You should still smile when you have a face mask on. Here's why

Once upon a time, in our pre-pandemic lives, we kissed hello, tightly packed ourselves into concert arenas, and shared bites of chocolate cake with our besties, all crouched around a single plate. Now, of course, social distancing has rendered these behaviors obsolete. But what about smiling? With masks covering our mouths these days, is a smile also a relic of the past? In fact, according to psychologists, the masks make smiling more important than ever...because we don't just give and receive smiles with our lips. We also "smize," as Tyra Banks would say.

"When you encounter someone, if you're acknowledging them as a human being," said Michelle "Lani" Shiota, associate professor of psychology at Arizona State University. Your tendency will be to look them in the eyes, and they "will see that smiling in the eyes," she explained to The Washington Post. "All of the things that you might normally do to acknowledge another person's humanity when you encounter them" shouldn't go by the wayside because of masks, Shiota added. Body language expert Janine Driver agreed. "We're lucky a lot of information shows up in the eyes and the eyebrows," she told TODAY. "With true happiness, we see it with the wrinkles on the side of our eyes."

Why smiling is more important than ever during a pandemic

Not only does smiling cultivate an emotional connection with other people, at a time when we might feel particularly isolated due to the pandemic, but it actually may make us less likely to become sick. That's because when we smile, we release certain neurotransmitters that relax us, and that stress reduction supports improved immune health (per VeryWellFit). "What's crazy is that just the physical act of smiling can make a difference in building your immunity," Dr. Murray Grossan, an ENT-otolaryngologist in Los Angeles, told NBC News. "When you smile, the brain sees the muscle [activity] and assumes that humor is happening."

This simple facial expression also has heart health benefits. A study found lower heart rate and blood pressure readings among people who smiled compared to those who kept a straight face, even when smiles were faked (per CBS). This is an important consideration, since cardiovascular disease is a preexisting condition linked to worse COVID-19 outcomes (per American Heart Association).