Study Shows That Anxiety Interfers with Odour Processing & Perception

Have you ever noticed that when you're under a lot of stress, particularly following a trauma, certain scents just don't seem to smell as sweet; you can't wear your favourite perfumes anymore; and just about anything pertaining to the sense of smell seems to be unbearable and overpowering?
There might be, finally, a scientific explanation for that.

"... researchers using powerful new brain imaging technologies are peeling back some of the mystery, revealing how anxiety or stress can rewire the brain, linking centers of emotion and olfactory processing, to make typically benign smells malodorous".  

Anxiety interferes with the process of olfactory perceptions and their functions:

"In typical odor processing, it is usually just the olfactory system that gets activated" says professor Wen Li "But when a person becomes anxious, the emotional system becomes part of the olfactory processing stream".

Moreover, continuous exposure to ambient smells while anxious reinforces it, as the person quickly associates the smells with anxiety, and might re-live the anxious feelings simply because of exposure to the ambient odours present at the time the anxiety was triggered.

"We encounter anxiety and as a result we experience the world more negatively. The environment smells bad in the context of anxiety. It can become a vicious cycle, making one more susceptible to a clinical state of anxiety as the effects accumulate. It can potentially lead to a higher level of emotional disturbances with rising ambient sensory stress."

Read the rest of the article "A Shot of Anxiety and the World Stinks: How Stress Can Rewire Brain, Making Benign Smells Malodorous" on Science Daily.

Skiing, Scent and Confidence

Read the inspiring story of Michelle Roark, the 2009 U.S. freestyle skiing champion, in "Can Perfume Make You A Winner" on the Wall Street Journal. Faced with financial challenges since her young beginning as a figure skater, Roark never gave in and found creative ways for supporting her passion and making her dreams come true. Now she's working on a line of fragrances to inspire emotions - Confidence, Focus, Balance, Adventure and Imagination. Confidence was created especially for her competitions, and includes natural essential oils of rose and grapefruit.
"I had no idea what it smelled like to ski well," she said.

What to Wear on a Break-Up?

Dark Spring, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

Dear Ayala,

Me and my boyfriend of the past 4 years just broke up. In those last four years not only did I spend the best of my time with him (we lived together), I also became an avid perfume collector. There is not one single perfume in my collection that does not remind me of something we did together and become flooded with emotions or tears. I’m overwhelmed!
What should I wear that will not spoil the perfume for me now that I am so sad and emotional? Should I get a new perfume or stick with the old ones?


Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered

Dear BB&B,

I am so sorry to hear of your loss, and it must be so difficult in Spring, the most romantic and cheerful seasons of them all... Many of us experience the end of a relationship almost as tragic as death. It is indeed an end to a part of our life and ourselves that will never be the same again. But remember, when one door closes, another one opens. May this be a new beginning and an opportunity to learn something new and exciting about yourself and discover new strengths within yourself.

As far as perfume goes, the answer to your question is quite complex. Unfortunately, there is no one right way to overcome the challenges that the strong association between memories, emotions and scent evokes. Here are a few ideas, and with a little experimentation, you will find the right thing for this difficult time in your life. Each solution has an advantage and also presents a challenge. I will point out each side of the coin and this way you will be able to make an informed decision based on what you think will work best for you.

1) Wear nothing!
When I am sick or particularly troubled, I tend to shy away from fragrances. The reason: I don’t want to spoil a scent for myself. Besides, I don’t feel like it. This is perhaps the most safe way to cope with the break up olfactory-wise, because this way you are sure to not associate a perfume with the tragic event.
The challenge: While in this approach you are controlling the association between a fragrance and an emotional state and unpleasant memories, you cannot guarantee that there won’t be fragrance associations imposed on you from the environment. For instance: if you move out to a new neighbourhood, and your neighbour or roommate cooks with cilantro every evening, you may associate the scent of cilantro with the break up later on, after this period is over and you can look back on it.

2) Start afresh!
If all of the scents in your perfume wardrobe stir intense memories of the loved and lost one, you may want to try something new. There is an advantage and a disadvantage to doing is: by starting something new, you will be able to remove any fragrance association from your favourite scents and therefore it is more likely that you will be able to come back to them when you are feeling more stable again.
The challenge: you will most likely create an association within yourself between the break up and a particular fragrance. Keep in mind that you may not be able to wear this particular fragrance later on without associating it with the break up.

3) Harp on those strings, rub your wounds with salt
For some of us, coping with loss and pain means experiencing it to its fullest. If you are like this, you may want to come closer to the scents that remind you of your loss most of all – the scent of your partner’s sweater, his/her favourite soap or shampoo, the special perfume you used to wear for him/her… Burry your nose in those smells and let the tears wash your face and lift the pain from your heart.

4) Stick with your favoruites…
When we feel insecure, uncertain, anxious or sad, sometimes what we need best is just a little bit of comfort; be it the cozy familiar bed, comfort foods, or a long relaxing bubble bath – we all have those little things we can treat ourselves to when we need extra moral support (and even more so when there is no one around anymore…). If you have a comfort scent, you may find it to be your best friend in this situation. A scent that you’ve always came back to before for a sense of familiarity, comfort and well-being. It might be a simple as amber or musk, or a powdery vanillic floral– whichever makes you feel better.

5) And to make matter worse…
If you have a scent you particularly dislike, perhaps a scent that makes you particularly moody or melancholic - you may find yourself drawn to it now. This can be another way to put into good use a scent you don’t normally wear. Perhaps a process of catharsis will occur and shed a new light on your view of the scent (and your situation).

I am sending you a big hug, and hope this will make you feel better and less lonely. Sometimes, when you are in an unhealthy relationship you don’t even have yourself as company, and that is the most profound form of loneliness… Remember, as long as you have yourself, you are not lonely, just alone.

Sincerely yours,


P.s. Care to share your painful/cathartic experience with which scents you worn in a crisis situation and why? Open your heart and enter to win a miniature of my ultimate comfort scent, Cabaret.

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