Keep stress in check to keep stink at bay

By Shayna Brouker • Published: January 6th, 2014
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Stress stinks — literally. When a fast-approaching deadline or an overbearing boss makes your palms sweat, your armpits dampen and your forehead glisten, anxiety can amp up not only the sweat but your sensitivity to smells. A new study published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that otherwise neutral odors smell rancid when the sniffer is under high stress.

Scientists subjected the sniffers to disturbing pictures and then normal-smelling odors, which they described as foul. So it seems there’s a link between the parts of the brain that process smell and emotions. It’s why certain smells evoke such strong memories, like the perfume you wore on a first date. It could also divulge how stress creates a vicious cycle by heightening sensory awareness and making us more susceptible to changes in the environment.

It might sound strange, but there are some other weird ways stress affects your body. Dry-heaving or vomiting are signs of extreme stress. It’s important to get rest and rehydrate after such episodes. Tragic events can cause hair to fall out, a condition called telogen effluvium (TELL-uh-gen eh-FLU-vee-um), marked by up to 70 percent loss of hair. Hair usually grows back once the problem is resolved. Spikes in blood pressure caused by stress could spur nose bleeds, too.

Chronic stress exposes your brain’s hippocampus to cortisol, which in turn wears down your ability to remember things. Stress actually shrinks your thymus gland, which produces infection-fighting white blood cells. A healthy dose of endorphin-releasing exercise could help combat some of the effects of stress. Also, sipping on tea can help you keep calm.

Keep stress in check. After all, you’d rather smell roses, not rot.