Surviving Breakup or How to Smile Away Stress

April 12, 2014

How to Smile Away Stress

by Audrey  Hollingshead


“But why?” Jen asked, her heart breaking, “Why are doing this to me before school? I can’t teach art like this!” She dabbed her face dry and hoped her mascara wasn’t ruining her perfect face-her perfect morning already ruined by the impromptu breakup.

“I’m sorry,” Henry sighed, “I just… think we’re too different. I’ll move my stuff out before you get home.” And that was that. Three years of solid bliss dissolved away in a single morning. SINGLE. The one word she hated hearing and now it defined better then a dictionary.

On the way to work Jen couldn’t shake the horrible feeling that was growing in the pit of her stomach-her happy memories with Henry curdling faster than expired milk. She wanted to turn back and sleep this off but she also wanted tenure. So, once parked in her spot at school, Jen dried her face again and put on the largest fake smile she could muster. She held this expression for a few beats more as she imagined all the neat little projects her art students would be doing today. Clay sculptures, mixing paint pallets, and maybe, if there was time, Jen could show her students her latest experiment with her kiln.

“This won’t be so bad,” Jen sighed to herself, “It’s not great, but not bad. Not really.” As she continued to smile she noticed her mood was slowly improving. Her gut mellowed and soon she was able to enter her classroom like it was any other morning. There would be time to grieve for the breakup, she knew that. But for today, Jen would grin and teach.

While this situation it completely fictional it has a completely nonfictional use in the real world. But how? Was it Jen’s happy thoughts that made her smile? Or was it her smile that made her think happy thoughts? According to Fritz Strack and others, the answer is all “About Face.”

In 1988 Strack and his colleagues did an experiment to study the faces relationship to our emotions. In this experiment they split their volunteers up into two groups. In one group Strack asked participants to hold a pencil in their mouth with only their lips, which created a frown. They asked the next to group to hold the pencil with only their teeth, which created a smile. They then asked both groups to read a cartoon and rate its hilarity. Shockingly, the volunteers whose pencil forced them to smile rated the cartoon funnier than those whose pencil forced them to frown.

But what about stress? Could a smile be strong enough to lessen the anxiety of a situation? Psychologists Tara Kraft and Sara Pressmen seem to think so! They conducted a similar experiment with 169 participants. In this study they asked the university aged volunteers to form three groups. In one group they asked them to hold a chopstick with their mouth to produce a neutral expression. The other two groups held chopsticks to produce a simple smile, and a Duchenne (also known as a genuine) smile.

Once the expression was mastered they then asked volunteers to complete a stress-inducing task such as holding their hands in ice-cold water or tracing a star from a mirror with their non-dominant hand. They measured heart rates and got volunteer reported stress levels along the way and discovered that those who smiled had lesser levels of stress then those who didn’t.

So the next time you are feeling blue, we know exactly what you should do. It’s may be totally cliché, but go ahead, smile away! Turn that frown upside and soon you’ll be the happiest in town!

And remember,

Dream Well! Dream Positive!


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