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How smiles lift mood, immune system and connection

  • Health
Heather Joy Campbell with hand on heart standing outdoors in sunlight

In recent trips to the supermarket, I’ve noticed something missing. Along with there being no towers of toilet paper or plentiful pasta, and slim chance of finding sudsy soaps, smiles are apparently out of stock. This has really concerned me.

It’s understandable given the fear and anxiety surrounding coronavirus yet because of the pandemic, we need to do everything we can to enhance our immune system.

* We need to get good sleep.

* We need to eat well.

* We need to exercise.

* We need to stress less.

* We need to maintain good hand hygiene.

* And we need to smile.

Just as the saying ‘laughter is the best medicine’ has been proved true, there’s evidence-based research to show truth in the adage ‘grin and bear it’.

Stress and the immune system

Chronic stress exposes the body to a steady stream of stress hormones that suppress the immune system. That opens your body to illness from colds to serious disease. Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system.

A number of evidence-based studies show that smiling affects emotion and that positive emotions have a positive impact on stress.

Research findings published a few years ago, coming out of the University of Kansas, showed smiling was beneficial physically too.

Psychological scientists Tara Kraft and Sarah Pressman had participants hold chopsticks in their mouths in one of three ways – a standard smile engaging facial muscles, a neutral facial expression, or a genuine smile that engaged muscles around the eyes and mouth. Chopsticks forced participants to smile without being aware they were, and only half of the group were actually directed to smile. With chopsticks in place, participants were then put through a couple of stress-producing tasks. Their heart rates were measured along with self-reported stress levels.

Those who smiled – whether it was a standard or genuine smile – had lower heart rates after recovery from their stress: it didn’t matter whether they were happy or not.

Smiling and stress

Smiling (like laughter) activates neural messaging that makes us feel good. When even a small smile flashes across your dial, three natural feel-goods are released: dopamine, endorphins and serotonin. They help you relax, and that can help your heart rate and blood pressure. Serotonin is also Nature’s anti-depressant.

Smiling is infectious

We’re vigilant about infection right now, with very good reason. The COVID-19 pandemic requires – no, demands – that we take necessary precautions for our health and that of those around us.

Smiling, like laughing, is contagious. We’re hard-wired to mimic a smiling face with a smiling face. If someone doesn’t, a Swedish study has found,  they’re making a conscious effort not to.

I’m so grateful my smile knows its place. There was a time when I didn’t smile just because I could. Back then, I left laughter to chance as well. That’s not to say I smile all the time now, but I do smile for my health, I do look for something to smile about and I do hope that when I smile at a stranger it lightens their day too.

Together we can counter the negativity, anxiety and stress of a situation that requires collective action. Let’s spread smiling and laughter to help boost our immune systems, lower stress and lift the collective mood every day.

(c) 2020 HeatherJoy Campbell

HeatherJoy Campbell is Queensland’s leading trainer and facilitator of laughter wellbeing workshops, using the platform of laughter yoga, in workplaces, communities and aged care. She runs a weekly laughter club in her neighbourhood in Brisbane and delights in training ‘laughter yoga leaders‘.