Sunday, November 9, 2008

Are you down? Try this!

I just ran across a 20 page typed paper I wrote my senior year in honors Anatomy and Physiology in high school - it talked about the power of positive thinking on healing the body. This did not exclude the power of God to do His miraculous healing but I showed in this paper, tons of research that showed how physiologically the body produced more Killer T cells, for instance, to attack cancer tumors when people's attitudes were positive, and when they simply, laughed more. Many other physiological and biochemical changes occur during times of grief or times of laughing or times of stress. It's truly amazing. The immune system is intricately connected to our emotions. No doubt about that.

For almost 2 years I was in an Epstein Barr, Chronic Fatigue induced slump. I felt crummy so my face reflected that - it stopped smiling, which in turn, made me feel crummier. I am truly convinced this negative cycle was happening. I'd wake up almost worried each morning about how bad I was probably going to feel that day, vs waking up positive about a new day. My face was serious.

Our evening ritual during that bad year was to watch the most amazing BBC productions of James Herriot. THese are the most delightful shows based on his true tales of being a country vet in the 20s and 30s in the Dales of England. On one show, it opened with his wife waking up and turning around in bed to smile at her husband and say, "Good morning, darling.".

GEEZ!! Good morning darling was so far from what my first words of the day were that it seriously intrigued me to start an experiment. What if I started my day so cheerful? What if I simply started each morning believing that it was going to be a great day, smiled, and said something that seemed so ridiculous coming out of my mouth," Good morning, darling!"???

I tried it. It was quite forced. But I willed my face into smiling before thinking about how I felt (which was crummy).

And you know what?? It worked! It seriously did. Day after day, week after week, month after month, I simply started to do one simple thing that I had neglected for a long time: I smiled. It's not going to turn me into a morning person, but, it is setting the stage for a happier day.

Most of us have assumed that the face is a billboard that tells the world what our emotions are, that emotions start somewhere internal and get expressed externally. That is true, but researchers Paul Eckman and John Friesen were shocked to learn that it also goes the other way. They'd do extensive research experiments forcing certain expressions, such as anger or happiness, and track the autonomic nervous system. They'd generate an anger expression and note that heartbeat went up 10 to 12 beats and hands got hot. (Blink, Michael Gladwell).

Emotion can start on the face. I have found it is possible to reduce the stress of a situation by not so intently focusing on it all day (resulting in a long scowl) but to engage in this simple experiment: smile!! Science proves that physiologically the body changes when we smile, laugh, and think positively. So, why not give it a shot?

I try this alot now - when I am getting down, I consciously work on smiling more that day, and by the end, I am not wallowing in a pit but instead dancing on the grass. When I succomb to the downer feelings creeping in and let myself be serious in gaze, at the end of the day, I feel exactly how my face triggered my body to feel - down.


Kristin said...

Julie, I totally agree! I have had to force myself to smile a lot more this last month and I hope it is working. Oh, and by the way, I love your beautiful smile. It always brightens my day!

Suzanne's Blog said...

So, so so true. I saw a study on this during a news broadcast; and it was amazing at the results people got just from learning to smile. Thanks for reminding us.