By Jenny Peterson
(For an audio version of this blog, listen to episode #49 of my podcast)
Ever had someone tell you to cheer up and smile? It’s probably not the most welcomed advice, especially when you’re feeling sick, tired or experiencing symptoms.
You probably want to say, screw off when they ask you, I mean how dare you smile and act as if things are all happy when they are not, right? But there’s actually good reason to turn that frown upside down, corny as it sounds.
Today I’m discussing the effects of smiling and not smiling on your healing and an exercise that can help wire your brain for happiness.
When we have chronic illness and symptoms, we learn to hide a lot of things. We hide how we are truly feeling, our emotions, our pain, who we really are, our struggles, and even our smile.
It seems like our symptoms have taken away all our joy.
Chronic illness and symptoms change your brain. It creates pathways of negative thinking and programs it to always be looking out for the worst. While our brains are wired to be negative for survival, having chronic symptoms takes that natural design to the extreme. All of a sudden joy gets less and less in our lives and the simple act of smiling disappears.
Smiling when I was chronically ill felt very uncomfortable. Because if I did smile, my husband or son would see it and they would say, are you having a good day, you look good?
I would instantly wipe that smile off my face and let them know that no, I am still miserable, how dare I smile to try and show anything different.
A smile would cover up my misery and I couldn’t let anyone know that I wasn’t miserable. It would make it seem like I was making this all up and I couldn’t do that. So with time, my smiles got less and less.
When I started working with students, I found this also to be true. I made it my goal to try and get them to smile, and I will tell you that some of them I really had to work for it. Sometimes it took months for them to even get a little curvature of the lips!
Once I learned the power of smiling on the brain, it changed everything for myself and clients.
Let's talk about how smiling affects the brain.
EFFECTS OF SMILING ON THE BRAIN & BODY
Each time you smile, a little party happens in your head. Seriously.
When you smile, your brain releases neuropeptides. There are over 100 neuropeptides. They’re different from neurotransmitters. Neuropeptides are nerve proteins that regulate almost all of the processes of your cells and the way cells communicate with each other. Neuropeptides influence your brain, body, and behavior in many major ways, from reward seeking, food intake, metabolism, reproduction, social behaviors, learning and memory to helping negate stress, aiding sleep, and elevating mood.
Your brain also releases feel-good neurotransmitters, including dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin, when a smile flashes across your face. These brain chemicals aid in calming your nervous system by lowering heart rate and blood pressure.
Dopamine gives the brain energy, motivation, a rush, and is necessary for habit change. Endorphins reduce your perception of pain and trigger a positive, euphoric feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine. Serotonin plays many different roles, but it can be thought of as the confidence molecule and controls your overall mood.
Because neurochemicals and peptides are released, putting a smile on your face can trick your body into raising your mood. Dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin raise your spirits and calm your nervous system.
The endorphins also act as a natural pain reliever—100-percent organic and without the potential negative side effects of synthetic concoctions.
Finally, the serotonin release brought on by your smile serves as an anti-depressant/mood lifter. Many of today’s pharmaceutical anti-depressants also influence the levels of serotonin in your brain, but with a smile, you again don’t have to worry about negative side effects—and you don’t need a prescription from your doctor.
EVEN A FAKE SMILE HAS BENEFITS
When you have chronic symptoms you may feel like you have nothing to smile about. This is when you will need to fake it.
Faking it still has benefits.
Just the simple act of smiling produces these chemicals. Smiling can trick your brain into believing you’re happy which can then spur actual feelings of happiness. In a sense, the brain is a sucker for a grin. It doesn’t bother to sort out whether you’re smiling because you’re genuinely joyous, or because you’re just pretending.
Smiling sends a message of safety to the body. Think about it, if you're smiling, your body isn't getting a message that you are being chased by a tiger. It's able to relax and that's exactly what you need to be focusing more on in order to heal.
Smiling is not what I call deep level work. Its surface level work but its still very important. The surface level work is the conscious work you can do to start shifting your brain. You have to consciously start training it to think and act differently. Then when it comes to doing the deep level work, that work is much easier to do.
In the MBR program we have all our students do the smiling exercise. They are told to set an alarm to go off every hour and when it does, they need to think of something that makes them happy and smile. It can be as simple as a color that makes them happy, a food or a memory. Don’t over complicate it.
Hold the smile on your face, while thinking what makes you happy for a minimum of 30 seconds.
In the beginning you will most likely need to fake it and it will be uncomfortable. Your body and brain haven’t done this in awhile. Your brain is going to want to keep you stuck in comfort and you may find reasons to not do it. You may even find this whole thing to be silly or weird at first but this is exactly what needs to happen to start making changes in your brain.
Here is some feedback from students that have done this exercise:
It lightens up the mood and since I was smiling I ended up thinking about things that made me smile more
It felt silly and strained at first but after about 10 seconds I felt a boost of positivity and energy that continued beyond my focus time.
I love doing this! It’s now easy for me to smile and think about yummy food I’m going to eat in the future! It’s an awesome pick me up and kept me in a great mood!
It helped me to feel less stressed, transform my mood quickly and put things in a different perspective.
I have to admit, instantly I was calmer, less upset and, maybe just ever so slightly for a second, smiling made me feel happy which I haven’t felt in a long time.
Healing requires you to shift old patterns. Staying stuck in your misery and showing the whole world how miserable you are doesn’t create change. It keeps you sick and miserable.
Who says that you can’t feel joy and have symptoms at the same time? Nothing can take away your joy or happiness except for you.
Smiling regardless of how you feel takes back your power. It no longer leaves you a victim to your symptoms. It gives you permission to create joy no matter what is happening in your body or life.
You don’t have to wait until everything is perfect before you can smile because that will never happen. Instead start smiling so you can start training your brain what happiness feels like and it will want more.
We get it, you're desperate to have your illness be a thing of the past, not something that defines your days. But trying to heal WITHOUT a custom plan is costing you precious time, money and energy!
You are unique, your symptoms are connected to very specific patterns within your subconscious.
Without a plan unique to you, you will continue struggling and miss out on the life you deserve to be living! To help you get started on your long-lasting healing journey, we would love to provide you with a healing plan that is unique to you. Get your custom healing plan today!
You can also Download my free healing guide, “Why Can’t I Heal” where you will learn the 5 reasons that you haven't healed despite everything you've tried. These are the missing pieces to your healing and the key to resolving your symptoms for good.
Jenny Peterson is the founder and CEO of Mind Body Rewire (MBR). She teaches those that are overwhelmed with trying to heal chronic symptoms how to simplify their healing by focusing on just one place, the subconscious mind. Learn more about MBR here.