Next time you smack your thumb with a hammer or bump your head on a cupboard and you hold back from swearing – you might be making the pain worse. That’s right, swearing reduces your perception of pain according to research by Richard Stephens at the University of Keele in the UK.
In the study subjects were exposed to threatened and actual pain. Subjects who used a neutral term instead of “obscene or offensive language” reported higher levels of pain. It has a similar effect on perceived threats. That is, swearing when you feel fearful or threatened reduces your perception of the threat.
What’s the take-away for you? Next time your wellbeing feels threatened at work head out to the car and let fly for a minute or two. Make sure you DON’T do it within earshot of your colleagues – you don’t want to cause offense. Two other caveats. First restrict your cursing to the event or threat – not the person ie. “play the ball and not the man”. Second – don’t catastrophise ie. don’t make the event bigger than it is! The idea is to let off some steam in a way that doesn’t cause offense or further harm.
As an aside – this is just another example of how traditional social norms don’t conform to science. There are a lot of myths about wokplaces and high performance that just don’t stand the reality test. Most of them have nothing to do with swearing either!
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