Most of us were raised to avoid swearing. Indeed, in the majority of cultures, cursing is still considered taboo. But did you know that there are some surprising science-backed psychological and physical benefits of swearing?
Science has even uncovered that using curse words may indicate signs of higher intelligence and honesty. Nevertheless, should we really say ‘f*ck it’ to our inhibitions and color our language with curses? With the discovery of these benefits of swearing, it seems that there is more to profane language than we ever imagined.
1: Pain Relief
We know that swearing is a typical reaction to pain. I am sure most of us have cursed when stubbing a toe or banging an elbow. But now there is scientific evidence to show that swearing as a response to pain can actually increase our pain tolerance and lessen the painful physical sensation.
Fight or Flight
An increase in pain tolerance happens because swearing triggers the sympathetic nervous system – the body’s fight-or-flight mechanism. The increase in adrenaline, heart rate, blood flow, and oxygen can make us feel tougher and stronger than we actually are. This is demonstrated time and time again when we see humans flinging themselves heroically into hazardous situations to save others from injury or death. If it weren’t for their sympathetic nervous systems kicking in, their responses might have been quite different.
Additionally, hormones such as adrenaline and endorphins, both reportedly released by swearing (depending on the situation), have an analgesic effect. They are the body’s natural painkillers. Endorphins are endogenous opiates – they are neuropeptides that have an opioid effect similar to morphine. Adrenaline causes ‘stress-induced analgesia’ – a reduction in the perception of pain so that we can respond to a threat with a fight-or-flight action, without being hindered.
2: Stress Reduction
Swearing has been shown to help with stress management and reduction. This happens in many different ways, from reducing attachment and suffering to improving mental health and emotional wellbeing, and even creating stronger community bonds and friendships.
Swearing and Buddhism
I think we could say that there is a link between Buddhism and swearing. I’m thinking here about the Buddhist philosophy of letting go. The Buddha taught us that the root of all suffering is attachment. The tighter we hold onto a relationship, situation, object, or idea, the greater our suffering will be when that thing changes. And change it will – the Buddha also teaches us that everything is impermanent.
So, how does the Buddha’s wisdom relate to swearing and stress? When we say, ‘f*ck it’ to something, we release our grip on it. We let go of our attachment, which, as the Buddha instructs, will reduce our suffering and, therefore, stress. This doesn’t mean we don’t care about it anymore. On the contrary, it means we can make sound judgments and better choices because we are not clouded by stress and emotion.
The benefits of swearing also extend to our mental and emotional wellbeing. Swearing positively affects mental health and emotional resilience by elevating endorphin and serotonin levels. These neurotransmitters are responsible for making us feel motivated, inspired, significant, valued, and happy. They also contribute to reducing and managing symptoms related to depression and anxiety.
Swearing helps to increase social connection. Studies have shown that swearing among social groups contributes to feelings of validation, trust, and acceptance. It creates a bonding experience within the group. Experiencing feelings of solidarity and belonging within a community or group relieves the stress caused by loneliness and isolation.
3: Coping Mechanism
Swearing has been shown to help us cope with difficult situations and increase our resilience. Cursing allows us to release anger in nonviolent ways, assisting the redirection of this powerful emotion away from causing physical harm to others or ourselves, or destroying things (if you’ve ever thrown your phone down in anger, you’ll resonate with that point).
When we swear in response to something that makes us feel angry or threatened, we feel like we gain control of the situation. This is likely because swearing releases some of our anger, enabling us to think a little more clearly. It also triggers the sympathetic nervous system, which makes us feel more powerful.
Furthermore, it gives us something to ‘do’ when we feel helpless. If there is no other possible way we can change or improve the situation, at least we can release our frustration by cursing, blowing off enough steam to be able to deal with it more effectively.
Swearing is an effective way for people suffering from long-term chronic health conditions to manage their emotions. This is especially true for male sufferers, who may find it challenging to express their feelings in a softer way. Unfortunately, the perception still exists that men shouldn’t show emotion by crying or admitting they feel vulnerable or scared.
This outdated and harmful view needs to change because it contributes to severe mental health conditions and suicidal thoughts. But studies have shown that men who feel unable to express their emotions due to social conditioning can do so by swearing, thus releasing pent up sadness and despair, improving their mental health.
A Word of Caution
While it certainly looks like cursing is a fast, free, and safe way to improve our physical and mental health, caution should be applied. Firstly, if you swear at every opportunity, you could end up desensitizing yourself to the potential benefits. It is definitely a case of ‘less is more.’
Secondly, use discretion and avoid throwing f-bombs around when in the company of new people. Many folks are intolerant to profanity and you could end up accidentally offending someone, which is not good for reducing stress or bonding!
Science has demonstrated physical and psychological health benefits of swearing. The many ways it can relieve pain, reduce stress, boost emotional resilience, and even increase social bonding are too significant to ignore. But, as with most things, you should apply balance and common sense to get the best results.
So, the next time you stub your toe on the coffee table or find yourself in a stressful situation, let it all out and go crazy with the colorful language. Who knows, maybe you’ll suffer less pain and feel better quicker. While there is no guarantee, it doesn’t hurt to try.
Let That Sh*t Burn: Guided Meditation
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