By Melissa Proulx
My hard drive crashed the other day and all of my work throughout my college career is gone. Forever. Gone. Nothing there. Blank. Empty. Didn’t even leave a note saying if it would be back.
I would be lying if I didn’t say that my blood turned to ice when the IT agent in charge of trying to salvage my files told me the news, even when he tried to lighten the blow by saying I should just think of it as a brand new computer.
Shocked and a little numb, I went throughout my day trying to comprehend what I still hadn’t fully absorbed yet. I went through all my usual motions: I attended my classes, I had lunch with my friends, and I went to TNH’s staff meeting that night to get my next assignment.
I looked forward to my next news story, one that might inspire me and keep me from feeling too down about what had just happened. And man, did I get what I was asking for.
My latest assignment: no complaining for a week. Modeled after the #100daysofhappy trend that people have been using primarily on Instagram, my task was a condensed version that seemed daunting.
I don’t consider myself a chronic pessimist, but like any college student, I do have to deal with my fair share of stress that sometimes dampens my mood. I was intrigued by the opportunity and accepted the challenge with little reluctance.
Because I only had one week to do it right, I made some preliminary changes (i.e. hiding negative people from my newsfeed, getting an acceptable amount of sleep each night, appropriately accommodating my caffeine addiction, etc.) and set out to do my homework to see if there were some not so obvious changes to make.
When I first spoke with David Cross, director of the Counseling Center, and explained to him what I was doing, he laughed. According to Cross, he would never advise me to give up complaining completely; it’s “a good stress reliever to get it out.”
“The best prescription I give anyone for stress relief is to walk, and talk, and drink water,” explained Cross.
But he did offer to help. Step one, Cross said, is to first “do an assessment about what one would have to complain about.” By identifying these stress factors, he said a person is able to either learn how to avoid them or how to manage them.
He did point out the big distinction, though, in the second method. Complaining is a healthy way to vent any frustration that a person might have. He suggests not giving up complaining entirely, but to be able to distinguish how and when to complain effectively instead.
So I took this advice into consideration but changed it a little bit to fit my lifestyle. After a particularly stressful day at work, I gave my sister a call on the car ride home and vented my frustration. I then had her plan out with me the appropriate way to deal with my co-workers and ultimately solve my problems for good.
By identifying the source of my frustration, Cross said that a person can then go about changing the situation or solving the problem in order to prevent complaining about it again the future.
Often times, it seems, people fall into the habit of voicing their complaints for justification and sympathy in an addictive way.
Though it might just seem like words, Dr. Guy Winch believes that over time, this can have a largely negative impact on the body, as he wrote in 2012 in his “Does Complaining Damage Our Mental Health” article for Psychology Today.
“When we have so many dissatisfactions and frustrations, yet believe we’re powerless to do much about them or to get the results we want, we are left feeling helpless, hopeless, victimized, and bad about ourselves,” he wrote. “…This accumulation of frustration and helplessness can add up over time and impact our mood, our self-esteem, and even our general mental health.”
I related to this philosophy mostly when it came to schoolwork. Whenever I would have a large amount of reading or anything of that sort, I would complain about how much I had to do as a means of almost bragging so that anyone who listened to my complaints could verify the fact that I was having a tough time and that I was overloaded.
But as Cross explained to me, the quickest way to silence these thoughts is to look at it from a global perspective.
“The things we have to individually complain about are small in the bigger picture of life,” he said.
Which is true. As a student, I have been given opportunities that others throughout the world will never have. I have the ability to study what I’m passionate about, even if it might seem overwhelming at times.
I found, too, that this had an unexpected effect as well. Rather than worry about myself all the time and having people help me, I became a better listener and more confident and satisfied in my personal relationships. Everyone has their own struggles, and we all need to do our part to support each other.
While I might still find myself complaining from time to time, I do find myself doing it in a much more effective way, even after only a week. I’ve now started challenging the chronic complainers in my life to do the same.