Stress Makes The World (Literally) Stink, And 5 Other Negative Effects Of Anxiety

By Philip Ross on September 27, 2013 4:12 PM EDT

stress smell
According to new research, stress rewires our brains and makes normally neutral odors offensive. (Photo: Flickr/jimwinstead)

Stress stinks, and we don't mean figuratively. According to a new study, stress and anxiety actually make the world around us smell less pleasant. The Independent reports that a team of psychologists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison examined how stress "re-wires" the brain, causing the channels in our head responsible for emotion and those that control olfactory processing to cross.

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Researchers led by Professor Wen Li used functional magnetic resonance imaging technology, or fMRI, to try and map the human sense of smell. They discovered that when people are stressed, normally neutral odors became offensive to them.

Li and colleagues showed 12 participants a series of photos that induced anxious feelings as they smelled familiar, neutral odors. The participants were then asked to rate how offensive the odors were before they were shown the images and after. According to researchers, there was a marked negative response to the smells after seeing the disturbing images when compared to before.

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

The findings of the study were published in the Journal of Neuroscience.  

Besides making the world around us a little stinkier, how else does stress affect the body? Here are five other negative effects anxiety has on us:

More than 60 percent of all human illness and disease is caused by some level of stress.
According to the American Medical Association, stress is today's number one proxy killer. It can lead to insomnia, emotional and behavioral problems, immune system dysfunction, ulcers, depression, strokes, heart disease, asthma, drug addiction and other harmful behaviors.

Stress even changes the very rhythm patterns of our hearts. A person experiencing positive emotions has a smooth, ordered heart pattern, "like rolling hills," the Institute of HeartMath notes. A nervous heart, on the other hand, has an erratic, jagged pattern.  

Stress clouds the mind and makes us dumber.
"Cortical inhibition" is the phenomenon that occurs when stress keeps us from functioning at our best. When we're not performing at our peak, we lose our cognitive sharpness, our emotionally calm, and our clarity becomes dulled.

Stress not only makes the world around us smell bad; it also changes our own body odor.
This doesn't happen to everyone, but some people notice a foul odor in the air when they're anxious. What's worse, research shows that we're even biologically programmed to smell under pressure.

Stress causes adrenaline and cortisol, the steroid hormone released during anxiety, to spike in the bloodstream. This raises your heartbeat and induces sweating, especially from your eccrine glands - the major sweat glands of the body - and your apocrine glands - those located in your pubic region and armpits.

Apocrine sweat is 20 percent proteins and fats. "If you were to put it in a glass it would look like coffee creamer," You Beauty notes. Bacteria living on our body go crazy for it, and end up feasting on it, creating a more-noxious-than-normal body odor.

Stress and anxiety, if not relieved, can lead to something called "distress."
Distress is a negative reaction to stress that leads to physical symptoms like headache, upset stomach, elevated blood pressure and chest pain.

Stress costs money.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration calls stress a "hazard of the workplace." They estimate that anxious workers cost American industry more than $300 billion annually.

Read more from iScience Times:

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Chemotherapy Brain Issues May Come From Stress, Not Drugs

Oprah Scare: Breast Cancer, OWN Ratings Cause Stress For Talk Show Host

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