One More Reason to Smile: It’s Been Proven to Lower Stress

We know, it's morning. Asking you to smile before your a.m. coffee is as preposterous as asking you to do a triple backflip for the gold right now. But you may be surprised -- even a fake smile can go a long way.

By Liat Kornowski for TheBlush.com

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In a "happy" study that's about to appear in the journal Psychological Science, researchers have found that smiling -- any kind of smile -- is a sure way of reducing stress.

Doctoral student Tara Kraft and Sarah Pressman, PhD, of the University of Kansas, grouped 169 university students and gave them facial-expression training, reports PsychCentral.com. You know how there's the genuine, warm smile that wrinkles up the sides of your eyes and then there's the phony, stiff kind that only works the muscles around your mouth? In this particular case, chopsticks were involved to help create both.

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The students were divided into three groups -- those whose chopstick gave them a neutral facial expression, those who were made to have a standard grin, and those with a Duchenne smile (that's the scientific term for "real smile"; go figure). "Chopsticks were essential to the task because they forced people to smile without them being aware that they were doing so," explains PsychCentral.com. "Only half of the group members were actually instructed to smile."

The happy hippos then had to engage in stress-inducing activities -- fun stuff like drawing with their nondominant hand viewed through a mirror (aah!) and sticking their hand in an ice bucket (then again, in this weather…). Throughout the whole thing, they had to keep the chopsticks in their mouths and their heart rates were monitored, according to TheAtlantic.com.

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The results confirmed what we've all learned from years of fake-smiling to our frenemies: Any kind of smile is good for you, your social status and apparently your heart. Those with the neutral facial expression were most stressed out (was it perhaps because everyone around them had chopsticks holding up their lips?!); those with regular grins had lower heart rates (meaning less stressed); and those with the sweet, natural Duchenne smiles did best and were most relaxed.

"The next time you are stuck in traffic or are experiencing some other type of stress, you might try to hold your face in a smile for a moment," Dr. Pressman told Telegraph.co.uk. "Not only will it help you 'grin and bear it' psychologically, but it might actually help your heart health as well."

The lesson we should all take from this? Smile. Even right now, even before your non-decaf, extra foam, low-fat soy latte. It'll make the day that much easier.

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