Smile to Melt Stress

Recently, I was in line at the grocery store before one of our “big” New England Nor’easter winter storms, and everyone was scurrying around at a hectic pace to pick up the pre-storm essentials like milk, bread and batteries. It was a sea of frowns until…a smiley young girl loudly announced…”Girl Scout cookies for sale!” It was as though a light was switched on, smiles flooded the checkout lines, and you could feel the tension melt. I assure you it was not just because of the Thin Mints! There is an immense power found within a smile. A smile conveys feelings of happiness, hope and positivity to anyone who sees it. But why does the simple act of smiling transform you and the world around you?

Scientists have found that when we smile, the movements of our muscles send signals to our brains. Smiling activates the release of stress-reducing neuropeptides and feel-good neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, endorphins and serotonin. These chemicals make us feel great by relaxing our bodies, lowering our heart rate and blood pressure, lifting mood, countering depression and providing natural pain relief. One study in the UK even concluded that one smile produces the same level of brain stimulation as up 2,000 chocolate bars!

Did you also know your smile can be a predictor of your life span and health? Research studies indicate that the wider you grin and the deeper your laughter lines, the more likely you are to have a longer existence. Broader smiles and wrinkles around your eyes point to a positive outlook on life, which translates to better long-term health.

Looking at the bigger picture, each time you smile at a person, their brain coaxes them to return the favor. You are creating a symbiotic relationship that allows both of you to release feel-good chemicals in your brain, activate reward centers, make you both more attractive, and increase the chances of you both living longer, healthier lives. Scientists have even found that we connect in a physical way when we share a smile or a positive emotion. Our breathing and heart rates sync up, giving both the smiler and receiver powerful benefits to their health and well-being.

As children we naturally smile on average 400 times a day, however as adults we smile on average only around 20 times a day. Seriously! Sadly, our smiles become more scarce as our responsibilities increase, and our days of leisurely play times, snacktimes, and naptimes decrease.

Knowing there are many health benefits of smiling, should we fake it until we make it to increase our smiles? According to the “Grin and Bear It: The Influence of Manipulated Positive Facial Expression on the Stress Response” a research study that was published in the journal Psychological Science, all indicators point to YES!

Many experts conclude that smiling may not only be an outward manifestation of a happy feeling, but it may actually be able to cause a happy feeling. Scientists have found that smiling on purpose can help people feel better. Just by turning your frown upside down, your facial muscles send signals to your brain and nervous system that can lead you to feel actual happiness, joy, or amusement. Fake smiling, especially smiling around your eyes, can legitimately reduce stress, lower your heart rate, boost your immune system and improve your overall well-being.

In conclusion, smiling is one of the most powerful antidotes for countering stress. As simple as it is, a smile is natural, 100% organic, portable, we don’t need a prescription to access it, and has no detrimental side effects. When we feel stressed, anxious or depressed…remember to tap into the nature resource of your smile and find resiliency.

Enjoy this 5 minute (or less) Meditation to tap into you smile:

At the beginning of your day, enjoy this simple breathing meditation exercise from mindfulness leader, Thich Naht Hahn, and just notice how you feel after. Set your timer and repeat the following phrases silently in your mind:

As you breathe in, say to yourself:
Breathing in, I calm body and mind.

Then, as you breathe out, think:
Breathing out, I smile.