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Grin and Bear It

The Power of Smiling

In stressful moments we have no control over our racing heart, our surge in blood sugar, or the levels of stress hormones in our body. However, there are two things which can counteract the levels of anxiety which we do have control over. Firstly, taking slow, deep, ‘belly’ breaths can slow our body’s anxious state. The second thing we have control over is our smile.

Finding a smile in a stressful moment is well worth the effort. It can change the way you feel. A full honest smile that crinkles your eyes is called a Duchenne smile. This can be contrasted with a fake ‘forced’ smile; sometimes called the air-hostess smile. Your brain doesn’t really care about whether the smile is honest or not. A 2012 study looked at the impact of people who are ‘forced’ to smile by holding chopsticks between their teeth. (They weren’t told to smile but doing this stretches the muscles involved in smiling – try it!). Compared to others, people whose smile muscles were forced in this way felt less stressed and had a lower heart rate in demanding situations. It didn’t matter whether they felt happy – just forcing the smile had a stress-reducing impact.

Smiling also triggers your body to produce more endorphins and serotonin, both substances leading to a strong feel-good effect. Again, even forcing a smile is likely to trick your brain into being less stressed.

Other powerful benefits of smiling are known. For a start, a smile is highly contagious and is a great way to put others at ease. Finally, smiling makes you more attractive and people warm to you. So if you are out of the smiling habit it might be worth trying to re-connect with it. It costs nothing. Try it now.

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