Smell You Later: How Comfort Smelling Can Relieve Quarantine-Related Stress

vadimguzhva/iStocck via Getty Images
vadimguzhva/iStocck via Getty Images

Your weeks of home quarantine, with all the excitement that FaceTime cocktail hours and Zoom yoga classes have to offer, may be making your life feel increasingly lonely and confusing. But your nose knows a good way to beat those blues: comfort smelling.

If you’ve been meeting your romantic partner, parents, children, or BFF online, and not getting the bang for your buck that you want from these encounters, your nose can help. The best way to conjure a loved one you can’t be with is to smell something they wore; sniff a scent connected to them, like their distinctive shampoo or fragrance; or cook their signature dish.

Several studies have shown that smelling the clothes worn by an absent loved one makes us happy and soothes our loneliness, and that the foods associated with specific relationships, like your mom's blueberry pie or your boyfriend’s barbecue, can act as social surrogates—an emotional stand-in for the real thing. They elicit a sense of social and emotional connectedness. If you have an unwashed sweater left by your person of interest in your closet, bring it to your nostrils and inhale. You'll be greeted by a wave of emotional memory and a sense that the person is right there with you.

If you don’t have any scents or ingredients on hand to conjure the person you're missing, try smelling a scent that's personally meaningful. Make a mental tally of joyful scents that are accessible in your home— you don’t want to put yourself at any extra risk right now by going out to purchase something. How about the soap you swiped from the hotel on your honeymoon? Or a jar of cinnamon or cloves to evoke holiday memories? Or a favorite old book whose pages remind you of whiling away the hours in libraries? When you have the item in front of you, breathe in, and you'll be transported by emotion, memory, and nostalgia. This “aromatherapy” works only because you have past emotional associations with the scent you're smelling.

Why Scent is So Powerful.

How can scents trigger such powerful feelings and memories? It comes down to the uniquely intimate connection between the area of the brain that processes smell and those that process emotion and emotional memory—especially the amygdala, a key structure of the brain's limbic system that governs our emotional responses. When we smell something good, we have an instant emotional reaction to the memories the scent evokes, and that can make us feel calmer and more content. Ironically, loss of smell is now a diagnostic symptom of COVID-19, making the power of smell even more poignant.

It is possible to overindulge in comfort smelling with the same scent, however. Whether you’re summoning your partner through their T-shirt or slipping into a peaceful reverie with your favorite fragrance, dip into that scent a few times per day at most. Otherwise, you'll adapt to that odor and become inured to it over time. When the scent loses its aromatic potency, it won't trigger the emotional connections you seek. So, ration your comfort smelling to the days when you need it most, or rotate between various scents to evoke an assortment of emotional connections. For example, the next time you have a Zoom-based rendezvous with a loved one, have the scent of that person near you. You’ll be able to see, hear, smell and feel them all at once.

No matter how you do it, comfort smelling will alleviate stress—at least temporarily—and can help you endure some of the worry, loneliness, and frustrations of life in quarantine. So if you can’t join them, smell them.

Rachel Herz, Ph.D. is a neuroscientist and leading world expert on the psychological science of scent. She is on the faculty at Brown University and Boston College, and the author of several popular science books, including The Scent of Desire and Why You Eat What You Eat.

Take Advantage of Amazon's Early Black Friday Deals on Tech, Kitchen Appliances, and More

Amazon
Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Even though Black Friday is still a few days away, Amazon is offering early deals on kitchen appliances, tech, video games, and plenty more. We will keep updating this page as sales come in, but for now, here are the best Amazon Black Friday sales to check out.

Kitchen

Instant Pot/Amazon

- Instant Pot Duo Plus 9-in-115 Quart Electric Pressure Cooker; $90 (save $40) 

- Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Signature Sauteuse 3.5 Quarts; $180 (save $120)

- KitchenAid KSMSFTA Sifter with Scale Attachment; $95 (save $75) 

- Keurig K-Mini Coffee Maker; $60 (save $20)

- Cuisinart Bread Maker; $88 (save $97)

- Anova Culinary Sous Vide Precision Cooker; $139 (save $60)

- Aicook Juicer Machine; $35 (save $15)

- JoyJolt Double Wall Insulated Espresso Mugs - Set of Two; $14 (save $10) 

- Longzon Silicone Stretch Lids - Set of 14; $13 (save $14)

HadinEEon Milk Frother; $37 (save $33)

Home Appliances

Roomba/Amazon

- iRobot Roomba 675 Robot Vacuum with Wi-Fi Connectivity; $179 (save $101)

- Fairywill Electric Toothbrush with Four Brush Heads; $19 (save $9)

- ASAKUKI 500ml Premium Essential Oil Diffuser; $22 (save $4)

- Facebook Portal Smart Video Calling 10 inch Touch Screen Display with Alexa; $129 (save $50)

- Bissell air320 Smart Air Purifier with HEPA and Carbon Filters; $280 (save $50)

Oscillating Quiet Cooling Fan Tower; $59 (save $31) 

TaoTronics PTC 1500W Fast Quiet Heating Ceramic Tower; $55 (save $10)

Vitamix 068051 FoodCycler 2 Liter Capacity; $300 (save $100)

AmazonBasics 8-Sheet Home Office Shredder; $33 (save $7)

Ring Video Doorbell; $70 (save $30) 

Video games

Nintendo

- Legend of Zelda Link's Awakening for Nintendo Switch; $40 (save $20)

- Marvel's Spider-Man: Game of The Year Edition for PlayStation 4; $20 (save $20)

- Marvel's Avengers; $27 (save $33)

- Minecraft Dungeons Hero Edition for Nintendo Switch; $20 (save $10)

- The Last of Us Part II for PlayStation 4; $30 (save $30)

- LEGO Harry Potter: Collection; $15 (save $15)

- Ghost of Tsushima; $40 (save $20)

BioShock: The Collection; $20 (save $30)

The Sims 4; $20 (save $20)

God of War for PlayStation 4; $10 (save $10)

Days Gone for PlayStation 4; $20 (save $6)

Luigi's Mansion 3 for Nintendo Switch; $40 (save $20)

Computers and tablets

Microsoft/Amazon

- Apple MacBook Air 13 inches with 256 GB; $899 (save $100)

- New Apple MacBook Pro 16 inches with 512 GB; $2149 (save $250) 

- Samsung Chromebook 4 Chrome OS 11.6 inches with 32 GB; $210 (save $20) 

- Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 with 13.5 inch Touch-Screen; $1200 (save $400)

- Lenovo ThinkPad T490 Laptop; $889 (save $111)

- Amazon Fire HD 10 Tablet (64GB); $120 (save $70)

- Amazon Fire HD 10 Kids Edition Tablet (32 GB); $130 (save $70)

- Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8 inches with 32 GB; $100 (save $50)

Apple iPad Mini (64 GB); $379 (save $20)

- Apple iMac 27 inches with 256 GB; $1649 (save $150)

- Vankyo MatrixPad S2 Tablet; $120 (save $10)

Tech, gadgets, and TVs

Apple/Amazon

- Apple Watch Series 3 with GPS; $179 (save $20) 

- SAMSUNG 75-inch Class Crystal 4K Smart TV; $998 (save $200)

- Apple AirPods Pro; $199 (save $50)

- Nixplay 2K Smart Digital Picture Frame 9.7 Inch Silver; $238 (save $92)

- All-New Amazon Echo Dot with Clock and Alexa (4th Gen); $39 (save $21)

- MACTREM LED Ring Light 6" with Tripod Stand; $16 (save $3)

- Anker Soundcore Upgraded Bluetooth Speaker; $22 (save $8)

- Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote; $28 (save $12)

Canon EOS M50 Mirrorless Camera with EF-M 15-45mm Lens; $549 (save $100)

DR. J Professional HI-04 Mini Projector; $93 (save $37)

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!

The Great Tryptophan Lie: Eating Turkey Does Not Make You Tired

H. Armstrong Roberts/iStock via Getty Images
H. Armstrong Roberts/iStock via Getty Images

While you’re battling your kids for the best napping spot after Thanksgiving dinner, feel free to use this as a diversion tactic: It’s a myth that eating turkey makes you tired.

It’s true that turkey contains L-Tryptophan, an amino acid involved in sleep. Your body uses it to produce a B vitamin called niacin, which generates the neurotransmitter serotonin, which yields the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate your sleeping patterns. However, plenty of other common foods contain comparable levels of tryptophan, including other poultry, meat, cheese, yogurt, fish, and eggs.

Furthermore, in order for tryptophan to produce serotonin in your brain, it first has to make it across the blood-brain barrier, which many other amino acids are also trying to do. To give tryptophan a leg up in the competition, it needs the help of carbohydrates. Registered dietitian Elizabeth Somer told WebMD that the best way to boost serotonin is to eat a small, all-carbohydrate snack a little while after you’ve eaten something that contains tryptophan, and the carbs will help ferry the tryptophan from your bloodstream to your brain.

But Thanksgiving isn’t exactly about eating small, well-timed snacks. It’s more about heaps of mashed potatoes, mountains of stuffing, and generous globs of gravy—and that, along with alcohol, is more likely the reason you collapse into a spectacular food coma after your meal. Overeating (especially of foods high in fat) means your body has to work extra hard to digest everything. To get the job done, it redirects blood to the digestive system, leaving little energy for anything else. And since alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, it also slows down your brain and other organs.

In short, you can still hold turkey responsible for your Thanksgiving exhaustion, but you should make sure it knows it can share the blame with the mac and cheese, spiked apple cider, and that second piece of pumpkin pie.

[h/t WebMD]