Smile For a While and Let’s Be Jolly…

My sister Peggy, age 5, smiling her beautiful smile
My sister Peggy, age 5, smiling her beautiful smile

The Cheshire Cat may have been onto something. Accounts differ as to what inspired Lewis Carroll to use the smiling cat in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but the majority agrees that he certainly made it famous. A multitude of studies has recently shown that smiling actually changes your brain (in a good way).

That is really good news for those who suffer from some form of dementia, who, along with Alice might find themselves in a strange and confusing world where nothing appears real and everyone seems to be a bit mad. They may also feel frightened and lonely and wish they could simply tap their ruby slippers together three times and go home again….wait; I’ve mixed up my stories. Suffice it to say, dementia is not a pleasant world to live in.

Those caring for loved ones who suffer from dementia may also find themselves living in a strange and lonely world. People they once had lively and meaningful conversations with can no longer chat and may not even recognize them. My Mama, who was smart, witty and a wonderful conversationalist, lost the ability to recognize me in the early stages of her battle with dementia.

This is the time of year when dark feelings of loneliness and depression can magnify – how ironic since the holidays are usually portrayed by scenes of happy family and friends getting together. Of course, the contrast between what is depicted and reality may be a contributing influence in the sadness factor. That, combined with what is referred to as Winter Blues (when days are short), can cause many caregivers to experience feelings of hopelessness.

Back to the smiles.

<em><strong>My sister Peggy and me sharing a laugh. She was always making me smile.</strong></em>
My sister Peggy and me sharing a laugh. She was always making me smile.

Smiles are also contagious; if you smile at someone, they smile, and then you both get a little happier–which can be especially good news for caregivers. Try smiling at your loved one several times throughout your day and watch how they respond.  Researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden concluded that frowning when looking at someone smiling is possible, but would be very difficult.

What if you don’t feel like smiling?

Senia, age 4

But wait, there’s more! According to HealthHub.com, smiles– even fake smiles do a lot more than simply let the world know you’re happy. It turns out that there is also a whole host of health benefits to smiling. In an article titled, “15 of the best and free health benefits of smiling” including heart health, pain and stress reduction as well as an increase in productivity and longevity.

Everyone feels depressed now and then, and this is not meant to be a flippant post on the subject. Issues such as sadness and depression are not to be taken lightly. If you or someone you know is experiencing sadness that won’t go away, MentalHelp.net has some good advice on When To Seek Professional Help And Where To Find Help For Major Depression.

The takeaway here is that smiles might just be the best Christmas gift you can give out all season long…and best of all, they’re free!

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