Stress Makes Things Stink

When you're stressed, it can feel like everything is terrible. According to a 2013 study in the Journal of Neuroscience, that includes smells. Psychology researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison put 14 people into fMRI brain scans, then showed them disturbing images and asked them to smell a series of scents they had previous rated as neutral. Sure enough, being under stress made them more likely to rate those innocuous smells as distasteful.

What's even more interesting is what happened on the brain scan. Usually, the brain's olfactory, or smell center, is wholly separate from the emotional center. Indeed, when the participants smelled the neutral scents, only their olfactory centers were activated. But once they were stressed, something strange happened: instead of the olfactory and emotional centers activating separately, they essentially merged, creating a "unified network" of an emotionally charged sense of smell. This shows scientists how anxiety can produce a feedback loop, since anxiety can cause our senses to become negative, which in turn can cause more anxiety. That's an important step in our understanding of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Learn more about how stress affects you in the videos below.

How Stress Makes Things Smell Bad

Investigate the influence that anxiety has on your sense of smell.

Why Stress Is Good For You

In small doses, at least.

Key Facts In This Video

  1. Over time, stress can raise your blood pressure, clog your arteries, and make you prone to anxiety, depression, and addiction. 00:16

  2. Cortisol is also known as the stress hormone. 01:10

  3. Ironically, you need stress in order to fight stress. 01:37

Can Stress Kill You?

It feels that way sometimes, but is it possible?

Key Facts In This Video

  1. Humans have difficulty with blocking stress hormones and can become overwhelmed. 00:27

  2. Brain cells are heavily affected by stress, including a decrease in cell size. 01:37

  3. Stress can accelerate the shortening of telomeres, effectively speeding up the aging process. 01:59

Written by Curiosity Staff October 3, 2016

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