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Aug06

Inner well being and the importance of a smile.

Monday, 06 August 2012 Categories // Mental Health, Health, Living with HIV, Opinion Pieces

Nathaniel Casco puts on his inner smiley face for his take on what we need to do to improve our health and wellness.

Inner well being.  What does it mean? Where does it come from? Who invented this phrase?

I have been doing a fair amount of reading about healthy habits and inner well being. I have been focusing on HIV but noticing more and more that it’s the same, whether you are HIV+ or not. Everywhere I look I read and see the same lines about keeping well. Eat smarter. Eat healthy. Get fit. Exercise more. Stay fit. Take vitamins. Drink supplements. Drink more water. Drink less alcohol. Don't do recreational drugs. On and on and on it goes!

Sometimes I feel we need to be in bubbles just to satisfy every single ‘requirement’. It doesn’t help either when people are constantly telling me how bad things can get if I don’t eat right and exercise -  and fill my head with more fear and negativity.

There is more than enough fear and stigma around HIV already so I don’t need my doctor or my advocates sending the same message. (Having said this though, there are plenty of doctors and advocates who totally get it, and understand  - so this refers only to some.)

Now let’s see what the difference between what HIV-positive and -negative people need to do to stay well .  

HIV+ people:

Quit smoking - There’s a global trend to quit smoking. It improves your health, reduces the risk of cancer, heart disease and all sorts of other ailments and assists to living longer.

Eat healthy - Improves immune system, increases life expectancy, reduces bad fats and body fat, lowers cholesterol and reduces heart disease.

Exercise - Increases fitness by building strength and lean body mass. Reduces headaches and migraines and allows the body function better.

Non HIV+ people:

Quit smoking - There’s a global trend to quit smoking. It improves your health, reduces the risk of cancer, heart disease and all sorts of other ailments and assists to living longer.

Eat healthy - Improves immune system, increases life expectancy, reduces bad fats and body fat, lowers cholesterol and reduces heart disease.

Exercise - Increases fitness by building strength and lean body mass. Reduces headaches and migraines and allows the body function better.

Anyone see the same results? Whether you’re HIV or not makes no difference in what you should do to improve you overall health. Yes, HIV+ people have special needs besides antiretroviral treatment because of our compromised immune system, but we ALL need to make changes for the better.

Now for something that is easy for EVERYONE…

Do you smile or frown mostly? Smiling, believe it or not, is one of the secrets to health and serenity.  We see it every day in hospitals and in the streets. People say smiling lifts their spirits and makes them feel better. But your inner smile is just as important and one that you need to focus on. The theory behind the inner smile is that when we smile inwardly, the world beams back. Taoism teaches that giving yourself a grin is the best medicine.

See yourself smiling, even when you don’t want to show it outwardly. A deep inner smile spreads fast in our body, making us able to transform negative energy into positive. Focus on your facial expression and feel that smile. You might find that you all of a sudden smile outwardly also and actually do feel a little better.

Smiling lowers stress, adrenaline and noradrenalin, and produces hormones that stabilise blood pressure, relax muscles, improve respiration, reduce pain, accelerate healing and stabilise mood. When you feel down, the stress hormones may increase blood pressure, weaken the immune system, increase susceptibility to infections and exacerbate depression and anxiety.

Watch the video below . . .

In the opposite directions, a frown suppresses the immune system by increasing stress and blocking energy. Extensive research indicates that facial muscles used to express emotion trigger specific brain neurotransmitters. Smiling triggers happy healing hormones such as ecstatic endorphins and immune-boosting killer T-cells, whereas frowning triggers the secretion of stress hormones.

It takes only 26 muscles to smile and 62 muscles to frown. How often do you smile? Try the following exercise. Relax your face and let a subtle smile spread from your eyes to your lips. Now stop and frown and feel the sense of emotional and energetic shift. Did you feel any difference? Of course you did!

Did you know smiling is the second most contagious facial expression after yawning? Give it a go, it may take a few attempts, but eventually people can’t help themselves and a smile develops on their face (even if they try to hide it)

British researchers found that receiving a smile could give more pleasure than sex or eating chocolate. It also generated much higher levels of stimulation to the brain and heart than being given money or having a cigarette did. I didn’t know that!

But what if you don’t feel like smiling? Can you fake it till you make it? Though a heartfelt smile has a deeper effect, even a surface smile tricks the brain into releasing happy hormones, according to facial biofeedback research. And the more you smile, the more you want to smile, concluded a study where participants were either prevented from smiling or encouraged to smile by holding a pencil in their mouth. (Those who held the pencil in their teeth and were able to smile rated cartoons as funnier than those who held the pencil in their lips and couldn’t smile) This is because each time you smile, you reinforce happy neural pathways that fire more spontaneously with each subsequent use. Self-love smiling circuits then release healing nectar, while self-hate messages release toxins that breed disease, according to Taoism.

Never underestimate the power of a smile. Use yours for good.  Fight the good fight. Stay positive, and for all our sakes SMILE!