Smiling and Mental Health


Since the beginning of COVID, now two years ago, it’s quite amazing to look at how much our social behavior has changed in response to the pandemic.  There are the obvious changes, such as social distancing and tapping elbows rather than shaking hands. We have adapted, learning how to recognize people while half of their face is protected behind a mask. Have you noticed that verbally or visually acknowledging people when you pass by them has often gone by the way side? Perhaps it’s because we give in to the thought, “well, they can’t see my smile hidden behind my mask anyways.”

While this may be true, there are some interesting facts that may change the way you think about smiling, whether masked or not.

The Health Benefits

Fun Fact…Did you know that whether your smile is genuine or not, the physical act of smiling causes positive physiological changes in your body? To put it plainly, you can fake a smile, and yet it still triggers the release of neuropeptides and chemicals like dopamine and serotonin that boost your mood, acting like a natural antidepressant.

According to Mark Stibich, Ph.d., intense smiling is associated with living longer. It also helps boost your immune system, as it puts you in a more relaxed state and releases neurotransmitters.

Want to try and lower your blood pressure or your pain level? Smiling may help with that too. Test it – take your blood pressure, smile for one minute straight, and then take your blood pressure again. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Our favorite find? Smiling is contagious! So not only is smiling good for YOUR health, but it also can benefit the health and well-being of others. How? Our brains recognize and interpret the facial expressions of others, and often without us realizing it, we mimic those same expressions.

Even though we now understand the physical benefits of smiling, how does that benefit others when our smile is hidden behind a mask? Have you heard of smizing? The proper term is called the Duchenne smile. It’s probably the most influential human expression – the image of true joy – when we smile with our eyes. That is the kind of smile that is seen and felt by others, mask or no mask.

Now imagine the power of your smile in a healthcare setting. Whether interacting with your colleagues, patients, or their family members, smiling with your mouth and your eyes, can help reduce your stress while making the difference in someone else’s day.

So next time, even when you don’t feel like it…smile. It costs nothing, and leaves a positive, lasting impact on you and others.

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