VID has taken a lot from us. It has taken a lot of things, such as comforting routines, our sense of safety, and even smaller things, such as eating out, to bring us pleasure. If you are like me, the loss of these things combined with the fear and anxiety of catching the virus has taken a toll on your mental health.
There is power in smiles. Research shows that some of our feelings of depression may be related to two things that most of us take for granted: smiles and hugs.
It is not an old adage that smiles are contagious. It is a proven fact. According to an article in Psychology Today, the part of your brain that is responsible for your facial expression of smiling is located in the cingulate cortex, an unconscious automatic response area. It has never been harder to smile. The world as we know it is falling to pieces, and what used to be the cure for our gloom is no longer available, because of the swine flu.
In the past, our co-workers smiled when they greeted us in the morning, our cashier smiled when we met them at the checkout counter, our bank tellers smiled when they met us, and our fast-food workers smiled at us. In our new normal, this is not the case, meaning all those reflexive bursts of happiness are gone. It is hard to not smile back when we see someone smiling. Trying not to smile in response to this situation is like trying to ignore our brain’s natural tendencies. Think of all the smiles we miss out on because we are surrounded by people with smiles hidden behind masks that make us happy.
According to the author of Beat Depression and Anxiety by Changing Your Brain, smiling releases feel-good transmitters. When we don’t engage in the act of smiling, the benefits of the hormones are missing. Less smiling faces means less smiling for us, and that has a major impact on both our physical and emotional health.
The National Institute of Health reports on research done on smiling by two people. All smiles are categorized into three different types: dominance smiles, affiliation smiles, and reward smiles. Negative smiles that convey a sense of superiority are called dominance smiles, while affiliation and reward smiles show true happiness and increase social connections between people.
The side effects of not getting enough hormones? The heart rate and blood pressure are higher. There is a lack of motivation. Lowering self-confidence. There was increased pain. These are just a few examples.
The Pandemic also robs us of another emotional and physical stress relief: hugs. They found that those who received dominance smiles from others showed a rise in cortisol, a stress hormone, but those who received affiliation and reward smiles saw a reduction in this hormone.
We are told to stay six feet away. It means no hugs when we have done something great, but also no pats on the back or high fives. Human touch and hugs have benefits.
The emotional rewards can’t be experienced at the moment. To show compassion, to share moments of joy, and to convey feelings of love or understanding, we give or receive hugs. For most of us, hugs bring a needed emotional release and increased happiness.
What does this mean for us? More susceptibility to sickness is caused by less hugging. A compromised immune system is dangerous at times.
The advantages of daily hugs are listed in Well and Good. They state that hugging reduces levels of cortisol. They mention that lowered cortisol benefits our immune system. People who experienced hugs more frequently were less likely to get sick and their symptoms were less intense.
The bottom line: Reducing blood pressure and lowering heart rate are some of the things hugging can do. Healthline reported a study in which scientists had their romantic partners do one of two things: hold hands or sit in silence. The benefits of the hand-holding and hugging couples were not present in the distant couples.
Most of the physical and emotional advantages of smiling and hugging will remain absent from our lives, but we can increase the opportunities to seize the benefits of these things by creating more joy and incorporating more touch in our lives with our immediate family. We can watch more funny movies with each other, play more games that make us laugh and smile, and try to wrap our arms around those we share a home with. We need to do more of these things anyways. Let’s get to it.
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