Of the many self-care approaches recommended during the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the simplest and most powerful is smiling — or even pretending to smile.
A wealth of behavioral science research proves the many benefits of putting on a smile, including:
- Stress reduction: Smiling reduces stress hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline. It’s as if a smile tells the brain, “Everything will be all right.” This effect is called the “facial feedback loop.”
- Mood enhancement: A smile induces the brain to release serotonin and dopamine, so-called “feel good” chemicals targeted by anti-depressant medications.
- Immune boost: By reducing stress and improving mood, smiling bolsters the body’s immune system. This is of particular relevance during the pandemic.
- Blood pressure and pain reduction: Studies show a smile lowers blood pressure while also reducing pain perception, likely because it decreases stress hormones and elevates “feel good” neurotransmitters.
But, what if you don’t feel like smiling? Does a so-called “fake smile” have the same effects? If you’re smiling to mask a negative state around others, not so much. However, if you paste on a fake smile just to improve your mood, yes. By adopting a “pretend” smile, we activate the aforementioned facial feedback loop. The brain seems to say, “Good enough for me” and makes the necessary neurochemical and hormonal shifts to enhance wellbeing.
Comedian Phyllis Diller once quipped, “Smiling is a curve that sets everything straight.”
Give it a go.