One of my favorite techniques from cognitive behavioral therapy research is the "half-smile." This CBT technique has been proven to be effective in helping turn around cycles of negative moods, such as depressive episodes. Because emotions are really the combination of thoughts, sensations, and behaviors, changing just one of these components can result in significantly altering the course of the emotion.
Half-smile is a technique borrowed from Buddhism, and it's quick, easy, and free. Research has shown this technique can improve your mood after only ten minutes of practice. Compare that with the four to six weeks it takes for an antidepressant to start working! Just kidding - it's definitely not a replacement for medication or therapy, but it can really turn a lousy mood around.
Here's how it works:
Begin to smile with your lips, but stop just when you notice a small amount of tension at the corners of your mouth. If someone were watching you, he/she probably wouldn't notice any change in your face. It's a subtle, tiny smile. (If you try to keep up a big toothy grin for ten minutes, nothing will happen other than your face will start to hurt.) Now wear this for ten minutes without stopping, and notice how your mood has shifted. Most people report a significant uptick in their overall mood. If you don't notice any significant change, some people find it helpful, in addition to the half-smile, to "smile with their eyes."
The way this works is the bi-directional nature of behavior and emotions. Most of the time, when we experience a positive emotion, such as joy, we smile as a consequence of the joy. But what the most current cognitive-behavioral research as shown time and again, is that it works the other way too. Smile for a few minutes and you feel happy. Furrow your brow and you experience anger. Breathe short, shallow breaths, and you can induce panic. Basically, engage in the behavior and the emotion will follow (aka fake it 'til you make it).
Give it a try the next time you're sitting in traffic or waiting in line at the DMV, and see how it works.
For more information on cognitive behavioral and mindfulness-based therapies, visit Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Los Angeles
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