Growing up, our parents taught us it’s bad to swear. Even as adults, we’re told it’s highly unprofessional to drop f-bombs at the slightest triggers. Be that as it may, science begs to differ. Turns out, using dirty words can not only improve people’s mental health but also allow us to live longer, happier lives. No, I’m not f*****g kidding you!
According to a study by researchers in the U.S., cussing can prevent people from giving up sooner in adverse situations by allowing people to vent their frustration. They performed an experiment requiring the study participants to keep their hands immersed in ice-cold water. Individuals who cursed and swore during the process could keep their hands immersed for longer compared to those who didn’t.
A 2018 study, too, had reached similar conclusions upon finding the usage of swear words during workouts involving the gripping of a hand vise enabled people to squeeze harder and longer.
But how does cursing make us more tolerant of physical pain, like those from immersing our hands in ice-cold water or exerting ourselves in a gym? Experts believe it’s because swearing can trigger people’s “fight or flight” response, pumping more adrenaline through their body and increasing their heart rate. Both can raise one’s pain tolerance on a physiological level by triggering “stress-induced analgesia” or pain relief. “It increases your resilience and strength temporarily,” Emma Byrne, a language expert, explained.
From an early age we’re taught not to curse — usually right around the first time we hear an adult let an expletive slip in front of us (and immediately repeat it back to them). While we typically try to curb our “dirty mouth” when in the presence of family or co-workers, swear words make up almost one percent of our daily vocabulary, according to research done by Timothy Jay, psychological scientist and author of Cursing in America. To put that number into perspective, we use words like “we, our and ourselves” at around the same daily rate.
The repercussions of inappropriate cursing are pretty obvious (calling your boss that expletive likely won’t end well), but are there any pros to letting the occasional expletive slip when something doesn’t go our way? Hell yes there are. As it turns out, that potty mouth of yours can be beneficial in certain scenarios. Here’s a look at when and how cursing can actually be helpful for your health.
It helps with pain management
You’re rushing to get ready for work in the morning. Just as you’re about to head out the door you stub your toe on the corner of the kitchen table and yell your expletive of choice as a knee-jerk reaction. If that stinging foot doesn’t feel quite as painful immediately after you’ve cursed it out, it’s not just in your head. A study done at Keele University in the U.K. measured the effects swearing had on pain tolerance, and found that we can withstand more pain when using profanity. Why is that? “When we swear, it sends a message to the amygdala in the brain,” explains Amy Cooper Hakim, Ph.D, practicing in Florida. “The words themselves don’t help us to better tolerate pain — but the emotional and physical reaction that we have by saying the words triggers the fight or flight response, which then gives us that burst of energy to make it through the difficult or painful task.” So the next time you hurt yourself, feel free to curse at whatever inanimate object is to blame.
It improves your workout
If the most grueling parts of your workout have you cursing your instructor in your head, there’s research to support that vocalizing those swear words can actually help boost your performance. (Though you might want to stick to a general expletive rather than directing it at Chad during TRX.) The study found that participants who swore saw a 2 to 4 percent increase in performance and 8 percent boost in strength compared to those who kept their mouths shut. Why does this help? Researchers surmise that when you’re alone with your thoughts, suffering through your workout in silence, there’s nothing distracting you from the task at hand. Cursing diverts your attention, which makes you work harder than if you were only focusing on how tough the workout is.
It releases stress
As it turns out, there’s some science behind why cursing when you’re angry or frustrated makes you feel better. “Cursing can be an effective emotional release, especially for anger and frustration,” explains Laura MacLeod, LMSW practicing in New York. “By using words that are not welcomed or appropriate in most settings (professional, family, social) it can be very liberating to throw caution to the wind and curse.” According to MacLeod, this stress release initiates from the physical exercise of cursing. “Curse words are usually uttered with fury or frustration — the whole body is involved,” she explains. This provides a different release than when we’re simply venting without expletives, because we’re doing so without self-imposed limitations. “When we complain, vent or share anger without cursing, we are keeping ourselves in check,” she says. “The stress is not released because we are sharing within guidelines, not totally releasing all feelings. When cursing, our whole body and all emotions are connected — no guidelines, no filter. The release is complete, and thus stress relieving.“
Cursing can be an effective emotional release, especially for anger and frustration.
It can help you express yourself
You’d probably think that frequent cursing is a sign of limited vocabulary — but one study published in the journal Language Sciences actually shows the opposite. The study had a group of 43 men and women say as many curse words as they could in one minute. Next, they had to name as many animal names as they could in the same amount of time. Researchers found that the more curse words a participant was able to generate, the more expansive a vocabulary they had. They hypothesized that having an expansive vocabulary of taboo words means that person is better able to express themselves in a verbose, nuanced way. So get creative with your swear words!
It makes you appear more honest and authentic
You probably don’t want to curse during your next performance review. But clinical therapist Amy Deacon, explains that cursing can make you appear more genuine within your social circles. “Cursing in a positive scenario makes us come across as honest, authentic and assertive because swearing is such a raw form of expression,” she says. “You are getting an uncensored, raw, unfiltered response that is a gut reaction and reflective of what the person is really feeling of thinking.” A recent study found that profanity is correlated with genuine feelings and emotions in social interactions, which indicated that those who curse may also be more likely to be truthful.
So the next time you’re venting to friends, in pain or doing another round of burpees, let your inner sailor come out and play!