Coping Strategy: Smile

 

Coping Strategy
(as shared from my Hope for Healing monthly newsletter)

I want to share one coping strategy a month. These are strategies I use (or have used) in my own life as I travel the healing journey. I hope they bring you tranquility, as well!

Smile

I recently interviewed Bob Lancer of http://schoolsupportmotivation.com/and https://7mindsets.com/ on The Healing Place Podcast. As we discussed the Seven Mindsets, I was reminded how I had made a concerted effort to change my thinking patterns and create new habits filled with positivity instead of focusing on the struggles when I first started out on my healing journey. One of the strategies I used when experiencing a panic attack was forcing myself to smile while in the midst of panic! Practicing this exercise, while feeling incredibly overwhelmed with symptoms (sweaty palms, racing thoughts, tunnel vision, pounding heart), created a shift in chemicals surging through my body. I utilized positivity to counteract the fear response that was surfacing.I was reminded to keep a small smile on my face during meditations, as well. I am continually amazed how a conscious effort to smile can instantly create a shift in my mindset. My shoulders will usually relax, my breath slows down, and I can feel a change in my attitude. Such a simple act can have powerful effects. Practice doing it today and notice the impact it has on the moment, your day, and your overall life.

The Seven Mindsets:

  1. Everything is possible.
  2. We are connected.
  3. Passion first.
  4. 100% accountability in every situation.
  5. The attitude of gratitude.
  6. Live to give.
  7. The time is now.
Remember to focus on what there is to appreciate in every moment. There is always a reason to smile.

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My coping strategy has never included a smile. Never. And I’ve taughtfor 44 years... never once showing a duchennes smile. I was born with a facial paralysis. Each year, I’d explain to kids and parents I have Moebius Syndrome... congenital facial paralysis. Told the kids they could “hear” me smile via my humor. It worked. People got over the fact I had a fairly deadpanned expression. They heard my emotions thru body language and voice. 

Perhaps the hardest part in having a facial paralysis comes when uninformed ableist people who are uninformed re: facial differences/facial paralysis... they create these paradigms of acceptance that specifically exclude people with disability. 

I’ve taught special education long enough to know, first hand, how administrators may only “know” a fraction of what is true for a child with disability. This is JUST as true for the children going to your neighborhood schools right now - with facial differences of all kinds. 

Please... please recognize the ableism in your post. While a smile is a wonderful thing, so is caring and warmth and connectedness and compassion and so much more. And none of those actions need a smile. 

Look beyond the face. Start here. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4282959/

I am a fellow panic attack sufferer and I really appreciated your strategy of smiling through an attack. I think I should add your strategy to what I already do habitually in an attack. (When I am having one, I do everything I can to stay present. And, if at all possible, I stop what I am doing and use the voice in my head to remind me that it is nothing more than an irritation, and that I look forward to when it will subside, which it ALWAYS does.)

ALSO, I am a believer in doing my part in assuaging the emotional grief of the children (and adults) I serve. If a person happens to be able to smile, then is it not their duty to NOT withhold such when done purposefully and with insight in serving others? The world is not a safe place, and there is a great need for increased safety as well as encouragement. There is a need for kind, helpful words; words that inform the heart, words that calm and lead, words that do not attack or accuse. Words that are honest and constructive. Healthy relationships are based on trust. In a state of panic, it is easy to make mistakes that are destructive to relationships. All powerful emotions should be guarded carefully, since it is often when we are in extreme states of emotions that we make our bigger mistakes in life. 

For anyone prone to panic, definitely part of the flight/flight mechanism of the limbic system, and especially the amygdala, it is easy to lose our self-reflective abilities in these moments of “temporary insanity.” If we don’t do damage control, we can even de-stabilize others. (This happens so easily between parents and their children) So, it is important that, due to the contagious nature of panic, that we do what we can to stabilize the situation. SMILING THROUGH A PANIC ATTACK is a masterful strategy. And it shows awareness and regard for others around us, as well as a realization how our panicky state can rock the boats of anyone else who happens to be in our vicinity at the time of a panic attack. Smiling through a panic attack is a magnanimous thing to do!

Sabrina Eickhoff posted:

I am a fellow panic attack sufferer and I really appreciated your strategy of smiling through an attack. I think I should add your strategy to what I already do habitually in an attack. (When I am having one, I do everything I can to stay present. And, if at all possible, I stop what I am doing and use the voice in my head to remind me that it is nothing more than an irritation, and that I look forward to when it will subside, which it ALWAYS does.)

ALSO, I am a believer in doing my part in assuaging the emotional grief of the children (and adults) I serve. If a person happens to be able to smile, then is it not their duty to NOT withhold such when done purposefully and with insight in serving others? The world is not a safe place, and there is a great need for increased safety as well as encouragement. There is a need for kind, helpful words; words that inform the heart, words that calm and lead, words that do not attack or accuse. Words that are honest and constructive. Healthy relationships are based on trust. In a state of panic, it is easy to make mistakes that are destructive to relationships. All powerful emotions should be guarded carefully, since it is often when we are in extreme states of emotions that we make our bigger mistakes in life. 

For anyone prone to panic, definitely part of the flight/flight mechanism of the limbic system, and especially the amygdala, it is easy to lose our self-reflective abilities in these moments of “temporary insanity.” If we don’t do damage control, we can even de-stabilize others. (This happens so easily between parents and their children) So, it is important that, due to the contagious nature of panic, that we do what we can to stabilize the situation. SMILING THROUGH A PANIC ATTACK is a masterful strategy. And it shows awareness and regard for others around us, as well as a realization how our panicky state can rock the boats of anyone else who happens to be in our vicinity at the time of a panic attack. Smiling through a panic attack is a magnanimous thing to do!

What a beautiful and inspiring response! Thank you. First off, I just want to acknowledge your panic attacks. Kudos to you for working through strategies to find resolution. Using a smile to create a chemical shift in my brain/body during a surge of panic symptoms truly is miraculous. I have actually said aloud, to anyone traveling in a car with me when panic symptoms present themselves, "I am feeling a panic attack surfacing, but just know I am going to try to smile through it and send some positive energy into it as I shift my focus to something joyous." Or something along those lines.

Thank you, again, for this insightful response.

Peace,

Teri

Cheryl Miranda posted:

Teri,  good thing smiling works for you. But many a time we who have been abused use smiling/laughing as a defense mechanism to cover our pain. And then it becomes a default mode. We no longer smile for the right reasons and that is not good for our mental health. Also, it gives a wrong message to the people we interact with.

 

Thanks for the feedback. I know I have always used my smile as a way to cover my pain. Hence my "glitter-shitter" nickname! But, I choose to look at it in a different light. I look at my ability to smile through the pain as a gift, as part of my resilience factor. I feel blessed to have been able to find positivity, to find little things to smile about, to still experience joy and laughter . . . even though I was sometimes living in terror. My daughter is reading The Diary of Anne Frank  (the real-life documentation of a Holocaust journey as captured in the written journal of a thirteen-year-old girl) right now in her seventh grade reading class. I am reading it along with her (we are only 86 pages into it so far). Anne Frank's journey through so many emotions (fear, sadness, anger, loneliness, and more) are counteracted by her ability to radiate joy. A gift I possess and treasure, as well. 

I wish smiles and joy for those who have experienced traumatic events. I pray they all find those "right reasons" to smile. 

My blog was about smiling through a panic attack and I explain it to those who might be with me. My family knows it's a coping skill I utilize to create a chemical shift. Fortunately, I am blessed with friends who allow me the opportunity to explain my healing journey and do what they can to support me through it. I was once traveling across mountains in Tennessee as a passenger in a car full of friends. A panic attack came on (I am afraid of heights) as we approached a mountain peak in Jelico, TN along I-75 in heavy traffic. My friend next to me asked, "What can I do?" as she gently placed a hand on my shoulder. I responded, "Just talk to me . . . and keep your hand right where it is." Then she started to make me laugh by using her amazing humor, but she never moved her hand from me. It was instantly grounding. And I was able to laugh, smile, and relax my way right over that mountain!

That's why I find smiling a relief in moments of panic.

Peace,

Teri 

Sandy Goodwick posted:

My coping strategy has never included a smile. Never. And I’ve taughtfor 44 years... never once showing a duchennes smile. I was born with a facial paralysis. Each year, I’d explain to kids and parents I have Moebius Syndrome... congenital facial paralysis. Told the kids they could “hear” me smile via my humor. It worked. People got over the fact I had a fairly deadpanned expression. They heard my emotions thru body language and voice. 

Perhaps the hardest part in having a facial paralysis comes when uninformed ableist people who are uninformed re: facial differences/facial paralysis... they create these paradigms of acceptance that specifically exclude people with disability. 

I’ve taught special education long enough to know, first hand, how administrators may only “know” a fraction of what is true for a child with disability. This is JUST as true for the children going to your neighborhood schools right now - with facial differences of all kinds. 

Please... please recognize the ableism in your post. While a smile is a wonderful thing, so is caring and warmth and connectedness and compassion and so much more. And none of those actions need a smile. 

Look beyond the face. Start here. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4282959/

First off, I want to thank you for taking the time to respond to my blog post about "smiling as a coping skill to counteract the overwhelming symptoms of a panic attack." I spent twenty-five years of my life grasping for any sort of answer or sliver of hope to help me regain a sense of calm within the terror that arises in a state of panic. Having lived a life filled with abuse (physical, emotional, and sexual) at the hands of various predators, along with emotional neglect and abandonment by an alcoholic parent, experiencing violence at the hands of assailants (including the murder of a co-worker), along with other severe traumatic events, left me with a tremendous amount of unprocessed trauma. I eventually found my way to EMDR therapy, where I learned to process my trauma and started filling my tool-box with coping mechanisms. Smiling is one of MY coping skills. This blog post was intended to share MY coping skill with others in the hope that it might help someone who is struggling. I have shared quite a few of MY coping skills in these blogs as well as my monthly newsletter. Everything from journaling to coloring in Zen calming books to meditating to yoga to . . . smiling.

Second, I acknowledge your obvious pain over my sharing a post about smiling. 

Third, interesting that I just snuggled up with my kiddo last week and watched the movie Wonder. I cried with heartache. Then I cried with joy. My heart hurt for his when he was rejected. And my heart smiled (yes, my heart actually smiles and I have used that term for YEARS) when he found his courage and triumphed over the bully. I have been labeled an Empath and Light-Worker (by friends, family, and even psychics). I hold my gift of empathy near and dear to my heart. With or without my smile, I am able to connect with others on a heart and soul level. 

Fourth, I am hoping I misunderstood the intent of your paragraph that read, "Please... please recognize the ableism in your post. While a smile is a wonderful thing, so is caring and warmth and connectedness and compassion and so much more. And none of those actions need a smile." I read that as if it was being suggested that my post somehow conveyed that ONLY a smile is an acceptable form of showing caring, warmth, connectedness, and compassion. Because, obviously, that was not the message conveyed in this post. I am well aware that anyone, including myself, can show all of those things without a smile. I am a registered therapy dog team with my labradoodle, Sammie, and she certainly cannot smile, but WOW can that dog radiate caring, warmth, connectedness, and compassion with the kids she works with each week. Sammie is known for her sweet soul. And that has nothing to do with a smile. Besides, my post was about using a smile for one's SELF-healing, not in relation to others. 

I was blessed with a beautiful smile. I smile from my eyes. Or so I've been told. For that I will NEVER apologize. Instead, I will use that blessed gift to radiate my joy. A joy I fought for through a darkness I wish upon no one. 

We all have our ways of radiating our love and happiness and joyous emotions. Some through humor. Some through a hug. Some through sparkling eyes. Some through artistic expression like singing or dancing. Some through a smile. 

This post was about using a smile to create a chemical shift in one's brain through the use of a smile. There is scientific evidence that backs this method. I learned it through a guided meditation which suggested I smile throughout the session. It had a powerful effect on me. I decided to utilize that same effect when experiencing my next panic attack. And it worked! Hence my sharing it with others. 

I try to shine the line of hope. Through my Healing Place Podcast, through my writing, speaking presentations, therapy dog volunteer work, and through my smile. 

I wish you continued success in teaching others to "hear your smile". What a beautiful visual. But, please do not ask me to not share mine with others. It is a hard-earned gift that I treasure. And I will not give it up.

Peace,

Teri

...”Fourth, I am hoping I misunderstood the intent of your paragraph that read, "Please... please recognize the ableism in your post. While a smile is a wonderful thing, so is caring and warmth and connectedness and compassion and so much more. And none of those actions need a smile." I read that as if it was being suggested that my post somehow conveyed that ONLY a smile is an acceptable form of showing caring, warmth, connectedness, and compassion. Because, obviously, that was not the message conveyed in this post.”...

Yes. You understood me correctly.

Your post didn’t consider that there are people who live with facial paralysis and related conditions - and are made acutely aware of their ‘different-ness’ when they hear about articles extolling the positive attributes of smiling. It’s not the smiling/not smiling that is “the problem”... it’s the ingrained assumption that all people can and should relate to (and prefer) the benefit of smiling.  Just as there are ‘privileges’ that come with white skin, there are ‘privileges’ that come with ableism... and one is the assumption that a particular body form is ‘normal’. Typical - yes. Normal - no. 

When school staff remains oblivious to the implicit biases in having an attractive facial expression, they remain oblivious to the social isolation and bullying afforded many children whose faces look different. So while your smile is, as you shared, a positive attribute, when you don’t consciously look beyond that to recognize that others can and do find worth while not smiling ... you run the very real risk of attributing warmth and fullness of spirit to those whose physical attributes ‘look’ warm or “full” while missing the same strengths in those who may look different.

i’ve sat in on IEPs where the mom of a second grader with facial paralysis describes how her younger son notices his older brother completely isolated during recess and lunch. I’ve connected with enough parents and kids with facial difference to know that bullying and social isolation is *very* real for them. Not only do few school systems understand the social justice aspects related to having a disability, they seldom even look for credible resources to better understand a condition. 

Please understand that I realize you probably never have smiling/facial paralysis much thought (unless you’ve been personally affected by it). It’s a reality, not a source of ‘blame’. But not knowing...that’s the whole problem.

I would hope that, *because* you understand the trauma of experiencing something that others disregard or diminish, you would have an increased awareness that this kind of trauma is experienced in seemingly countless ways... which actually, in an incredible way, can draw us closer together when we realize how mystical diversity can be.

Because most people have the physical ability to smile, I am resigned to realizing that few maytake the time to understand this minority experience. But it we are truly to addresses “ACEs”, we need to acknowledge that ACEs come in flavors not understood by others. 

http://www.manyfacesofmoebiussyndrome.com/sandynew

 

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