How Smiling Can Help Reduce Stress

February 17, 2016 / James Knowles

How Smiling Can Help Reduce Stress

With the frantic pace of modern life, the need for stress management to keep our body and mind healthy is becoming increasingly important. High levels of stress can directly contribute to increased heart rate, high blood pressure and increased cholesterol levels. Knowing how to effectively reduce stress is imperative to our overall health and surprisingly, one of the easiest ways to quickly reduce stress is to smile! That’s right – fake it ‘til you make it.

In one of the original studies on this topic, psychologist Paul Ekman found that subjects adopting a “Duchenne smile” – a full smile that involves facial muscles around the eyes – produced a change in brain activity that corresponded with a happier mood. Later in 2012, a University of Kansas team conducted their own study which found that subjects who had smiles on their faces during stressful activities actually exhibited lower heart rate levels after completing stressful tasks. So while smiling might not instantaneously make you feel happy, it can help your body recover from the effects of stress much more quickly.

So why does smiling actually help relieve stress? In addition to helping lower your heart rate, smiling activates the release of neuropeptides that work toward fighting off stress1. Neuropeptides are tiny molecules that allow neurons to communicate to the whole body when we are happy, sad, angry, depressed, excited. The “feel good” neurotransmitters dopamine, endorphins and serotonin are all released when we smile which helps relieve stress and control heart rate2. This not only relaxes your body, but it can lower your heart rate and blood pressure.

Next time you feel your stress levels rising, try smiling and make a positive attitude shift to help the stress melt away. For more tips on how to effectively manage your stress levels, visit our blog post at:

  1. Seaward BL. Managing Stress: Principles and Strategies for Health and Well-Being. Sudbury, Mass.: Jones and Bartlett; 2009:258
  2. R.D. (2000). Neural correlates of conscious emotional experience. In R.D. Lane & L. Nadel (Eds.), Cognitive neuroscience of emotion (pp. 345–370). New York: Oxford University Press

Category: Mental Health / Stress