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Feeling stressed? New study says grin and bear it

health-and-fitness Updated: Aug 03, 2012 19:03 IST

Highlight Story

If you're stressed out, a new study finds that you can feel better with the simple act of smiling - even if the smile is forced.

Researchers at the University of Kansas in the US subjected college students to anxiety-inducing tasks and found that those who smiled through them appeared to have less stress.

The study, led by research psychologists Tara Kraft and Sarah Pressman, is scheduled for publication in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science.

A panacea for stress?

"Age-old adages, such as 'grin and bear it,' have suggested smiling to be not only an important nonverbal indicator of happiness but also wishfully promotes smiling as a panacea for life's stressful events," Kraft said in a journal news release. "We wanted to examine whether these adages had scientific merit; whether smiling could have real health-relevant benefits."

To reach their findings, the researchers had 169 university students engage in stress-inducing tasks, such as plunging their hands into icy water. The students performed these tasks under three conditions: not smiling, being explicitly instructed to smile, and while holding chopsticks in their mouth in a way that forced the face to smile.

The study found that subjects who wore any kind of smile were less stressed during the tasks than those with neutral facial expressions.

"The next time you are stuck in traffic or are experiencing some other type of stress, you might try to hold your face in a smile for a moment," Pressman adds. "Not only will it help you 'grin and bear it' psychologically, but it might actually help your heart health as well."

The Botox effect

In a 2010 study published in the journal Psychological Science, researchers found that when they used Botox to block the muscle used for frowning, participants took longer to process a negative emotion, such as anger or sadness. The authors noted that the findings suggest the opposite may be true -- that if you smile, you're more likely to see positive emotions in the world around you.