Updated: Jun 20, 2021
“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.
In our book 'How to Rise - A Complete Resilience Manual' we share a practical tool that has been found to reduce the stress hormone cortisol and increase the hormone testosterone increasing confidence.
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.
‘How to Rise – A Complete Resilience Manual’ from Sheldon Press takes you on a journey of self-discovery; it shares over 60 tools and techniques, including meditations with purpose, visualisation exercises and practical tools to help improve your mental wellbeing, reduce anxiety and allow you to take control of your life
 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.