Smile to de-stress and make tasks easier
Smiling people are happy people, right? Not always true—sometimes we smile to try to cheer ourselves up, or change our mood. New research shows that science backs up the anecdotal evidence: “Grin and Bear It! Smiling Facilitates Stress Recovery.”
In an article forthcoming in Psychological Science, scientists Tara Kraft and Sarah Pressman of the University of Kansas investigate the potential benefits of smiling by looking at how different types of smiling, and the awareness of smiling, affects individuals’ ability to recover from episodes of stress.
The Science of Smiles
Smiles are generally divided into two categories: standard smiles, which use the muscles surrounding the mouth, and genuine or Duchenne smiles, which engage the muscles surrounding both the mouth and eyes.
Previous research shows that positive emotions can help during times of stress and that smiling can affect emotion; however, Kraft and Pressman studied the types of smiles people make in order to examine the effects of smiling on stress. Compared to participants who held neutral facial expressions, study participants who were instructed to smile, and in particular those with Duchenne smiles, had lower heart rate levels after recovery from the stressful activities.
Smile to Reduce Stress
Smiling during brief stressors can help to reduce the intensity of the body’s stress response, regardless of whether a person actually feels happy. “The next time you are stuck in traffic or are experiencing some other type of stress,” says Pressman, “you might try to hold your face in a smile for a moment. Not only will it help you ‘grin and bear it’ psychologically, but it might actually help your heart health as well!”
Chris Highcock of performance blog Conditioning Research offers a layman’s interpretation of the new research: “Your posture and expression can be a window on your mental and physical state. It is not only that you feelings can affect your posture and your facial expression—you look dejected or unhappy—it seems that your expression can affect your feelings … smiling makes things feel better.”