Smiling Helps to Recover From Stress: Study
A new study claims that smiling during episodes of stress can help to reduce its intensity regardless of whether a person actually feels happy or not.
In a study forthcoming in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, psychological 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.
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"Age old adages, such as 'grin and bear it' have suggested smiling to be not only an important nonverbal 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."
According to the researchers, smile is divided into two categories. Standard smile and genuine smile or Duchenne smiles. Earlier studies were done that showed positive emotions help during stress and smiling effects the emotions. But this study is the first that experimentally manipulate the types of smiles people make in order to examine the effects of smiling on stress.
The study was conducted on 169 participants from Midwestern University. The study was divided into two stages: training and testing. n the training stage, the researchers taught the volunteers how to either hold their faces in a neutral expression, hold a standard smile, or hold a Duchenne smile. They also got some of the volunteers to hold their face in a forced smile by holding chopsticks in their mouths. In the testing phase, the volunteers performed some multi-tasking activities, during which they held their faces in the manner instructed.
During both of the stressful tasks, participants held the chopsticks in their mouth just as they were taught in training. The researchers measured participants' heart rates and self-reported stress levels throughout the testing phase.
On conducting this experiment the researchers noted that smiling influences ones physical state. The researchers monitored the participants' heart rates as they performed their various tasks.
They found the participants who were instructed to smile, and in particular those whose faces expressed genuine or Duchenne smiles, had lower heart rates after recovery from the stress activities than the ones who held their faces in neutral expressions.
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!"