President, Sideline Sports Doc
Medical Director, Apeiron Life
Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Stanford University
April 7, 2020
- The simple act of smiling, even if it’s under your mask, can have a positive effect on your mood and physiology.
Current virus spread estimates indicate that the next couple of weeks will be particularly difficult for U.S. residents, and will challenge everyone’s ability to see a positive outcome. During this difficult time it’s important that we take as many steps as possible to stay healthy and foster a positive attitude. One incredibly simple thing we can do is to keep smiling, even if we don’t feel like it, and even if we’re wearing a mask.
In our neighborhood I’m particularly impressed by the resiliency and optimism of most kids, especially the younger ones in elementary and middle schools. We have a few groups that go around writing chalk messages on walkways with simple truths worth following. I’m guessing many communities have the same: “stay positive”, “we’ll get through this”, and the one from our own walkway “smile”.
The Physiology Of Body Language And Smiling
Most people assume that our outward expression in our faces, our posture, and our general body language is a reflection of how we feel underneath. In other words, how we look on the outside is based on what’s happening inside.
This changed with the wildly popular TED talk by Harvard professor Amy Cuddy, who popularized the idea that it could actually be the opposite, that how we present ourselves on the outside can actually guide in a positive fashion our inner physiology. By taking on a powerful stance (“starfish”, or “Wonder Woman”) we could become more emotionally confident and also change blood markers such as increasing testosterone and decreasing cortisol.
There’s also some evidence that smiling has a similar effect on physiology. In my opinion the available evidence doesn’t rise to the level of definitive cause-and-effect science but it’s at least plausible. Smiling may reduce heart rate and stress during tense situations, and have other positive effects on our coping mechanisms. Whether there’s a true physiologic response from smiling is debatable but there’s no doubt that it’ll improve your mood.
Grin And Bear It
Life around us is going to be different for some time, but the one constant is our ability to interpret the situation. Our minds, our resolve, our habits, our decisions, and our responses are all still in our control. I’m not saying this is easy, but it’s critical that we do as much as we possibly can to stay committed to our health, our relationships, and our positivity.
Could it hurt you to put a smile on your face under your mask? Definitely not. And might it help in some small way to make a really tough situation just a little better, even if you don’t feel like it? Yes.
Be safe everyone.