If you've ever been so stressed at work that you've wanted to mimic the dad in the classic film A Christmas Story, sending out a string of profanity to dangle indefinitely over Lake Michigan, researchers have some good news for you: Swearing might be a viable way to deal with the physical or emotional stress your job brings on.
What Happens in Your Brain When Expletives Fly
Scientists have discovered that, unlike other language, expletives are more closely connected to ancient, more "reptilian" structures deep in the right half of the brain. This includes the amygdala, a set of neurons in the medial temporal lobe. The amygdala is part of the limbic system and is associated with both fear and pleasure responses. Researchers theorize that, when you swear, you activate the amygdala and trigger the fight-or-flight response.
The chemicals released from that response, such as adrenaline, can make you less sensitive to pain. Because the brain circuitry involved in physical pain and emotional distress isn't totally separate, that rush can give both your body and mood a boost.
Other Benefits of Cursing
As Neal Burton of Psychology Today points out, swearing can have additional powerful mental benefits. It can, for example:
- Provide a sense of being in control
- Offer a viable alternative to physical violence
- Add humor
- Let you bond with others
- Demonstrate your passion or release your self-expression.
All of these advantages can diffuse sticky situations and keep you calm, reducing the amount of stress you feel when the workplace environment is particularly goofy or demanding.
But Before You Grab the Vocabulary of a Sailor...
Researchers caution that the more you swear, the less potent the pain-relieving influence of cursing is. Additionally, swearing carries heavy emotional connotations, so not everyone is going to see it in a positive light. Your best bet is to use it only when you really need it, and, if necessary, slip into a more private workspace to have at it.