By Carissa Weber
We have all been there. We are working on a task and something doesn’t go our way. Before we have time to think about it, we drop the F-bomb and then drop another one for dropping the first F-bomb. Swearing has become its own language (and a way to express ourselves when no other words seem to fit). But can swearing help our mental health?
The year 2020 has tried all of our patience. Think about it, a pandemic, a crazy political climate, isolation, big changes, not being able to participate in normal (and healthy) coping skills, and just having to do things differently. I am sure even people who don’t typically swear let a few colorful words fly. What if I told you that swearing can help improve how we feel? I bet your grandmother is rolling her eyes and clutching her pearls at the thought that bad language would be rewarding, but it is true.
Researchers at Keele University in the United Kingdom did a study in 2011 that showed the use of swearing decreased a person’s physical perception of pain. During the study, it was shown the use of your favorite forbidden four-letter words reduced pain by 40%. This is because the use of swearing releases adrenaline into our brain. Adrenaline helps us focus up and get ready to start that triple F response.
Feel free to check out Fight-Flight-Freeze: the Ultimate Coping Skill to learn more about the triple F response
If you recall, adrenaline is the neurotransmitter responsible for triggering the release of endorphins. This decreases the sensation of physical pain while increasing our focus when we are experiencing pain. If it could work for physical pain, could it work for our emotional pain as well?
The answer to that question is yes! Dr. Richard Stephens, PhD (the guy who headed the swearing study at Keele University) shared that when we are experiencing an acute stress response, sharing our favorite cuss words has the same impact that they do when we are coping with physical pain. Isn’t it awesome to know that simply by saying some of these taboo words that made us blush and giggle when we were kids, we can relieve some emotional anguish? Amazing, isn’t it!?
Dr. Stephens also found out through this study that the people who swear struggle less to cope with stress. Take that you screwy myth! Another myth busted is that swearing can indicate someone’s education or vocabulary levels. Highly educated, professional, and sophisticated people pull out those dirty words just as often as you or me. It’s a universal language, just like waving hello or giving a hug. What is also neat about swearing is other animals do it, too! Did you know that monkeys and apes have been known to swear? Well, not in the sense we think about it, but they have gestures that are known through their groups as “naughty.” I find that fascinating!
One thing to remember about swearing is that id doesn’t necessarly have to be a swear word. It can be as simple as “one darn it!” or “Good God in Gravy!”. This is because it is about the intesnity of how we are saying it. The intention, in this case, is just as good as the real thing.
There is a catch. If you are already a potty mouth (like myself), chances are you will not experience the same relief from swearing as those who use those strong words only on special occasions. Keele University took time to study this in 2011 and discovered if you use more than 60 swear words on a daily basis, you will feel less relief from swearing when you are in an emotionally painful situation. So your grandmother is right, swearing all the time is not helpful, however, swearing every once in a while has been proven to be.
Swearing works in our body in a different way as well. By using swear words, it allows us to appear more authentic and genuine to the people around us. What does that mean? That our brain will release oxytocin! If you recall from my previous post, Neurotransmitters: The Language of the Brain, oxytocin allows us to build connections with those around us and feel accepted. When you talk about being isolated during a pandemic, feeling connected with another human being has become critical to our survival.
“Swearing all the time is not helpful, however, swearing every once in a while is a good thing. “– Carissa Weber
Does this mean you can swear at anyone? Absolutely not! It is not appropriate to be swearing in some situations. For example, swearing at the kid behind the counter at the movie theater is not a good place to try to release some oxytocin. Or telling your significant other they are being a (insert your favorite insult here). However, swearing when you are amongst your friends and family (essentially swearing together not at one another), helps you feel secure and safe. This means your brain is releasing oxytocin, which helps you feel connected and not so alone when a bunch of your friends are complaining about everyday life struggles.
Thank you for taking the time to learn more about this sweet coping skill. Cussing is, in my opinion, the fastest working (and fun) coping skills we have. Use it wisely and use it sparingly to get the best results in helping that darn amygdala chill out!
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- Byrne, Emma (2018). Swearing Is Good for You: The Amazing Science of Bad Language. Read May 11, 2021
- Krans, Brian (2021). Don’t Watch Your Mouth. Swearing Can Actually Be Good for Your Health. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health-news/dont-watch-your-mouth-swearing-can-actually-be-good-for-your-health
- Worrall, Simon (2018). Swearing Is Good For You—And Chimps Do It, Too. Retrieved from Science Says Swearing Is Good For You (nationalgeographic.com)