It is a myth that one uses more facial muscles when smiling as compared to frowning. On average, about the same number of muscles are engaged in either act. If you smile more often, these ten to twelve muscles can become stronger. Who doesn’t want a stronger face?

But, those who struggle with depression or any form of mental health issue often find it difficult to smile. This doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t like to be beaming more frequently. Their affliction does not define them. Nevertheless, at times the challenges associated with their particular illness can control them. It is often manifested in an outward appearance which is misconstrued by others. I’m not talking about someone who is just feeling the “blues” because she didn’t get a raise at work, or another who is “down in the dumps” because his favorite sport’s team just lost a pivotal game. Everyone experiences a bout of depression now and then as discouragement and disappointments are realities of life. No one is completely immune from these undesirable experiences due to the uncertainty inherent in mortality. It is easier to turn a frown upside down when your life is not a perpetual roller coaster. For these, that car which they ride along in, and perhaps at times desperately cling to, is completely unpredictable. One moment it is racing at the speed of light, and then suddenly, often without warning, it morphs into sloth mode. The peaks and valleys on this ride are far from amusing. No, thrill seekers would certainly not desire to hop aboard this coaster. Fun would not be in its description. Excitement, laughter, and grinning are not typically companions accompanying these riders.

So, what is to be done? The goal, if possible, is to attempt to stay a step or two ahead of the problem. Does that mean that one has to be able to tell the future in able to better deal with the present? Of course, no one can predict what awaits at the top of that next hill or at the bottom of that valley. Could a smile be waiting around the next corner? I cannot say. But, what I know is that over the course of time learning and applying various coping mechanisms can help to stave off the damaging effects of a major episode. However, it is never as simple as it sounds. “Simply follow steps A, B, and C and everything will be just fine.” Doesn’t that prescription for success just make you want to smile from ear to ear?

Certain steps or specific actions may need to be modified, completely scrapped and replaced with another, or temporarily adjusted for a season. Whatever the particulars, change in and of itself is downright scary. Altering routines will most certainly cause a jump in anxiety. Let’s jump to some good news, shall we? For quite a few years now, doctors and psychologists alike have been recommending an increased dosage of daily physical activity to combat the hardships of major depressive disorders. The upside is that regular exercise can, in fact, do wonders to improve one’s mental outlook. There is more than ample evidence to suggest that those who endure the pain of an illness sometimes unseen by others will benefit tremendously if they can just start moving. Now, isn’t that news worth smiling about?

“Smile though your heart is aching
Smile when your heart is breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through for you
Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what’s the use of crying?
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what’s the use of crying?
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile”

–John Turner/Jeffrey Parsons

photo credit: Peter Grifoni Ella via photopin (license)