July 11 is National Cheer Up the Lonely Day, a day dedicated to spreading love and kindness to those who society sometimes forgets. This day was designed to alleviate the mental and emotional strain caused by loneliness in certain people, but there are also ways in which celebrating Cheer Up the Lonely Day can improve the physical health of not only the people you visit, but yourself as well.
Studies have shown that loneliness does not only have negative effects on mental health, but can be linked to physical ailments as well. People who report lower feelings of social connectedness and more feelings of loneliness tend to have weakened immune systems and be more susceptible to viruses. Loneliness has also been linked to increased stress, which can cause an increase in blood pressure and likelihood of heart disease.
There are a couple of simple ways in which you can help reverse these effects in yourself and in others.
Numerous studies suggest that smiling, even if it is consciously forced, triggers a reaction in your brain to produce dopamine, serotonin and endorphins. These are all neuropeptides, or hormones linked to feelings of happiness and contentment. The release of these hormones causes changes in your emotions which can make your forced smile feel more and more genuine and natural. What this essentially means is that when it comes to happiness and smiling, you can fake it until you make it.
In addition to this, research into brain cells known as “mirror neurons” has revealed that just seeing someone else smile can trigger someone’s brain to release those happiness hormones, which improves that person’s mood and causes them to smile as well. Your smile really is contagious.
Smiling doesn’t just improve your mood. For starters, dopamine, one of the hormones released when you smile, is a natural pain killer and can bring relief to those suffering from chronic pain. Additionally, the flood of neuropeptides that wash through your brain when you’re happy and smiling triggers your brain to stop releasing cortisol, the primary hormone linked to stress. This decrease in stress can lead to lower blood pressure and a stronger immune system.
Smiling more can improve the mental and physical health of you and those around you.
Give someone a hug.
Like smiling, hugging and physical contact triggers your brain to release a wave of neuropeptides. Hugging people also leads to the release of oxytocin, often referred to as the “cuddle hormone”, which, in addition to making us feel all warm and fuzzy inside, can increase feelings of devotion and bonding between two people. This kind of emotional bonding can decrease feelings of loneliness and alleviate symptoms of depression.
Just like sharing a smile, sharing a hug can lead to decreased stress, lower blood pressure, and lower heart rates in both parties.
Celebrate National Cheer Up the Lonely Day this weekend any way you wish, whether it be by calling a friend who you haven’t seen in a while, visiting someone in the hospital, or just sending a card to somebody going through a rough time to let them know that they are appreciated. Whatever you do, remember that how you feel emotionally has an effect on your physical health as well, and how you express your felling with others can affect theirs. While you’re out and about July 11, make sure you share that beautiful smile of yours, it will spread like wild fire to those around you and bring cheer to everyone who sees it, and if you do visit an old friend or relative, maybe give them a hug before you go. You can make a difference.