STRESS Made Easy - 4.

Smile, just smile. Another simple thing in this series of stress buster techniques that you can do to manage stress is as easy as, smiling.

When we are under the pump for too long, our brain tends to focus on the negative of everything. Our response to this is to keep busy and as a result the pressure becomes worse. One of the first 'human' things to go is eye contact, we don't want to look at other people. The second thing to happen is that we isolate ourselves from those around us to protect ourselves.

Another 'human' act we dispense with is our smile. Apart from the fact that our brain tells us that there isn't much to smile about, all of our energy is focussed on survival. Essentially we shut off and shut down. We do the very things that make it worse for us. I often tell people to do the opposite of what your brain tells you when you are under pressure.

Let's talk about smiling, why is it so beneficial to our well-being?

Smiling releases neuropeptides which are tiny molecules that allow our neurons (brain bits) to communicate. They send messages to our entire body when we feel emotions such as happy, sad, angry, depressed, and excited. Additionally, the 'feel good' neurotransmitters of dopamine, endorphins and serotonin are released when we smile.

The immediate benefit not only relaxes us, it can lower our heart rate and blood pressure, act as a natural pain reliever, and serves as a quick anti-depressant. (Before you get too excited, those who are on anti-depressants should continue with them).

How does smiling work? There are two sets of muscles - one set on either side of your mouth and another set around your eyes - that are unique to smiling. If they aren't all engaged at the same time, then smiling won't change your mood.

Your smile must be as genuine as possible, or at the very least your brain must think that your smile is genuine. If you cannot bring yourself to produce a genuine smile, any smile is at least a start.

There is another technique related to smiling that has been proven to be very effective. Place a pencil sideways between your lips and bite down on the pencil. This will engage the relevant muscles associated with smiling and simulate a genuine smile. Yes, you can trick your brain. You may want to do this one at home rather than when out in the public.

Another fact, did you know that women smile more than men? Perhaps this is just another reason why women are under-represented in depression and suicide compared with men. That, and they talk about their issues more openly than men do.

I hope that made you smile!