We all know that stress wreaks havoc on our health. It can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and depression.
About 75% of adults say they regularly suffer from stress. One study found that 90% of doctor visits are stress related.1
Now, a fascinating new study has uncovered a strange but powerful way to get instant relief.
Scientists at the University of British Columbia recruited 96 opposite-sex couples for the study. The men were given a clean T-shirt to wear for 24 hours.
They were instructed to refrain from using deodorant and scented body products, and to not smoke. They also were asked to not eat spicy foods that could affect their scent.
The women were randomly assigned to smell a shirt that had been worn by their partner, a stranger, or was unworn. The researchers used women as the “smellers” because they tend to have a better sense of smell than men.
The women then were put in two stressful situations. They were given a mock job interview and asked to perform a difficult math task. Then they were asked to self-report their stress levels.
They also provided saliva samples so the researchers could measure their cortisol levels. Cortisol—the “stress hormone”—is produced in the adrenal gland in response to stress. Too much cortisol causes inflammation and the health problems associated with stress.
‘Powerful Tool to Help Reduce Stress’
The women who smelled their partner’s shirt reported less stress both before and after the stressful tasks. The subjects who smelled a stranger’s scent had higher levels of stress and cortisol. Smelling unworn shirts had no effect on stress.
Marlise Hofer is the study’s lead author. “Our findings suggest that a partner’s scent alone, even without their physical presence, can be a powerful tool to help reduce stress,” she said.2
“Many people wear their partner’s shirt or sleep on their partner’s side of the bed when their partner is away, but may not realize why they engage in these behaviors,” said Hofer.
As to the stressful response to a stranger’s shirt, the researchers suggested that evolutionary factors could trigger this response.
“From a young age, humans fear strangers, especially strange males, so it is possible that a strange male scent triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response that leads to elevated cortisol,” said Hofer. “This could happen without us being fully aware of it.”
The researchers said their findings hold practical implications for people coping with stress, especially when separated from loved ones.
Professor Frances Chen is the study’s senior author. “Our research suggests that something as simple as taking an article of clothing that was worn by your loved one could help lower stress levels,” she said.
The study was published recently in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Pleasant Scent Eases Anxiety
There’s another scent clinically proven to naturally reduce anxiety… It’s lavender.3
Having surgery is one of life’s most stressful situations. Researchers at United Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota, divided 150 pre-surgical patients into three groups.4
One was treated in a pre-op room scented with lavender essential oil. Another group was exposed to a jojoba oil scent. The third group was treated in an unscented room.
The lavender group had significantly lower levels of anxiety. The jojoba and unscented groups had no change in stress.
The next time you’re feeling stressed, try taking a whiff of lavender…or your partner’s shirt.