Research finds that smiling speeds up recovery from stress
Feeling good usuallymakes us smile, but does it work the other way around? Yes, smiling during episodes of stress can help to reduce its intensity regardless of whether a person actually feels happy or not, according to research.
Psychological scientists Tara Kraft and Sarah Pressman of the University of Kansas investigated 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.
“Age old adages such as ‘grin and bear it’ have suggested smiling to be not only an important non-verbal indicator of happiness but also wishfully promotes smiling as a panacea for life’s stressful events,” says Kraft.
“We wanted to examine whether these adages had scientific merit, whether smiling could have real health-relevant benefits,” Kraft said.
Smiles are generally divided into two categories: standard smiles, which use the muscles surrounding the mouth, and genuine or Duchenne smiles, which engages the muscles surrounding both the mouth and eyes, the journal Psychological Science reports.
Previous research shows that positive emotions can help during times of stress and that smiling can affect emotions; however, the work of Kraft and Pressman is the first of its kind to experimentally manipulate the types of smiles, people make in order to examine the effects of smiling on stress, according to a Kansas statement.
The researchers recruited 169 participants from a Midwestern university. The study involved two phases: training and testing. During the training phase, participants were divided into three groups, and each group was trained to hold a different facial expression.
The results suggest that smiling may actually influence our physical state: compared to participants who held neutral facial expressions, those who were asked to smile, and in particular those with Duchenne smiles, had lower heart rate levels after recovery from the stressful activities.
These findings show that 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!”