Next time you're stuck in traffic, quell your road rage by flashing a quick smile.
Researchers from the University of Kansas had college students hold chopsticks in their mouths to simulate either a smile or a neutral expression, and then induced a stressful situation. (Besides having chopsticks in their mouths.) The results? Smilers had lower heart rates and reduced stress responses compared to the straight-faced subjects.
Researchers believe that activating certain facial muscles--like those used to smile--sends a message to your brain: You're happy. Calm down.
Lead researcher Sarah Pressman, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Kansas, explains: "It's not just that our brains are happy and make us smile, it can also be the opposite--we feel the smile and become happy," she says.
What about lowering your heart rate? "If you're happy, you perceive stress differently and feel less threatened," says Pressman.
But here's the kicker: You don't have to actually be happy to reap the benefits. People in the study weren't necessarily in a good mood--they just faked a smile. So skip flipping off the guy who's driving like a jerk, and force a grin instead. Even though you may feel awkward, it's an easy way to break a very short stress response, says Pressman.
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