Have you ever stubbed your toe and dropped the f-bomb? Don’t feel guilty for swearing, there’s proof that swearing can actually help alleviate stress and pain under certain circumstances.
A recent study published in NeuroReport measured how long students could tolerate pain while keeping their hands in icy cold water. Psychologist, Richard Stephens of Keele University in the United Kingdom, found that when students who were able to use expletives, they endured the pain for a longer period of time compared to saying a less taboo word like “shoot.”
Study leaders said profanities can surge adrenaline through your system. “Swearing increases the heart rate and sets off the body’s flight-or-fight response,” Stephens said in a statement. Fight-or-flight, also known as the acute stress response, results in an increased heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate. Each of these reactions boosts pain tolerance.
However, experts say be cautious when cursing. Aside from swear words being interpreted sometimes as offensive, unprofessional or immature, swearing will not be beneficial for habitual-swearers.
“Clearly, the use of taboo words can generate both discomfort as well as positive release. The key is to choose your words and moments carefully,” says Dr. Joanne May, Director of Outpatient Behavioral Health Services at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. “If your goal is to promote a positive release for yourself or the group that you are with, choose a nuanced context and do so, infrequently.”
Swearing may also offer these other benefits according to Dr. May:
“The emotional effects of the curse words become less effective if they are used repeatedly over time. So, make sure to use profanities very sparingly and only when you feel it is appropriate,” Dr. May says.