Smile though your heart is achingNat King Cole, “Smile”
Smile even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through
There have been many songs written about smiling. Why? Because a smile is so powerful in so many ways. The very act of smiling makes us feel better. Think about how you feel when someone smiles at you and you return the smile? Smiling releases endorphans and dopamine in our brains, making us feel happier.
In my yoga class, the instructor is always telling us to smile. I often start to laugh when she says that. So I decided to do a little research into why a smile is so good for us.
But first, try it now. Go. Run to the nearest mirror and smile at yourself.
How did it make you feel? Silly? Did you want to laugh? Congratulations, you just gave yourself a dopamine/endorphan rush. What else did you notice? What happens to your eyes? Were they smiling, too? Maybe you even started laughing at yourself. It’s ok. Your entire body reacts to the smile.
A Dog Smiles, Too
Think about your dog, if you have one. When a dog is happy, it’s whole body smiles as it moves with joy – with it’s tail wagging and tongue sticking out. We can’t help but smile back.
Babies know best!
One of the first emotions a shows is a smile. They smile at us, we smile back. They learn very early that if they smile, they get a reaction from you. Everyone feels better because of that smile. The exhausted parents, the grandparents, siblings and friends. A baby’s first smile is a milestone that we celebrate. According to WebMD.com, between 6 and 8 weeks of life, babies develop a “social smile” — an intentional gesture of warmth meant just for you. It shows us that brain development is advancing and the baby’s communication skills are on track.
With the facial masking that is so common with Parkinson’s, smiles don’t always come naturally. We may walk around looking angry when, in fact, we are in a good mood. When my kids were in high school, they told me that I had BRF – B***chy Resting Face. Their friends thought I didn’t like them, which of course was not true.. It turned out that this was an early sign of Parkinson’s for me. I wasn’t aware of it. Eventually I noticed that it was getting more difficult to smile anytime. We were traveling a lot at that time, and when I look back at photos of me, my smile was disappearing. I was getting frustrated and stopped trying to smile for the camera. When I finally started taking my PD meds, the masking went away and my smile came back.
As adults with Parkinson’s. We need to be aware that smiling can become difficult for us. As PD advances, our communication skills may diminish. We need that smile to help us convey how we feel.
The Importance of Smiling
Karyn Hall, PhD, in her blog The Emotionally Sensitive Person The Importance of Smiling, says:
*When you change your facial expression you mood tends to align with the emotion your face is communicating.
*Smiling is contagious.
*When you give a warm and friendly smile, often others will smile back. You get a moment of feeling connected and accepted, and you spread happiness.
*Smiling can help reduce stress. When you smile, your heart rate slows and other stress indicators go away faster than if you don’t smile. Smiling can lengthen your lifespan.
This is the power of the smile. We need to do everything we can to keep on smiling. When you cannot show emotion, good or bad, it makes it very difficult to be a social person. The last thing you want to do is to isolate yourself because you can no longer communicate with others, both verbally and non-verbally, as you had done before Parkinson’s. And don’t forget that the dopamine hits that we get from smiling are very important for our brains. The Parkinson’s Foundation recommends that you see a speech-language pathologist who can teach you facial exercises that may help with masking, as well as other issues you may be having, including speech and swallowing problems.
Go back to your mirror and practice your smile. You can do it. Laugh a little or a lot while you are at it. It may just make your frown disappear.