Most of us have a unique list of do’s and definitely do-not’s when it comes to dealing with stress.
Do take deep breaths. Do go for a walk. Do NOT chug coffee before that big job interview — wouldn’t want to risk those caffeinated jitters.
But have you tried sniffing your partner’s clothes? Researchers at the University of British Columbia suggest you may want to add this habit to your stress-busting arsenal.
The study, published Jan. 3 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, involved 96 opposite-sex couples, asking each male partner to don a clean t-shirt each for 24 hours.
Artificial scents, along with smoking and food that might alter a person’s smell were not allowed. Instead, researchers looked to steep the T-shirts in the natural scent of the male partner — before the garment was handed over to the female in the relationship.
The scientists opted to designate women as the recipients because of their well-documented sensitivity to scents.
For the same study, the women were given T-shirts that had been worn by complete strangers. And then they underwent a battery of stress tests — including math problems and a mock job interview, a math task, and also answer questions related to their stress levels.
Guess which shirts made the women feel a whole lot better about the world? Women who inhaled deeply of their partner’s T-shirt before the stressful exercise registered lower levels of cortisol, a hormone related to stress. What’s more, when the women knew the shirt belonged to their partner, cortisol levels dropped even more.
... but what about with someone you don't know?
And those shirts bearing the scent of a stranger? Researchers noted an increase in cortisol in the women’s blood. The foreign scent may have elicited a sense of "stranger-danger" in the women, spiking stress levels.
"From a young age, humans fear strangers, especially strange males, so it is possible that a strange male scent triggers the 'fight or flight' response that leads to elevated cortisol," the study’s lead author Marlise Hofer, noted in a statement. "This could happen without us being fully aware of it."
In other words, a whiff or two of something familiar and true (i.e. boyfriend) acts as a balm for the stressed-out soul — while the scent of a stranger has the opposite effect.
Maybe that’s why in times of stress, many of us instinctively hold tight to something that belongs to a loved one.
Or even just to get a good night’s sleep.
"Many people wear their partner’s shirt or sleep on their partner’s side of the bed when their partner is away, but may not realize why they engage in these behaviors," Hofer explained in the statement. "Our findings suggest that a partner’s scent alone, even without their physical presence, can be a powerful tool to help reduce stress."