Really. Incredibly. Very. So.

Have you been using these words a lot lately?

Or others serving the same purpose of linguistic embellishment?

Incredibly, it could show you're stressed.


Very stressed.

Really, really stressed.

So stressed you probably need a break - but don't realise it.

And those around you could figure that out - not by listening to what you say, but by the way you say it.

Or so says a US study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Blush response

No, it's not about the swearing.

Speech analysis could give you a warning about your stress levels before you get to the F-bomb stage.

University of Arizona psychologists argue the words you use are likely to be a much more reliable indicator of stress levels than self diagnosis.

Put simply, what we say about our stress levels often doesn't match our body's own inherent stress responses.

So 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.

These were then transcribed.

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

But the researchers didn't trust their subjects' awareness of their own stress levels. So they applied a genetic test to their white blood cells.

It's well established stress influences gene expression - such as those involved in inflammation becoming become more active, and those engaged in antiviral activities being suppressed.

So, really?

The impact of underlying stress on speech patterns, the report says, is specific.

Use of "function words" - pronouns and adjectives - soars.

But stressed subjects were also much less likely to use third-person plural pronouns - such as 'they', 'their' and 'them'.

The researchers say this could be because people under pressure tend to focus more on themselves instead of those around them.

They also simply tended to speak less.

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.

Such words "are produced more automatically and they betray a bit more about what's going on with the speaker", he says.

So they act as "emotional intensifiers" ... reflecting a speaker's state of arousal. Even if they don't realise it themselves.

While more research is needed to fully establish cause and effect, Dr Mehl says such speech analysis could help identifying people at risk of developing stress-related diseases.