“Smile it’s free therapy” - Douglas Horton
We have written before about cognitive behavioural cycles; how thoughts, feelings and behaviours are all connected. They drive each other and we can easily become trapped in negative cycles.
Thought: no-one likes me - feeling: I am lonely - behaviour: ignoring people in case they hurt us - thought: look, no-one likes me……..
Thought: I am useless - feeling: unworthy - behaviour: putting oneself down and not trying - thought: see! I am useless……..
We each have the opportunity to intervene at any point in these destructive cycles to stop them turning and, in understanding the process, we can choose to drive more positive cycles and affect better outcomes.
This week we would like to explore in more detail how we can change our behaviour to create more positive cycles.
One of the first articles we wrote was about how body posture can be harnessed to produce more positive body chemistry which in turn makes us feel better.
2 minutes of an open body posture was found to reduce the stress hormone cortisol and increase the hormone testosterone increasing confidence. This was shown to happen regardless of how
participants were feeling before the chosen posture was adopted.
Let us think then about our facial expressions. We use facial expressions, both consciously and unconsciously to express how we are feeling. In this way, others can become aware of what we are thinking and feeling without us even being aware of it. Facial expressions are very powerful in communication.
Many of us will recognise that at times of stress and adversity, we unconsciously frown and look unhappy. The more time we spend frowning, the more permanent the expression becomes. We can even find ourselves frowning in our sleep and when this happens, we often wake unrefreshed.
What if we chose to harness the power of our facial expressions?
What happens if we ditch the melancholy demeanour and, without being too cliché, turn the frown upside down?
When do we smile?
When we like something or someone. When we remember a funny occurrence (even though we may not have thought it funny at the time!) When someone makes a joke, to be polite, to communicate, to welcome someone, to show a person we love them.
You are probably smiling now!
Smiling is a behaviour which is directly connected to positive thoughts and feelings.
We know that when we think of something or someone that we like, the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine are released. We feel happy and content and in response, we smile. It is also true that when we smile, these same neurotransmitters are released generating the same positive feelings. This boosts our mood, decreases stress hormones and fortifies the immune system.
Do we simply need to smile more?
What about when it is hard to smile and things are going wrong?
A study in 2012 showed physiological and psychological benefits from maintaining positive facial expressions during stress. The study looked at heart rate recovery and how participants felt after a stressful task. There were three groups: a neutral expression, smiling and participants who created a fake smile. The study found that heart rates were lower and people felt better in both the genuine and fake smile groups.
What this study shows is that we can affect how we feel just by pretending to smile or smiling consciously. Using the muscles that create a smile tells our brain we are smiling, and the corresponding positive neurotransmitters are released in response.
So it would appear that; yes – we do just need to smile more even in adversity; in fact especially in adversity.
The caveat here is that fake smiling will only take you so far and we do not want to encourage duplicity. Conscious smiling, even when we do not feel like doing so, however, is a start and will hopefully lead to genuine smiling as an end result.
Sit in front of the mirror and smile.
Sit with it even if it feels ‘icky.’
Keep doing it until you are laughing.
To generate a fake smile, hold a pencil between your teeth . Before long you will be laughing at your efforts
Listen to jokes and tell them to other people
Watch some favourite comedy
Reminisce with friends, family or even alone, about funny things that have happened
Get out photos of loved ones and happy times that make you smile
Smile at people in the street. the more you do this, the more people will smile back, and you will get a two-fold buzz, from your own serotonin and dopamine and from the knowledge that you have given someone else a dose of those feel good chemicals too.
Tickling an appropriate other produces involuntary, uncontrollable laughter.
Pet and talk to your animals
Walk around your garden
Perform acts of kindness, maybe in secret
Prank someone who you know will appreciate it
Make connections with people that you like but have not heard from in a while
Make ‘smile’ your default expression and notice how others respond to you.
Before you know it, negative facial expressions will feel out of place on you face,
others will regard you as a positive person to be around and your whole outlook will change for the better!
Our Book 'How to Rise - A Complete Resilience Manual' is out on 24th June 2021. Follow the link for more details.
 Kraft TL, Pressman SD. Grin and bear it: the influence of manipulated facial expression on the stress response. Psychol Sci. 2012;23(11):1372-8.