Stress is an inevitable part of life that can profoundly impact social and emotional functioning, contributing to the development of psychiatric disease. One key component of emotion and social processing is facial expressions, which humans can readily detect and react to even without conscious awareness. Facial expressions have been the focus of philosophic and scientific interest for centuries. Historically, facial expressions have been relegated to peripheral indices of fixed emotion states. More recently, affective neuroscience has undergone a conceptual revolution, resulting in novel interpretations of these muscle movements. Here, we review the role of facial expressions according to the leading affective neuroscience theories, including constructed emotion and social-motivation accounts. We specifically highlight recent data (Mayo et al, 2018) demonstrating the way in which stress shapes facial expressions and how this is influenced by individual factors. In particular, we focus on the consequence of genetic variation within the endocannabinoid system, a neuromodulatory system implicated in stress and emotion, and its impact on stress-induced facial muscle activity. In a re-analysis of this dataset, we highlight how gender may also influence these processes, conceptualized as variation in the "fight-or-flight" or "tend-and-befriend" behavioral responses to stress. We speculate on how these interpretations may contribute to a broader understanding of facial expressions, discuss the potential use of facial expressions as a trans-diagnostic marker of psychiatric disease, and suggest future work necessary to resolve outstanding questions.