Monday, November 07, 2011

Frowny Face

This morning I was sitting in a ballroom listening to a talk on the neurophysiology of empathy. The presenter stated that one of the major factors involved was facial feedback.  Basically, however your face is arranged impacts how you feel—your mood, and even your respiration and your posture. The example she gave was when you are talking with someone and their face is scrunched up in an expression of distress, you subconsciously do the same, and that this impacts you physiologically. She told a very interesting story: research shows that injection of Botox into the area between the eyebrows, where people typically get a frown line, has been shown to reduce depression. Because you can’t physically frown, it impacts your mood!

This is fascinating to me. Not that I’m going to run out and get Botox, but simply because I never really thought about this at this level and yet it makes sense. How many times have you heard from self-help gurus something along the lines of “fake it ‘til you make it” or “act as if?” The idea is that no matter how you feel, if you put a smile on your face and act as if everything’s great, you create that reality. It becomes a self-fulfilling action. Naturally, if you have a serious mental health disorder, this is not going to cut it. But for most people, often times it’s just a matter of a shift in attitude. Take a minute and regulate your breathing, relax your face (unfurrow your brow!), and you are going to feel better. 

Now, I must have missed the flap about this research when it first came out—and having delved into it now, it turns out that the doctor who conducted this research only used ten patients as subjects, nine of whom were allegedly depression-free two months after treatment, so it’s hardly an authoritative study.
But anecdotally around the web, a number of people have come forward to state that while they got Botox for cosmetic reasons, they noticed two unexpected side effects: the first, a lifting of what had previously been a lengthy depression; and the second, a reduction in headaches, including migraines.

Okay, that all sounds pretty great, but then there are the cons, among them: facial paralysis. Thanks, but no. Others have said Botox seems to suppress certain emotional responsesHow can that be healthy? It seems like if you were sad and wanted to cry, but couldn’t, it would be toxic to your insides. 

Well, I think I’ll be keeping my frown line and just try to be more mindful not to scowl while squinting at my screen. How about you?

Friday, November 04, 2011

Being There

I think I have mentioned on here that there have been some big bad scary things happening to many people I know. (Oh, yes! Right here.) One of these things is that a good friend of mine (let’s call her “R”) has been diagnosed with cancer. She is a tough cookie and is convinced she is going to beat this. She is a single mom with two kids and a very strong support system of family and friends who are rallying around to help her out.

She has started chemotherapy and is on her fourth round—and her hair has begun falling out. On Halloween night, we got a whole group of kids together to take them trick-or-treating around her childhood neighborhood, where her mom still lives. R. was dressed as a punk rocker, with a Ramones T-shirt and a fantastic hot pink and black long wig. I told her I think she should wear the pink wig every day. She told me she couldn’t stop looking at my hair. I really wanted to shave my head right about then.

She told me amazing stories about how her kids have been helping to take care of her. I had suggested that we take the kids this weekend for her since she was scheduled for treatment again on Thursday and she gets so sick afterward. (Her mom and sister will be taking care of her, she won’t be by herself.) “[The 7-year-old] might go,” she said. “But [the 11-year-old] won’t leave me.” Her sweet son, who is already taller than I am, breaks my heart in his tenderness with her.

It’s been challenging with R. I reach out and sometimes she will accept help and sometimes a wall goes up and I have to just step back and let her work it out. I hope she beats this.