Your Words Can Reveal You’re Stressed

A very interesting paper by Matthias Mehl et al on how the words we use can identify our level of stress and anxiety was recently published in the proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences.

The lead author Dr Matthias Mehl from the Department of Psychology, University of Arizona says that our linguistic embellishment of the words you use is likely to be a much more reliable indicator of stress levels than self-diagnosis.

The researchers have identified a conserved transcriptional response to adversity (CTRA) that may contribute to social disparities in health.

Incredibly, it could show you’re stressed in fact, even, very stressed. Maybe, so stressed you probably need a break – but don’t even realise it.

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Speech analysis could give you a warning about your stress levels before you are so overcome with stress that you need to take stress leave, or you slip into ‘burn out’.

It’s a funny thing, what we say about our stress levels often doesn’t match our body’s own inherent stress responses.

The study set out to record when, and how often, we use pronouns and adjectives.

The speech of 143 volunteers was recorded at intervals over a period of two days and their responses were then transcribed.

Subjects were also asked to record how stressed they felt at given times.

To make the test even more objective the researchers applied a genetic test to the subjects’ white blood cell counts.It’s well established that stress influences gene expression – such as those involved in inflammation becoming become more active.

In another post I have previously published on words are real forces we discussed that ‘words kill more people than bullets’.

The impact of underlying stress on speech patterns, the report says, is specific and for stressed individuals, the use of ‘function words’ – pronouns and adjectives – soars.

The research also found that stressed subjects were also much less likely to use third-person plural pronouns – such as ‘they’, ‘their’ and ‘them’.This is because people under pressure tend to focus more on themselves instead of those around them.

Study author Matthias Mehl told Nature we choose ‘meaning words’ (nouns and verbs) consciously when we speak. But when it comes to function words, these are often inserted subconsciously.

The words act as ‘emotional intensifiers’, reflecting a speaker’s state of arousal. Even if they don’t realise it themselves.

Dr Mehl says such speech analysis could help identifying people at risk of developing stress-related diseases.

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