Just a whiff of your romantic partner can help you get your zen back on stressful days, new research shows.
Women had lower stress levels – even after being put through activities designed to make them more anxious – when they had smelled a shirt their partners had worn.
The scent of a stranger, on the other hand, seemed to make women more stressed.
As long distance relationships become more and more common, the University of British Columbia researchers’ findings may offer a helpful tip for keeping calm even when life keeps couples apart.
About three percent of married couples in the US reported that they were in long distance relationships in 2007.
‘With globalization, people are increasingly traveling for work and moving to new cities,’ said senior study author Frances Chen.
‘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 when you’re far from home,’ she added.
Her study isn’t the first to suggest that feelings of calm are not just in our heads.
Previous work has shown that rats have lower levels of a stress hormone, called cortisol, when they are around a familiar rat.
But, when the researchers kept the rats from smelling each other, the calming effect disappeared with their scents.
Humans work similarly: babies are calmer after smelling their mothers’ milk, and strangers’ smells are more potent and more repulsive to us.
And, pheromones, of course, play an important role in our (literal) chemistry with a prospective romantic interest.
But the new study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, shows that smell is part of more than the initial attraction, but the overall sense of safety – at least for women in heterosexual relationships.
The researchers chose to only examine the effects of a male partner’s scent on a woman’s stress levels because of their superior sense of smell.
Scientists have discovered in recent years that women have as much as 50 percent more olfactory – or scent-sensing – cells in their brains than men do.
Incidentally, men also ‘produce more scent’ than women do, said study co-author Marlise Hofer.
So, the researchers figured that if the smell of a shirt was going to have an effect on any one group, it would be most clear in women.
They recruited 96 straight couples, and randomly assigned one third of them to smell an unworn shirt, one third to smell a stranger’s shirt, and one third to smell a shirt that their romantic partner had worn.
But collecting the data was surprisingly difficult, according to Hofer, a graduate student in University of British Columbia’s school of social psychology.
To make sure levels of stress, scent and sensitivity to stress were consistent, she and her team had to make sure that all of the women were at the same point in their menstrual cycles.
The men involved were given plain white t-shirts that they had to wear for 24 hours, including to bed for a night, apart form their partner, and had to spend two days without deodorant.
‘Sometimes people would break up during the study, and then we couldn’t use their data,’ said Hofer.
But in the end, they achieved a ‘pleasant level of body odor,’ said Hofer.
After smelling their assigned shirts, the women had to do stressful activities, including a mock job interview.
The research team then measured their cortisol levels and questioned them about how they were feeling.
The women that had gotten to smell their partners’ shirts, and correctly guessed the scent, were calmer going into the activities, and their cortisol levels returned to normal more quickly, indicating that they coped with stress better.
The only problem was that ‘the women weren’t that good at’ guessing their significant others’ scents.
About two thirds knew that they knew the smell on the shirts, while a third thought they had some stranger’s shirt.
But for women that knew that they had had a brief smell-exposure to their partners had a ‘statistically significant’ benefit.
‘Scent is not a very widely studied mod of communication,’ said Hofer, but, especially if extended to parents and children, the findings ‘could have really strong implications for separation anxiety.’
‘And it might explain the boyfriend sweater phenomenon,’ she added.
Six foods that make you smell and act sexier
Celery: A number of studies have found that eating celery can actually increase the pheromone levels in a man’s sweat, making him more attractive to women.
Avocados: This fruit contains vitamin B6, a nutrient that increases male hormone production, and potassium which helps regulate a woman’s thyroid gland, two elements that help get both men and women in the mood.
Goji berries: Believed to be a strong sexual stimulant, as goji berries increase testosterone levels which stimulates libido in both men and women, in part by intensifying body odors. They also improve overall stamina, mood and wellbeing, all of which are vital components for an exciting sex life.
Dark chocolate: A little of the sweet treat increases the feel-good hormones serotonin and dopamine, helping to lower stress levels and promote relaxation.
Figs: These are said to stimulate fertility and the secretion of pheromones.
Bee pollen: Not only is bee pollen great for sex drive, it also gives you a boost of confidence, sustainable energy, increases your endurance, relieves stress, and enhances your immunity. It also has a huge effect on sperm count and is even believed to increase fertility.