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?

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