Home Grow A New Study Shows a Smile Instantly Reduces Stress

A New Study Shows a Smile Instantly Reduces Stress

and Anxiety, and Can Make You Happier and Healthier Force a smile for 20 seconds and boom: less stress, broad health benefits, and infectious (in a good way) prosocial behaviors.

By Inc.Arabia Staff
images header


Life isn't easy. Work isn't easy. Statistics show approximately 80 percent of U.S. workers say they experience stress at work, with half saying stress negatively affects their behavior and over 75 percent saying stress results in headaches, fatigue, and trouble sleeping. 

That's especially true for entrepreneurs; as my Inc. colleague Jessica Stillman writes, small-business owners are also more likely to be stressed than people who work for someone else, doing worse on a variety of mental health measures, including higher rates of anxiety, obsessiveness, and depression.  

Unfortunately, there's no easy fix for stress. You can try to reframe the feeling. You can try to stop clumping. You can exercise consistently. (That works particularly well for me.)

Or you can smile.

According to a meta-review of dozens of studies conducted by researchers at Penn State, smiling -- even if it's a fake smile or even if it's forced -- reduces stress, increases happiness, and makes you healthier.

According to the researchers:

The findings from both naturally occurring smile studies and experimentally manipulated smile studies consistently suggest that smiling may have a number of health-relevant benefits including beneficially impacting our physiology during acute stress, improved stress recovery, and reduced illness over time.

How? That's not quite as clear. While the researchers float several theories, the best is that the act of smiling tells your brain to release neuropeptides that help offset feelings of stress. The act of smiling also triggers the release of endorphins, serotonin, and fan-favorite dopamine, which helps reduce anxiety. 

Evidently smiling is even linked -- partly causal, but definitely correlated -- with lower levels of blood sugar, lower blood pressure, and a stronger immune system.

And then there's this: a study published in Southern Economic Journal found that smiling makes you, and the people around you, more likely to act in ways that are helpful and collaborative. (Think prosocial.)

Add it all up, and smiling may be the simplest way to deal with stress. Even if you force the smile. All you have to do is find a private place (unless you're OK with people thinking you're preparing to audition for the role of the Joker), and smile the biggest, goofiest smile you can for 20 seconds.

According to science, afterward you'll feel a little lighter. A little calmer. A little more grounded and balanced.

And if you want to double-dip, fake a yawn or two. If you've ever felt super-stressed and found yourself yawning -- which makes no sense, since high levels of stress and boredom or fatigue typically don't go together -- that's because your body is actively trying to regulate the stress hormone cortisol. 

That's why Olympic speed skater Apolo Ohno forced a yawn or two before races; as Ohno said, "It makes me feel better. It gets the oxygen in, and the nerves out."

But as with smiling, just make sure you force a yawn or two in private.

Yawning while walking into an important meeting? That might send the wrong signal.

(Or, if you're like me and despise meetings -- for lots of good reasons -- the signal you really want to send.)

Last update:
Publish date: