Can cursing be good for your health?

Can cursing be good for your health?

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:

  • A sense of control.  By swearing, we can show that we are not passive beings, but in control and ready for a challenge. 
  • Channeling your anger through swearing may be bad and still hurtful, but it is better than causing physical harm. 
  • Comedy, social bonding or self-expression.  Swearing with close friends can be hilarious.  Most know that laughter is good for the soul as it also releases endorphins.  Also, swearing can show that we really mean something and want to emphasize the importance of what we are feeling.

“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.

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  1. I’ll admit to a string of profanities after stubbing a toe or the like–does make me feel better.

  2. I definitely limit my swearing to only those times when I can’t control it–thus the stress release. I’ve believed this for a long time. I don’t swear to be offensive. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to a situation that helps to alleviate the tension. So, if you’re in earshot when I stub my toe, I apologize in advance!

  3. Sometimes “meanie” just doesn’t provide the satisfaction as some other choices.

  4. It may help lessen stress, but it doesn’t provide a good example for kids. They model the behavior they hear and see.

  5. I am not much of a swearer, but I have at times brought a few harsh words out when upset. Agree with Jim though, need to set an example for all actually.

About the Author

Liz Donofrio
Liz Donofrio

Liz Donofrio, health enews contributor, is a marketing specialist at Advocate Health Care. As a newlywed, she is happy to be done planning her wedding and enjoying spending time with her husband and new extended family. In her free time, you can find Liz cooking new tasty recipes for her family, attending Chicago sporting events and chasing after her shih tzu-yorkie, Buttons.