It’s common knowledge that taking a deep breath is a great way to help you relax. But there’s another easy-to-do, little-known trick that will achieve the same effect — a smile.
In fact, whether your smile comes naturally or is forced, it’s been shown to relieve stress and tension. So just why does the simple act of smiling have such an amazing effect?
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When you’re overly nervous, your body is dominated by the sympathetic nervous system, which puts you in “fight or flight” mode. Your blood pressure and heart rate increase, your muscles become tense, and you have very little facial expression. But when you’re relaxed and smiling, you boost the neurotransmitters that kick off the parasympathetic nervous system, decreasing your levels of stress and easing tension in your muscles.
In other words, smiling can switch from sympathetic nervous system domination to parasympathetic nervous system domination, and that’s good for your health.
Relieving stress through a smile
While relieving stress through just a smile may seem implausible, scientific studies have proven this to be true.
In one study conducted at the University of California, subjects were required to make several facial expressions while a device was used to measure and record things such as heart rate, body temperature, and skin conductance response. Subjects were then instructed not to make any facial expressions, but to imagine various emotions in their minds. The results showed that smiling for only 10 seconds decreases heart rate, relieves muscle tension, and more — all signs of a state of relaxation.
In other words, smiling turns on the parasympathetic nervous system. On the other hand, expressions such as frowning turn on the sympathetic nervous system, elevating levels of cortisol, which is known as the “stress hormone.”
In fact, even thinking about past positive experiences can achieve what a smile can, although it does take a bit longer — about 30 seconds. But whether you smile or just think happy thoughts, you’re sure to feel uplifted and relaxed.
The act of smiling, and activating the parasympathetic nervous system, not only relieves stress and anxiety, it boosts the immune system, fights fatigue, improves sleep, and as mentioned, decreases blood pressure and heart rate.
So the next time you’re feeling stressed, just smile! Your mind and body will thank you.
Translation by Audrey and edited by T. Denning