If you've ever had an urge to smell your partner's clothes or sleep on their side of the bed when they're away, but can't quite figure out why, you may finally have an answer. New research from the University of British Columbia found that the smell of your partner, even when they're not present, is linked to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. So the urge to smell your partner's things may be your body's way of helping you deal with stress.
How did they discover the effect smell can have? Well, they got back to basics by having participants smell their partner's t-shirts. Basically, the research consisted of 96 heterosexual couples where the men wore a t-shirt for 24 hours and the women, because women normally have a better sense of smell, were given a t-shirt with no scent and one with either their partner's scent or the smell of a total stranger. Then, you guessed it, they smelled the crap out of those shirts. The women were then given a mock job interview and a mental math task to raise their stress levels. The researchers found that women who had been given their partner's shirt, rather than a stranger's, had lower cortisol levels.
Interestingly, women who recognized the smell as their partner's had a larger drop in stress levels, showing that if you are aware you're smelling your partner's scent there may be greater benefits. But smelling a stranger's shirt was actually linked to higher stress levels than smelling no one's scent at all.
"When we started the study, we hypothesized that the scent of a partner would reduce stress," lead study author Marlise Hofer, a graduate student in the UBC Department of Psychology, tells Bustle. "We found evidence for this original hypothesis. In addition, we found that the scent of a stranger led to increased cortisol levels. This second finding was unanticipated and we are excited to follow up on it in our future work."
"Wearing a scarf or smelling an article of clothing worn by a loved one may help people cope with stressful situations when they are separated from loved ones."
Hofer believes that this research could already have some positive real-world consequences. "With globalization, there are often times when people must travel or move for their work," she says. "Our research suggests that something as simple wearing a scarf or smelling an article of clothing worn by a loved one may help people cope with stressful situations when they are separated from loved ones."
So it makes sense that smelling a stranger could make us feel more stressed out, but if you're struggling to calm down, there's no need to feel bashful about smelling your partner's pillow or picking up some dirty laundry. Thanks to this study, there's solid evidence that shows you are not alone.
But What If You're Single?
So the fact that something as simple as your partner's smell can have an effect on your stress levels is great news for anyone in a relationship, but what about single people? Don't worry, there are still plenty of simple ways for you to reduce your stress levels that have nothing to do with a partner. And it can be as simple as taking a breath. "Take deep, cleansing breaths. They're very effective, always available, and free!" Jodi Aman, a psychotherapist with over 20 years of experience and the author of You 1 Anxiety 0, who works on stress management with a lot of her patients, tells Bustle. "[Deep breaths] are effective because they work on a physiological and mental level, settling your nervous system." Even if smell is more your thing, don't worry — there are plenty of essential oils out there that can work wonders. And there's no t-shirt or sweat necessary.
Our body tackles stress in a lot of complicated ways, but knowing what works for your body can be a huge help if you're an anxious person. Luckily, smell is an easy way we can help control our stress levels — all you need is a little dirty laundry.