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Stop Sneezing On Each Other [The Complaining Sickness]

It’s 3pm at Starbucks Coffee on yet another beautiful sunny California day. Eye roll. Nothing really happened today, sure my body is healthy, my heart is pumping, the earth is spinning in its orbit, and my mom loves me, but no word from my agent. Arrrg. Whatever.  Natalie is coming by in 5 minutes to have an iced coffee and chat. Natalie is another actress just like me, we met in acting class and have been going on this starving actor journey together.

 Sneezing Complaining Sickness Actor Advice

“Hey Girl!” Natalie says as she enters the the door, you will not believe the absolute crap day I’ve had! The idiots on the 405 freeway...” She then moves within a foot of me and sneezes right in my face.  Not to be outdone I countered, “Really? Well I’ve been waiting 3 days straight for my no-good, useless agent to inform me of my callback, since I crushed that TV audition! Why does the world hate me?” I looked straight into Natalie’s eyes and sneezed forcefully in her face, green snot is everywhere.  It is glorious, and gross. Natalie looks surprised, so she goes into the vault of ongoing tribulations, and says, “This economy, man. There’s just no acting jobs, and furthermore the producers just pick their friends for roles, I guess I’ll just have to start stripping.” She laughs, nudges even closer to me and sneezes directly into my mouth, I don’t like the taste at all.  I don’t like this whole interaction, it makes my stomach queasy and I feel I’ll never get clean, but I’m used to it, it’s what I know. I give Natalie a hug, we both are filthy, “See you tomorrow!”


Did I gross you out? I hope so. Constant “venting” and complaining is like sneezing directly into someone’s face, and it creates mental and physical damage.   According to a Stanford University study about complaining, most people complain about once a minute in a standard conversation. What is really surprising is that 30 minutes of complaining actually physically damages the brain, by shrinking the hippocampus, the organ that regulates emotions and long term memory.  Yikes! No wonder venting doesn’t make you feel better, or help you memorize your audition lines. It actually strengthens the neurological pathways to this behavior until complaining becomes an unconscious habit. It doesn’t even matter if you’re the originator or receiver of the complaints, the effects are the same: brain damage and an increase of the stress hormone cortisol. The body goes into fight-or-flight mode, and blood pressure and sugar increase to help “defend” you against nothing. The additional cortisol impairs your immune system to bring about additional illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, stroke and obesity. The cycle continues.

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There are different ways to transcend the vicious complaining cycle.  If there’s a problem really bothering you, write it down. For example, “My agent never gets me auditions.”  Then start a crazy brainstorm session that puts you back in the driver's seat of your life. Write down 30 ideas, no matter how outlandish, on how to fix the situation: For example:

  1. I could send postcards to target casting directors
  2. I could go to a SAG AFTRA panel to meet my favorite casting directors
  3. I could update my reel to attract attention
  4. ….

The first couple of ideas will be obvious, but after about 15 ideas, new crazy thoughts will emerge :

  1. Start Thespian Heart Clothing
  2. Help other actors with everyday struggles
  3. Share what I’ve learned through a blog.  

Pick 3 ideas and execute them as soon as possible.  New doors will open, and more ideas will come as you take action steps.  The point is to adopt the perspective that you control your life, and there’s always powerful steps you can take.

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If you are just complaining about the weather or traffic out of habit, turn your thoughts to gratitude.  An attention change to happy things reduces the stress hormone cortisol by 23%. I do a “Quick 10”  When I’m angry, sad, or depressed, I quickly think of 10 things I’m grateful for. They can be so simple:

  1. I’m so happy that the sun is shining.
  2. I’m so happy that my heart is pumping blood around my body.
  3. I’m so grateful that the mailman said good morning,
  4. I’m so happy that the internet gives me answers through Google.
  5. I’m so happy that my phone works.
  6. I’m so happy that my boyfriend said he loved me.
  7. I’m so happy my apartment is clean today
  8. I’m so happy I have an apartment.
  9. I’m so happy for lunchtime, I made an amazing sandwich!
  10. I’m so happy to breathe, it means I’m alive.

So, there you have it.  Let’s stop sneezing on each other by complaining all the time and take control of our days and lives.  


Jamie Ann Burke 
New York Actress

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