Why connect Botox with mental health?

Why connect Botox with mental health?
Why connect Botox with mental health?

Psychologists are jumping on the Botox bandwagon. They’re not injecting it; they’re doing what shrinks do best - talking about it. If you think they should limit themselves to anxiety and depression, where there is good money, instead of analyzing your wrinkle-free forehead, I am sympathetic.

The mental health/Botox connection boils down to the basic paradox: “What comes first, the chicken or the egg?” Here is the basic theory of how Botox injections affect your psyche :

  • Your facial expressions affect how you feel (your emotions).
  • Botox (or other brands of botulinum toxin) smooth out forehead wrinkles by paralyzing the underlying muscles that cause them.
  • When your forehead wrinkles and crow’s feet have been paralyzed by Botox, you are no longer able to present a face wreathed in smiles. Most likely, your laugh lines will disappear. The bottom half of your face smiles as usual but your eyes may not crinkle up.
  • Therefore, since your face cannot express the usual amount of joy, you will feel less happy in a classic case of the egg coming before the chicken, i.e., your facial expression affecting how you feel.

The theory evolved from a study in which participants were divided into groups that received either Botox injections (paralyzing) or facial filler (volumizing) injections. Results indicated that those who received Botox reported less emotional response to emotionally arousing video clips than those who received fillers. A Barnard College psych professor explained that when you take away a part of the facial expression, you take away some of the emotional experience. Extending the theory, the act of smiling in itself makes us happy.

This line of thinking gets a little weirder. There was a study in which psychologists showed that participants who held a pen in their teeth in a way that used the same muscles as a smile found a cartoon funnier than those who held a pen in their lips in a way that stopped them from smiling.

A US dermatologist takes it one step further. Eric Finzi has written a book, “The Face of Emotion,” that uses the same premise but turns it on its head. He suggests that Botox be used to paralyze muscles that cause frowning and, therefore, prevent people from feeling sad “…by preventing the physical action of frowning, we interrupt this feedback loop and reduce the number of negative messages the brain is receiving, creating a more positive outlook.” According to this theory, Botox would function like an antidepressant. Since it would stop you from frowning, you would not feel so unhappy.

These theories do not take into account the enhanced self-esteem people are likely to feel after Botox injections, which yield a younger-looking appearance. Further, the absence of forehead wrinkles makes you look more carefree. Both factors lend and project a happy feeling, which may compensate for a somewhat altered smile.

Finally, a plea to mental health practitioners: “First do no harm.” Don’t give us problems we didn’t walk in with and let us enjoy our newly-smooth foreheads.

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