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How Does Language Reveal Stress Response?

Stress seems to be an inevitable part of our daily lives. Whether the stress stems from a major conflict at work, home, or in a relationship, or from slight inconveniences such as losing one’s car keys before work, its influence on an individual’s language patterns is indisputable. One’s language tells more about the stress level that they are experiencing than their feelings or perception of said stress. This phenomenon might seem unagreeable at first, so various recent studies have been conducted to examine it. Recent studies have shed light on the multiple ways in which language reveals stress responses regarding both behavior and physiology.

Image is courtesy of The New York Times.

Stress Responses

Before exploring language changes, it is crucial to understand what stress responses are. Stress responses are “physical and thoughtful responses to your perception of various situations.” In essence, it is your body’s response to a problematic situation that you face. The severity of the stress response depends on the problem you face. These responses also vary depending on the nature of the case one encounters. For instance, the loss of a loved one, a significant failure career-wise, or anxiety-inducing situations may institute solid releases of stress hormones.

Physically and physiologically, stress has very significant effects on various organs. Different from situational stress, chronic stress can lead to physical symptoms such as headaches, chest pain, and an upset stomach. Not to mention, it leads to numerous emotional problems, including but not limited to: depression or panic attacks. One’s brain, among other organs, functions differently when under a lot of stress. It can quite literally kill one’s brain as it reduces its size and kills brain cells. Once again, this is not the case for regular stress that everyone experiences. These symptoms pertain to stress responses that occur after facing majorly tricky situations.

More temporary symptoms of stress include hot flashes, a pounding heart, a dry mouth, sweaty hands, cramps, dizziness, tightness in the chest, and increased blood pressure. These symptoms can emerge when thinking of hurtful past memories or the future. Nonetheless, whether chronic or not, most stress responses prompt a certain set of characteristics in language. A recent study found that these characteristics are easily distinguishable and present among most people who are experiencing stress.

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Changes in Language

Those under stress tend to be very expressive with their words. They will use words such as “really” and “very” more often to articulate their feelings or ideas more intensely. However, that is not to say that those stressed are very talkative. In most instances of speaking while stressed, one’s dialogue is more intense. This intensity could be because the person unconsciously feels the need to channel their stress into their speech to relieve it. This scenario has yet to be thoroughly studied, so it is important to note that it is mere speculation. Those who are stressed also avoid using inclusive language or pronouns such as “they.” This is because those under an immense amount of stress will be more self-focused. They are often too busy dealing with or facing the situation to focus on other people.

This characteristic language, which can help doctors identify the stress level of a given patient, can be beneficial in reducing stress-related illnesses. As discussed earlier, stress is very harmful to the body when it is not in a healthy range. It destroys parts of the body and affects the physiology of specific organs. So, when stress becomes chronic, it often leads to other diseases. These diseases include heart diseases, asthma, obesity, diabetes, depression, anxiety, and Alzheimer’s. These diseases each have their subset of symptoms, and they are very damaging to the well-being of an individual. Having a way to uncover such stress and alleviate it means more efficient and effective doctor visits. It also means that a patient will have a lower risk of developing the mentioned diseases due to stress.

We have established that language helps physicians reveal stress responses and alleviate them, but can close friends and family also notice these patterns in one’s speech? It may be more challenging for close relatives to detect small changes in language patterns as they might not even be aware that stress responses can cause such changes. However, friends and family may also have an advantage as they can identify any drastic changes in both language and behavior. If one starts to speak in a particular way when under stress, their closest friends may be able to identify the stress responses. Whether they can distinguish this quickly depends on the severity of the stress response. Yet, as mentioned earlier, people undergoing stress responses may find it challenging to describe or identify their severity accurately. Instead, their language serves as a more reliable and accurate representation of their stress response.

Image is courtesy of IQ Matrix.

Ultimately, language helps reveal one’s stress responses, ergo, leading to a more transparent picture of one’s well being. This helps improve people’s quality of life if they choose to manage their stress as a result, and can even be life-saving.


Bernstein , R. (2016, July 26). The mind and mental health: How stress affects the brain. Touro University WorldWide. Retrieved February 14, 2022, from https://www.tuw.edu/health/how-stress-affects-the-brain/#:~:text=It%20can%20disrupt%20synapse%20regulation,responsible%20for%20memory%20and%20learning

Marchant, J. (2017, November 6). Language patterns reveal body's hidden response to stress. Nature News. Retrieved February 14, 2022, from https://www.nature.com/articles/nature.2017.22964#:~:text=Subtleties%20in%20the%20language%20people,changes%20in%20their%20gene%20expression

Stress response and how it can affect you version 3. (2013, July). Retrieved February 14, 2022, from https://www.mirecc.va.gov/cih-visn2/Documents/Patient_Education_Handouts/Stress_Response_and_How_It_Can_Affect_You_Version_3.pdf

Ucla. (2017, December 1). Language patterns reveal the body's biological response to stress. UCLA. Retrieved February 14, 2022, from https://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/language-patterns-reveal-the-bodys-biological-response-to-stress

WebMD. (2020, October 23). How stress affects your health. WebMD. Retrieved February 14, 2022, from https://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/stress-anxiety-depression#:~:text=If%20you're%20constantly%20under,forms%20of%20anxiety%20and%20worry

Article Author: Scarlet Affa

Article Editors: Victoria Huang, Stephanie Sahadeo