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Research Suggests Swearing Might Help Manage Chronic Pain

If you find yourself swearing at your chronic pain, you might actually be helping yourself feel a bit better. Research supports that cursing like a sailor could actually help you with pain tolerance, according to a CNN article published on Tuesday.

The evidence on swearing dates back more than a decade. A 2009 study found that participants were able to submerge their hand in a tub of ice water for longer when they used their swear word of choice versus using a neutral word they would use to describe a table.

The finding suggests when participants unleashed some aggression by cursing, it triggered a fight-or-flight response, which can have a pain-lessening effect. Psychologist Richard Stephen, who was the lead author of the 2009 study, confirmed on CNN that cursing produces a stress response that initiates the body’s defensive reflex.

“It seems like by swearing you’re triggering an emotional response in yourself, which triggers a mild stress response, which carries with it a stress-induced reduction in pain,” Stephens said. A 2012 study also found regardless that chronic pain can activate the sympathetic nervous system, leading to a fight-or-flight response.

Constantly swearing if you have chronic pain isn’t a sustainable way to manage pain (and chronic pain patients need better medical treatments!). But it is possible to turn anger connected to your pain into a positive thing. Contributor Sarah Anne Shockley wrote in an article for The Mighty on how she used anger as a positive force in her life with chronic pain.

“We can use the moving energy of anger to motivate ourselves,” Shockley wrote. “We can put all that energy and attention on healing, on opening up our options, on being creative about combining traditional and alternative approaches to wellness.”

In addition to helping people with their pain tolerance, CNN highlighted how swearing might be a sign of intelligence and creativity as well.

Image via Getty Images/Mark Kolpakov