We have all had those days. You know, the ones where everything is going wrong and the world just seems gray to us. On those days, our moods can be dour and it is very difficult to muster up a smile towards anyone or anything.
But new research is showing that the best possible action you can take is to muster up that smile, even if it is just a half-smile. Two studies, one in Wales and the other in Germany, both concluded that just having a smile on your face, forced or genuine, is enough to alter your mood and enhance your emotional state.
Here’s how even a small smile can transform your life:
Smiling Has Psychological and Physical Health Benefits
Having a smile on your face, even when faced with stressful situations, can keep you calmer and help your body recover from the effects of stress.
When you smile, neuropeptides are released in your brain. These neuropeptides are tiny molecules which help the neurons to communicate and work toward reducing stress. A smile facilitates the release of the feel-good neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin and endorphins – all of which help your body to relax, lower your heart rate and lower your blood pressure. Plus, the serotonin release brought on by your smile acts as an anti-depressant, lifting your mood quickly.
Your smile does not even have to be a real one. Just moving your facial muscles to create the expression of a smile is enough to make discernible changes in your autonomic nervous system. Those feel-good neurotransmitters will release even if your emotional state is not-so-feel-good at the time.
Should you be faced with a stressful situation, be sure to smile during the situation, as well as after it. Studies have found that participants who exhibit genuine smiles during these stressful times have faster recovery times in both mind and body.
And smiling will keep you alive longer. People who smile the majority of the time tend to live seven years longer than their neutral or frowning counterparts.
Half-smiles To Reduce Emotional Distress
What about those emotionally stressful times when, no matter what you try, you are hard-pressed to muster up a smile? Use a half-smile to reduce emotional distress.
The concept of a half-smile was introduced by Dr. Marsha Linehan, founder of the groundbreaking dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). DBT identifies behaviors that patients employ to deal with their symptoms and helps them to replace them with new, more constructive behaviors. As part of DBT, half-smiling is a technique used to relax your body and mind, helping you feel calmer.
Half-smiling involves relaxing your face and turning your lips upwards into a tiny half-smile. Combining the half-smile with breathing techniques, you can force yourself to slow down and become more self-aware, allowing you some control over your emotions.
Here are some exercises, taken directly from Linehan’s DBT Skill Manual, you can employ (in a quiet place) using the half-smile technique:
1. Half-smile when you first away in the morning. Before you get out of bed, make a half-smile. Inhale and exhale three breaths gently. Follow your breaths.
2. Half-smile during free moments. Anywhere you find yourself sitting or standing, half-smile. Look at a child, a leaf, a painting on a wall, or anything that is relatively still, and smile. Inhale and exhale quietly three times.
3. Half-smile while listening to music. Listen to a piece of music for 2 or 3 minutes. Pay attention to the words, music rhythm, the meters of the music you are listening to. Half-smile while watching your breath, your inhalations and exhalations.
4. Half-smile when irritated. When you realize “I am irritated,” half-smile at once. Inhale and exhale quietly, maintaining a half-smile for three breaths.
5. Half-smile in a lying-down position. Lie on your back on a flat surface without the support of a mattress or pillow. Keep your two arms loosely by your sides and keep your two legs slightly apart, stretched out before you. Maintain a half-smile. Breathe in and out gently, keeping your attention focused on your breath. Let go of every muscle in your body. Relax each muscle as though it were sinking down through the floor, or as though it were as soft and yielding as a piece of silk hanging in the breeze to dry. Let go entirely, keeping your attention only on your breath and your half-smile. Think of yourself as a cat, completely relaxed before a warm fire, whose muscles yield without much resistance to anyone’s touch. Continue for 15 breaths.
6. Half-smile in a sitting position. Sit on the floor with your back straight, or on a chair with your two feet touching the floor. Half-smile. Inhale and exhale while maintaining the half-smile. Let go.
By using the half-smile technique, or simply letting a genuine smile show on your face, you can transform your emotional state, feel better and calmer, enjoy life more in the present and quite possibly add years to your life.