New research has found that the simple act of smiling may alleviate stress. For those who feel it would be next to impossible to summon up a genuine smile when feeling stressed to the nines, the good news is that even a forced smile can make you feel better.
Researcher Tara Kraft states that the old adage, “grin and bear it,” advocates smiling as a panacea for coping with life’s stressful events, so she and her colleague, Sarah Pressman, wanted to determine if it actually has any scientific merit. In a quest to explore the potential health benefits of smiling, they analyzed how different types of smiles influence a person’s ability to recover from stress. Smiles can be categorized as two types: standard smiles, which involve the muscles around the mouth, and genuine smiles, which use the muscles around the eyes as well as the mouth.
The experiment involved observing the effects of different facial expressions on stress.
In the experiment soon to be published in Psychological Science, 169 participants were divided into three groups, and each group was taught to hold a different facial expression by using chopsticks in their mouth. The first group assumed a neutral facial expression; the second assumed a standard smile and the third assumed a genuine smile.
Once the groups learned how to use the chopsticks to assume the desired facial expression, they were asked to multitask by performing stress-inducing activities. During these tasks, the researchers monitored their heart rates and self-reported stress levels.
The findings showed smiling has a positive effect on physical health.
Participants who had any kind of smile had lower heart rates and were less stressed than those who had a neutral expression. Although the effect was greater in those with genuine smiles, the benefit could still be observed in those with forced or standard smiles. The conclusion was that smiling during brief stressors could help reduce the intensity of the body’s response to stress, whether or not a person feels happy.
Pressman recommends holding your face in a smile for a moment the next time you are caught in traffic or are in a stressful situation. She asserts this simple act may not only benefit you psychologically but may also help your heart health.
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