I have become convinced that the way
people hold their lower eyelid strongly affects their emotional wellbeing. The
lower eyelid has the ability to remain tonically tense. Its muscles can remain
flexed, maintaining a wincing posture throughout the day, without the person
being aware. I used to spend my days continually wincing, but I was oblivious
to it. Spend a few minutes in front of the mirror and watch your lower eyelid
move. It will twitch involuntarily when you think negative thoughts. In fact,
it acts as an anchor in the face that recruits the rest of the wincing facial
posture. You can control it voluntarily of course, and I think it is beneficial
to spend some time watching it and exercising control over it. Start in front
of a mirror with your eyes as wide open as possible. Do this without raising or
tensing your eyebrows. As you watch yourself in front of the mirror, you will
notice that as your attention shifts away, the lower eyelid will become tense
again due to the force of habit. It has developed a natural tendency to
maintain tonic myogenic activity because lower brain centers are accustomed to
keeping it active. These evolutionarily old brain centers do this in an effort
to help protect your eyes, but in doing so, they are actually increasing your
susceptibility to stress and anxiety.
Here is why I think it is bad to
constantly flex the lower eyelids. The lower eyelid, more so than the upper
one, has an ability to potentiate the blinking response. Animals do this
unconsciously when they assume that the safety of their eyes (evolutionarily
precious organs) may be in jeopardy. Remember, the blinking response is a
defensive response meant to protect the eye from damage. An animal that has
been attacked or traumatized becomes programmed to squint in order to maintain
a defensive eyelid posture that will allow it to blink faster in response to a
threatening stimulus. Moreover, squinting with the lower eyelid pulls up ocular
muscles (the inferior tarsus and the lower orbicularis oculi) to pad and
protect the eyeball. In fact, many points in the body (especially in the face
and spine) hold on to the trauma in an effort to maintain a low-grade defensive
posture in anticipation of threat. Lower eyelid clenching is associated with
the startle response, which of course is involved in flinching during threat
and wincing during pain. Allowing unconscious brain centers to maintain tension
in the lower eyelid sends messages to other threat centers in the brain,
communicating to them that the current environment is adverse and potentially
threatening to the eyes. This is ironic of course because in today’s world, our
eyes are rarely threatened. In the ancestral past, it was adaptive for anxiety
and fear to potentiate squinting but today, work and relationship stress are
practically never indicative of impending threat to the eyes. Lower eyelid
tension is rarely necessary, and the only way to remedy it (besides perhaps
injecting these muscles with botox) is to make a conscious effort about eye posture, to relax
the lower lid and to try to walk around with wide eyes.
Sadly, lower lid tension can become the natural, default state. In fact, many people sleep with their faces tight, their teeth clenched and their eyelids clamped together. What state are your eyes in when you wake up? What state are they in now? I cannot imagine that lower lid tension is conducive to restful, restorative sleep, and I think that it makes waking life more strained. PTSD sufferers and military personnel have a distinct, tense, tired look that is centered around the eyes. Pictures taken before and after warzone deployment really illustrate the difference. At the martial arts studios that I used to practice at, the instructors and most of the students were always squinting, often had one eye more affected than the other, and had purple rings, dark circles and bags under their eyes. This is because walking into a martial arts studio with eyes wide open sends a signal: “I am not afraid,” a signal that many people are too conscientious to allow themselves to make. On the other hand, people that are candidly carefree and cheerful are often wide-eyed. Many children have this look. I think that common phrases in the vernacular, like “sensitive eyes,” “gleam in the eye,” sparkling eyes,” “light in the eyes” or “twinkle in the eyes,” describe this look.
Widening your eyes will seem difficult at first, but try a few things. Widen your eyes as much as possible and then raise your eyebrows, which will allow you to widen your eyes even further. Subsequently, allow your eyebrows to relax while keeping your eyelids just as wide. This helps. Moreover, try pulling down on the skin just below your eyes, exposing the underside of both eyelids to the air. Open your eyes as wide as you can while doing this and it helps you to change to a wider setting. Another trick is to roll your eyes slowly in an upward arc, raising them as high as possible. Looking up in general helps you to have wider eyes.
You will probably notice
that relaxing the lower lid looks unnatural at first. This is because your
facial expressions and general countenance have not adapted to the look. This
takes time. When you have bad posture in your shoulders, back, neck and torso,
and try to make up for it by assuming better posture, people can tell. It looks
fake, and exaggerated because your muscles do not look natural in holding the
posture. A few weeks of concerted effort can fix this problem though. It is the
same with the lower eyelids. When I first relaxed my lower eyelid it looked ridiculous.
I looked like a anxious person that was trying too hard to look calm. At first,
I looked like a sickly drug addict that was walking around with wide open eyes.
Even people that didn’t know me could tell that it was unnatural. With time though,
it becomes natural. In fact, the cheeks and the areas under the eyes begin to
look more healthy. I think the solution is to start practicing the relaxation
of the lower eyelid alone in the mirror. Then when it is comfortable try it
alone around the house. Once it looks natural, do it outdoors or in public.
Soon it will look genuine conversationally, and after some practice you should
be able to do it while falling asleep. When you find yourself wide-eyed when
public speaking, and when waking up in the morning, you know you have gotten
the hang of it. The most difficult thing is to do it while smiling. Most people
have a “crazed” or manic look in their eyes if they relax their lower lids
while smiling. With a few weeks practice though, you should be able to do this
Here is a relevant quote
from a book that I read in 2nd grade. I never forgot Roald Dahl’s
“I was glad my father
was an eye-smiler. It meant he never gave me a fake smile because it's
impossible to make your eyes twinkle if you aren't feeling twinkly yourself. A
mouth-smile is different. You can fake a mouth-smile any time you want, simply
by moving your lips. I've also learned that a real mouth-smile always has an
eye-smile to go with it. So watch out, I say, when someone smiles at you but
his eyes stay the same. It's sure to be a phony.”
― Roald Dahl, Danny the
Champion of the World
I am trying to teach myself to "fake it" habitually, and in so doing, fake myself out into becoming a happier person.
Here is a picture of some talented comedians faking it for comic effect (Danny's not doing it).
Me wincing and smiling vs. me not wincing and smiling:
The first picture was taken in 2008 and I was so used to squinting that my eyes are barely open. This was how I smiled all the time back then. It looks very unhealthy and is the smile of an anxious, depressed and/or defensive person. It feels much better to have clear eyes.
The Eyebrow / Eyelid Axis
We all have suffer from exaggerated
tension in our eyebrow and eyelids. I refer to these two structures together as
an axis because they form a principle structure, about which the face
functions. The optimal eyebrow/eyelid posture is to have very wide eyes and
unraised eyebrows. This feels great and looks amazing. But trauma and social
signaling causes us to squint our eyes and raise our eyebrows. These two things
are actually linked. When you try to widen your eyes, your eyebrows raise. So
basically you trade one form of tension for another. When you try to let your
eyebrows relax, the eyes squint. However, you can work toward alleviating the
tension here. One way to is massage and apply compressive pressure to the
muscles in order to release them from tension. This is necessary to fix the
problem completely. It is also important though to perform mirror work. You
want to practice widening your eyes without raising your eyebrows in front of a
mirror. Take a minute every day for a week to work on this. Once you have the
coordination down you can work on it when you are not in front of a mirror. It
is important so it should become a part of your natural daily routines, and
part of your self-monitoring schemas.
Don’t Wince in
attention to your eyelids at night. Do not sleep through every night with your
eyelids squeezing together. This was very difficult for me at first because my
upper lids were very weak. If your upper lids are not strong enough to close
the eye on their own, they will flutter and fail, waiting for the lower lids to
tense up, raise and meet them. Thus, in order to close my eyes I had to squint.
Spend a few minutes trying to close your eyes without wincing and notice the
feeling of the upper lids fluttering involuntarily. Every night before sleep I
shut my eyes closed very tight, using only the upper lids. Doing this every
night for five minutes worked, they slowly became stronger over the course of a
few weeks. I believe that taping the lids closed can also help relax the lower
lid. Also pin your eyelids closed with your index and middle fingers and try to
open them while looking up, this strengthens the muscles responsible for the
I find that
looking up while facing forward helps this process. To try this, stare up
towards your eyebrows without actually raising your brows. I also think that
looking upward is good for the brain and breaks down negative implicit and
procedural memories. When you roll your eyes, you also look up and these two
things - both the cultural gesture and the neural reprogramming technique that
I am advocating – are related. We are often afraid to look up when we are
encountering an equal or a superior. It can be a sign of disdain or disregard.
This is why people roll their eyes when they feel that someone has demonstrated
a form of inferiority. It is a nonverbal statement that is saying: “I am too
good for that.” The fact that we rarely roll our eyes or look up in the
presence of others communicates to subcortical systems in the brain that our
environment might be intimidating and that we should not look up for fear of
reprimand or reprisal. Looking up, while alone, and in social situations
retunes different subconscious neurological systems The more you look up, the
more you disintegrate this unconscious fear system, and the more you break the
hold of the wincing facial posture. There are several other nonverbal gestures
that do this including: 1) standing erect, 2) holding your chin or nose high,
3) yawning in the presence of others, 4) breathing slowly and deeply around
others, 5) speaking slowly, 6) speaking in a low as opposed to a high voice, 7)
refraining from raising your eyebrows during conversation. Each of these things
can be threatening when combined with negative affect or negative statements.
These things are all very empowering and calming to others though when combined
with positive affect and positive statements.
began massaging the muscles around my eyes. Using a Brookstone vibrating
massager on my face I realized that there were small, penny sized sore spots –
one below each eye and one above each eye. At first, these were actually difficult
to massage because they were very painful. These are the tense muscles
responsible for my squinting during the day and my wincing during sleep.
The orbicularis oculi muscles are some of the tightest in the face and tension here makes us look old and tired. You should have four particularly sore spots around the eyes. One an inch below each eye from squinting and one an inch above each eye from raising your eyebrows. Massaging this area will help you to stop squinting. I bought a blue squash ball and worked on these for several weeks. The day after they feel especially sore but you can also feel the relief. Don’t skip a day just because the area is sore, work through the soreness. I would do circular motions putting between 3 and 10 pounds of pressure into my cheek bones. I had a small knot about an inch and a half below each eye and reliving myself of these was very freeing.
When a squash ball becomes too soft, slowly and carefully compress these with your knuckles or a baseball, it might take 6 months to work through them completely but I promise if you do it 5 minutes a day, 5 days a week, you will see significant weekly results. You will stop squinting so much and the bags under your eyes will disappear.
Most people have a crease that runs from the inside corner of the eye down diagonally toward the cheek. This crease is caused from perpetual squinting – tension in the lower portion of the orbicularis oculi muscle. People who squint more are more likely to have a more prominent crease here and more likely to have darker, discolored bags under the eyes. Compression can take this away completely.
Place the fingertips of your pointer fingers along the edge of your eye’s orbits, the bony ridge that encircles the eyes. If you place them along the lower ridge, just under the eye you should be able to feel painful strings of muscle. At first I thought that these were veins and I assumed that I should leave them alone. They are merely tense muscles and they will completely disappear if you compress them. Push down on them with your fingertips and squeeze them against the orbital bone. When they are gone your squint will disappear, and the skin under your eyes will become smooth and will lose its discoloration.
You also want to pay particular attention to the bony ridges of the corners of your eyes, otherwise known as your orbits. We hold a great deal of tension here, as if we were always on the verge of crying. Releasing this tension make you feel wide-eyed and happier. You can also place the section of the orbit associated with crows feet wrinkles between two of your second knuckles and press inward as you stroke up and down. It will feel painful at first but the pain here can be alleviated in as little as two weeks. Your crows feet will also diminish in size and depth as the muscle becomes healthy and circulation improves.
Spend Time in the
Most people wince and squint heavily in direct sunlight and many people do this
when they are merely out of doors. Spend some time in the daylight while trying
to keep from squinting. Phototherapy is a treatment for depression and anxiety,
and I believe that one of the main reasons it works is it teaches people to
squint less when exposed to bright lights. I think phototherapy would be more
effective if people tried to remain wide-eyed while exposed to the light
source. I personally was a vampire before - I constantly squinted in the light.
Now I can be out of doors with my eyes wide open.