Stress is a constant in life that we’ve come to expect, even if it’s not our favorite feeling. But often, it’s the stress that takes you by surprise that can actually do the most harm to your brain. A study at the Department of Biological and Clinical Psychology at Friedrich Schiller University in Germany found that exposure to negative emotional stimuli — like the kind you experience hanging out with or reading the social media posts of complainers and negative people — compromises the effectiveness of the neurons in your hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for memory and reasoning).

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Continued exposure to negative stimuli causes irreversible damage to neuronal dendrites (the branches used for communication between neurons) and could permanently destroy neurons for good.

Even when the particular negativity is mundane and hypothetical, the amygdala and the thalamus areas of our brain aren’t able to differentiate the stress of a pessimistic Twitter post from the stress of something that could could actually harm us physically. Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, Ph.D., founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom and New York Timesbest-selling author, describes “experience-dependent neuroplasticity,” as the concept that our brains are literally shaped by our thoughts and experiences. Experiences can lead to growth of new synapses and even change your genes, making the control of the stimuli you experience a matter that could affect your future offspring!

Now that we know just how detrimental your ever-cynical friends can be, the best mode of action would be to ditch your negative friends completely and focus on building a squad who make you feel your best. But, if you MUST continue to be around the obstinate, simply ask how they intend to fix the problem they are having. This accomplishes a few things: They learn immediately you will not be joining in their misery, they clam up from embarrassment of their drama or the conversation is redirected in a more positive, productive direction and everyone’s brain structure is left intact.

What’s your strategy for dealing with negative people? Let us know in the comments below!