Resilience Bites #6 – Smile Though Your Heart is Aching

Were the writers of the song ‘Smile’ right when they invited us to ‘smile though your heart is aching’? From a science-based perspective the jury is still debating whether faking a smile when you’re feeling down actually changes your mood, but what science is agreed upon is that, according to the poem below, smiling IS infectious, which is rather appropriate for these times! And we have our brains to thank for that.

We’d like to make a shout out for more smiling! In our current world of social distancing, a smile has never been so important. Many people who are out exercising seem to be so focused on doing the right thing and socially distancing, that they often forget to look up and just smile, while others are making a concerted effort to smile – more of a ‘we’re all in this together’ type smile.  We prefer the latter.

A smile creates instant connection and it truly is the shortest distance between 2 people. Science has shown that the mere act of smiling can lift your mood, lower stress and even boost your immune system. When we smile, we release endorphins, natural pain killers for both physical and emotional pain, and we also release happy hormones such as dopamine and serotonin, all of which contribute to making us feel happier, more relaxed and less stressed.

When someone shares a big beaming smile directly at you, what do you do? You smile back (unless you’re in an argument with your partner then you might offer a very different reaction!). What’s happening is that there are neurons in our brain called mirror neurons, and when we see someone smile, they fire as if we’re smiling ourselves. This is the physiological foundation of empathy. Our brains are trying to understand what someone else might be thinking or feeling, anticipate their mood and do something about it i.e. smile back.

A recent article about the pandemic, talks about the fear people experience when they end up in hospital and they see their medical team in head-to-toe protective gear that conceals most of their faces. 

Respiratory therapist Robertino Rodriguez decided to do something about it.  “A reassuring smile makes a big difference to a scared patient, so today I made a giant laminated badge for my PPE so my patients can see a reassuring and comforting smile.”  

Rodriguez is not alone now in his view that “A smile goes a long way in comforting a scared patient ― bringing some brightness in these dark times,”. Not long after he posted his picture on Instagram, nurses and doctors started followed his lead, taping photos of themselves smiling on their hospital uniforms. One doctor working with children has a smiling Ariel from the Little Mermaid on her PPE suit.

So what do you do if you don’t feel like smiling?

We’d suggest actively looking for something to smile at, something that usually brings a mega-grin to your face – photos of loved ones, a funny comedy sketch (we love the face-book Coping with Covid through Comedy page) now archived but still accessible, replacing a phone call with a video call, or reminding yourself of what really makes you smile (for Clare it’s getting out in nature and seeing dogs play, for Anne, it’s her beautiful cats).

If you can get out, try making direct eye contact with someone and chances are, you’ll start smiling. The more smiles you look for, the more you’ll find.  You could even ignore the bickering scientists and try a ‘fake it till you make it’ smile; when we’re feeling sad there’s nothing to lose.  Here’s a ‘how to’ image – all you need is a pencil!

And while we’re on the subject, we can’t leave out the good old chuckle, cackle, giggle or guffaw – yes laughter really is the best medicine and is like smiling on steroids when it comes to releasing endorphins and happy hormones, so if you can up the ante from a smile to a laugh, give it a go.

What we’re not advocating is to smile to cover depression. It’s important to acknowledge your real feelings and if you believe you might be suffering from depression, please contact your health professional. 

In Summary

In these unprecedented times, it’s easy to get swallowed up by negativity, doom and gloom and often we look to solutions that aren’t always in our best interests. A smile costs nothing, is instant, kind to our liver and the weight scales, and has the most positive of ripple effects.

Smiling is a universal language and has the power to open doors and hearts faster than anything else. We sincerely hope that, in the words of the song, ‘you’ll see that life is still worthwhile, if you just smile’.

The Coronasmilus Poem

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