Anxiety Stinks (Really)

Scientists have long wondered where exactly smells come from, in the brain, and how they "exert their influence biologically on the emotional centers of the human brain, evoking passion or disgust, has been a black box."

But a new study has revealed how they've peeled back the brain to show how "anxiety or stress can rewire the brain, linking centers of emotion and olfactory processing, to make typically benign smells malodorous," according to

A team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Waisman Center has found that the brains of human subjects "experience anxiety induced by disturbing pictures and text of things like car crashes and war transform neutral odors to distasteful ones, fueling a feedback loop that could heighten distress and lead to clinical issues like anxiety and depression," newswise reports, and this may help scientists "understand the dynamic nature of smell perception and the biology of anxiety as the brain rewires itself under stressful circumstances and reinforces negative sensations and feelings."

“In typical odor processing, it is usually just the olfactory system that gets activated,” quotes Wen Li, a professor of psychology at the university who led the study. “But when a person becomes anxious, the emotional system becomes part of the olfactory processing stream.”

So anxiety stinks?

The results have begun to uncover the biological mechanisms at play during periods of anxiety, which may help usher in new treatment for anxiety and depression. “We encounter anxiety and as a result we experience the world more negatively," Li told "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.”

Great.  You get anxious, something starts to smell and you get even more stressed out.  Did we really need to know this?!


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