MythBusters conducted an interesting test on whether swearing aloud increases tolerance to pain.
Although the sample size was extremely small (n=5), swearing aloud during a painful experience increased the participants’ ability to tolerate this pain by an average of 30%. Pretty impressive. Although we can certainly question the methodology of this particular study, anecdotal evidence says people will report pain relief upon swearing.
But what is going on here? Whether you say ‘ elbow’, or ‘f**k”, it’s just a word, a collection of sounds with relevance to English speakers only. Is it the extent of expression that matters, in other words, the intensity with which the word is expressed or is it that the more ‘naughty’ or shock value in the word, the more pain one can withstand? Does this mean that a usually mouthy person gets less relief when he or she swears during a painful incident?
If we know that swearing helps pain, how come we have so much trouble accepting that ART can ease pain?
The action of scuffing the pastel across the page, blocking in slabs of colour, moving the body in arcs and extension, in and out, up and over can add a rhythm and movement. I had the opportunity for some lovely soothing pastel work today. I am currently nursing a badly bruised arm (from a trip over the weekend). My arm is sore ( just slight pain in the background) but as I worked today, I noticed the pain in my arm almost in rhythm with the art making. Part of me was annoyed, but another part of me welcomed the intensifying of the pain on the pull motions, whilst it lessened on the push motions. As I worked I realized that the art gave purpose to my pain, it was ok to hurt because it was achieving something, and secondly, it was as if I was in control of it. It some ways I was in control. I could bring the pain on and ease it off. It was much better than being a passive experiencer of the pain. I felt a small sense of mastery over it. I also felt some reassurance that the pain is almost cyclical, that it is not fixed. I thought about how often I flex a sore muscle, or press a bruise, drawn to make and then stop the pain by my own actions. Is this a small opportunity to prove control over it?
I don’t know.
But I would suggest, that among other things, Art has these innate healing properties:
1. Blood pressure, heart rate and other physiological stress indicators are reduced during art making.
2. Art can be the ‘swear’ for some people who put this extent or intensity of expression into the art making act rather than the word.
3. The whole body movement and choice to engage in art making despite pain, can give the artist a sense of control, where pain is usually uncontrolled.