How do we share smiles while wearing a mask?

As we walk past people in streets or parks we’re keeping our distance – which on the one hand is making us feel safer, but on the other distances us emotionally. Whilst there is a science to masks reducing the spread of COVID, there’s also a science to humans sharing smiles. How do we blend the two?

Sharing a smile bridges connection. It sends a signal of warmth and reassurance – something we’re craving at present.

Smiling at another person activates changes in physiology by tapping into neurotransmitters associated with well-being. Among these are oxytocin – the “love” hormone, that flows during intimacy or a shared sense of connection – endorphins that promote a sense of ease and calm, and even serotonin – nature’s own anti-depressant, activated when we feel good about ourselves or reflect on some of the highlights in our day.

Right now, this visual cue is even more important than ever, because many of us are not doing well.

When we’re feeling socially isolated or deprived of human touch, a smile is a connection to normalcy. Without our usual means of social interaction, with smiling a major part of that, we unconsciously run the risk of rewiring our brains to fear and anxiety. This is especially of concern in children, because of their brains’ elasticity and rapid neural formation.

Research has already linked the negative impact of not sharing smiles on subjective happiness – including people who use Botox, as it constricts facial movement, stamping out laughter or smile lines.

So how can we ensure we still receive our daily dose of happiness and connection whilst also wearing masks? How do we, for the sake of the younger generation, find ways to express our smile?

Whilst our mouths might be concealed, we can still share intimacy. We need to smile more generously – so much so, our eyes light up. A wholehearted smile triggers a whole series of changes in our brain and autonomic nervous system.

Wave, or raise your eyebrows in a friendly fashion. Find other creative ways to express your smile; jazz up a bland mask with a hand painted smile, or even purchase a transparent face shield.

And check in on people. When we’re masked up, our ability to sense if someone is okay can be masked as well.

Let’s not forget, we’re all in this together – masks and all.

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