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Smiling reduces stress, study says


Queen Elizabeth II smiles as she watches The Derby winner come in with her racing manager John Warren (L) and Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex on June 2, 2012 in Epsom, England. For only the second time in its history, the UK celebrates the Diamond Jubilee of a monarch. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II celebrates the 60th anniversary of her ascension to the throne.


Peter Macdiarmid

Researchers found smiling can reduce stress levels and lower the heart rate while performing difficult tasks.

A study from the University of Kansas looked at the potential benefits of smiling by studying how different types of smiling and the awareness of smiling affects a person's ability to recover from stress, reported the Daily Mail.

"Age old adages, such as 'grin and bear it' have suggested smiling to be not only an important nonverbal indicator of happiness but also wishfully promotes smiling as a panacea for life's stressful events," researcher Tara Kraft said in a statement, according to LiveScience. "We wanted to examine whether these adages had scientific merit; whether smiling could have real health-relevant benefits."

The Telegraph said Kraft and fellow researcher Sarah Pressman divided smiles into two categories: standard smiles, which use muscles surrounding the mouth, and genuine or Duchenne smiles, which make use of both mouth and eye muscles.

According to the Daily Mail, previous research showed that positive emotions can help with stress and that smiling can affect emotion, but Kraft and Pressman's work is the first of its kind to manipulate the types of smiles people make to look at the effects of smiling on stress.

The two researchers recruited 169 participants and divided them into three groups, with each group trained to hold a different facial expression, reported The Telegraph. Participants were told to hold chopsticks in their mouths so that they would engage facial muscles used to create a neutral face, a standard smile or a Duchenne smile.

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Unaware that they were being forced to smile, the participants were then given multitasking activities to complete that were designed to be stressful, such as submerging a hand in ice water and tracing a star with their non-dominant hand by looking at a reflection of the shape in a mirror, according to LiveScience. Participants who were instructed to smile, and even those forced to smile with the chopsticks, had lower heart rates after the stressful tasks.

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