Everyone was excited when we arrived at the world-famous Skyline Luge in Rotorua, New Zealand.
I on the other hand was filled with dread. I felt under threat. My sympathetic nervous system kicked into gear releasing adrenalin; causing my breathing to became shallow, my heart to race, sweaty palms, feelings of nausea and a desperate need to flee.
My husband, kids and extended family raced on ahead skipping and running toward the ticket vendor. How I envied their child like faith; not questioning the mode of transport that would take them to the top of Mt Ngongotaha where the Luge track begins. Their focus was on the thrilling ride of joy ahead of them, arguing about who would be the fastest.
I didn’t want to miss out. I also didn’t want my children to see me panic or realise I was petrified of heights. I was going to do this, afraid. I was going to do this regardless of my body screaming at me not to. I pulled my husband aside and told him I was struggling. Allowing him to ‘see’ me immediately made me feel less alone. I stepped into the Gondola and fixed my eyes on the children’s faces. I focused on their joyful expectation and wonder at how high we were and how small our car now looked. I attempted to be like them; to notice rather than to fear…..it helped me relax a little. We made it to the top much faster than I expected. An overwhelming sense of relief and pride felt like it washed the remaining surging adrenaline away. The ride down the Luge was epic. I love speed!!
It was only once we reached the bottom, that I realised we needed to catch the chair lift back to the top for another ride!! We had the added pressure of staying with the kids who were lining up for another ride and people queuing behind us.
My anxiety was not gradual this time. I experienced a full-blown panic attack. I was shaking and running on the spot trying to rid my body of the surging adrenalin. It crossed my mind to head back down in the Gondola excusing myself as not feeling well. I told my husband that I could only do this with him by my side. Somehow, we worked out a chair lift combination that my 5 year old son felt comfortable with. They jumped on, looking back at us waving whilst we waited for the next chair to sweep us off our feet. My husband was giving me a pep talk, willing me to be brave and overcome my fear; ‘you’ve got this honey’, ‘I’m right here’….none of his positive affirmations or encouragement were helping me to calm down.
Then I remembered something I tried years ago whilst on a chair lift in the mountains….. Smiling!!
Whilst I was shaking, sweating and willing this torment to end, I chose to smile. A deliberate, inflated, cheek burning smile. My husband looked at me curiously and then started to laugh. We all know that a smile is contagious right? I wasn’t feeling the ‘feels’ of happiness but this deliberate act of fabrication produced a profound effect on my body. I started to feel calmer and less out of control. I began to look for the beauty surrounding me. In a shaky, loud and distorted kind of voice, I marvelled at the trees and the craftmanship of the track down below. I started to feel hope that I was going to make it. I could do this. Incredible the impact that a cheesy fabricated grin had on both my body and mind. Turns out the brain is a sucker for a smile. It doesn’t bother to sort out whether you’re smiling because your genuinely joyous or pretending!!
There is an abundance of scientific evidence that has shown that the mere act of smiling can lift your mood, lower stress, boost your immune system and prolong your life!!
Could 60 seconds of deliberate smiling each morning supercharge your mood? When something goes awry in your day, could you try a smile to shift your mood quickly? Perhaps if your day feels particularly long or tedious, try smiling to reduce stress and add a different perspective.
Making small, intentional changes to your daily routine can improve your wellbeing.