Saturday, January 10, 2009

Healing PTSD: Exercise Your Face

When was the last time you smiled? No, I mean really, really SMILED. Not the fake smile we plaster on so people don’t ask what’s wrong or believe the lies we tell that we’re ‘just fine’, but I mean a smile that was involuntary. When was the last time you couldn’t help it, your face just curved up of its own accord?

Can’t remember? I’ll be honest, in my PTSD days, neither could I. There were too many years when I only half smiled, or when I put on such a ridiculously big fake smile I don’t know how my cheekbones stood the test. We have pictures of me where the smile is so forced I look like I’m snarling. Come to think of it, I was snarling!

But it would have been so much better for me to practice a natural smile. According to research in this NYT article, A Feel Good Theory: A Smile Affects Mood, "putting on a sad face or a smile directly produces the feelings that the expressions represent...." In fact, the article goes on to explain that while facial expressions are not more important than thoughts in affecting emotions, "the physiology of facial expression [can be] a cause of emotions in its own right."

The bottom line: A smile can effectively induce the feeling it portrays – one of wellness, amusement, connectedness.

Think you’ve forgotten how to smile that way? Think it isn’t possible, that you no longer have the smile gene, have lost the muscle, wouldn’t remember how?

Well, my friends, think again! Your smile, just like your true, untraumatized self, lurks in the shadows of your mind. Today, let’s woo it out into the open.

A recent article, Smiles Are Innate, Not Learned, states that "… full-blown smiles … are hard-wired into our genes." The recent study suggests we contain "an innate ability to express certain emotions with gestures and facial expressions." Sorry, guys, you can’t escape DNA. Smiling is programmed into you.

If you need more of a concrete reason to smile, how about the fact that smiling actually has several emotional and physical health benefits.

(If you still feel a little rusty and need some advice to get going, read up on this How To Smile article. It’s so silly (including the advice to ‘Practice good hygiene’) it’s sure to, er, make you smile.)

But seriously: Practice smiling today.

You can do this alone. Smile at yourself in the mirror, or just walk around the house/town/city letting yourself grin. Think of something that makes you want to smile and let your muscles do the rest of the work.

You can do this to family and friends. Take everyone by surprise by bestowing upon them a genuine, loving smile. The people around you are living with your PTSD, too. Today, give them a break and let them see the real you for a moment.

Don’t want to smile at yourself or your loved ones? No sweat. Take your smile for a test drive with a total stranger -- although I wouldn’t suggest doing this on the subway in a major city! The most bizarre thing for me to get used to when I left Manhattan and moved to Florida is the crazy amount of smiling at strangers that goes on when you cross the Mason Dixon line. It seems in the South it’s taken for granted that smiling at a stranger is not only acceptable, it’s expected. In the spirit of this today, smile at someone who doesn’t know you. Let the real you shine through in a moment in which you won’t be held accountable.

Go on. Smile. Right now.

Think of who you would be and how much you would smile without PTSD.

Try it. I dare you.

(photo: jeridaking, Radicalwacko, Nathan Gibbs, Leah, Piouprod, Debra Peters)

1 comment:

elizabeth said...

I'm smiling...great post.