In the classes I teach at Kaiser on stress, anxiety and depression management, the subject of brain and body chemistry is discussed as a contributing factor to these conditions.
I draw pictures on the board illustrating the neuro-transmitter and receptor connections to indicate that sometimes these connections go awry and then ask the class to name things that affect our brain/body chemistry. I get answers such
as drugs, alcohol, exercise, food, and sleep. Sometimes people will mention sunshine and the 11 o-clock news. I answer that the things that affect our brain/body chemistry can be summed up in one word, "Everything." This is
really true. Everything we do, everything we ingest, everything we think, everything, affects our brain/body chemistry.
I've talked before about the power of laughter therapy and how infectious it is and just how it can completely change our brain/body chemistry. This is also true of simply smiling. When we're stressed, anxious or depressed, it
is often the last thing we actually feel like doing, but the good news is, our body doesn't know the difference between a real or fake smile. If you plaster even a fake smile on your face, your brain/body chemistry responds.
For my New Year's Resolution this year, I decided to try an experiment with smiling. I leave my house at 5:15am in the morning to avoid the traffic as I commute to the VA in Palo Alto. After nearly 4 years of this, I have
developed a little bit of an attitude. While I have and will continue to feel deeply honored and rewarded to work with Veterans, the early hour and long days is wearing. The experiment was to smile as I drove to see what
affect it would have on my brain/body chemistry, my mood and my attitude.
At first, I really didn't feel like smiling at all and my face resisted. So, I plastered a fake smile on my face driving down the road feeling like a complete idiot. Within a couple of days, I noticed that I didn't have to work
so hard at it and in fact, was feeling an improvement in my mood.
At the two week mark a truly amazing thing happened. My boss told me I could leave Palo Alto early and finish my day at the San Jose location enabling me to avoid the afternoon traffic. This was HUGE. This improved my attitude
dramatically as I just received about 3 hours/week of my life back.
Since then, I have received several comments from people who say I look really happy and that there is a wonderful energy eminating from me. The best part is, I actually feel better and happier. I feel more excited by my life and my
future. It might be worth an experiment for you as well to discover the power of smile therapy.