recent research from the Department of Biological and Clinical Psychology at Friedrich Schiller University in Germany found that exposure to negative emotional stimuli—the same kind of exposure you get in the presence of complainers and otherwise negative people—caused subjects’ brains to have the same emotional reactions that they experienced when stressed. Your brain gets sucked into a negative emotional state when exposed to negative people, and—just like a stress response—the longer you endure this state the worse it is for your brain.

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