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.

Wayfair’s Fourth of July Clearance Sale Takes Up to 60 Percent Off Grills and Outdoor Furniture


This Fourth of July, Wayfair is making sure you can turn your backyard into an oasis while keeping your bank account intact with a clearance sale that features savings of up to 60 percent on essentials like chairs, hammocks, games, and grills. Take a look at some of the highlights below.

Outdoor Furniture

Brisbane bench from Wayfair

- Jericho 9-Foot Market Umbrella $92 (Save 15 percent)
- Woodstock Patio Chairs (Set of Two) $310 (Save 54 percent)
- Brisbane Wooden Storage Bench $243 (Save 62 percent)
- Kordell Nine-Piece Rattan Sectional Seating Group with Cushions $1800 (Save 27 percent)
- Nelsonville 12-Piece Multiple Chairs Seating Group $1860 (Save 56 percent)
- Collingswood Three-Piece Seating Group with Cushions $410 (Save 33 percent)

Grills and Accessories

Dyna-Glo electric smoker.

- Spirit® II E-310 Gas Grill $479 (Save 17 percent)
- Portable Three-Burner Propane Gas Grill $104 (Save 20 percent)
- Digital Bluetooth Electric Smoker $224 (Save 25 percent)
- Cuisinart Grilling Tool Set $38 (Save 5 percent)

Outdoor games

American flag cornhole game.

- American Flag Cornhole Board $57 (Save 19 percent)
- Giant Four in a Row Game $30 (Save 6 percent)
- Giant Jenga Game $119 (Save 30 percent)

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How the Scientist Who Invented Ibuprofen Accidentally Discovered It Was Great for Hangovers

This man had too many dry martinis at a business lunch.
This man had too many dry martinis at a business lunch.
George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images

When British pharmacologist Stewart Adams and his colleague John Nicholson began tinkering with various drug compounds in the 1950s, they were hoping to come up with a cure for rheumatoid arthritis—something with the anti-inflammatory effects of aspirin, but without the risk of allergic reaction or internal bleeding.

Though they never exactly cured rheumatoid arthritis, they did succeed in developing a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that greatly reduced pain of all kinds. In 1966, they patented their creation, which was first known as 2-(4-isobutylphenyl) propionic acid and later renamed ibuprofen. While originally approved as a prescription drug in the UK, it soon became clear ibuprofen was safer and more effective than other pain relievers. It eventually hit the market as an over-the-counter medication.

During that time, Adams conducted one last impromptu experiment with the drug, which took place far outside the lab and involved only a single participant: himself.

In 1971, Adams arrived in Moscow to speak at a pharmacology conference and spent the night before his scheduled appearance tossing back shots of vodka at a reception with the other attendees. When he awoke the next morning, he was greeted with a hammering headache. So, as reports, Adams tossed back 600 milligrams of ibuprofen.

“That was testing the drug in anger, if you like,” Adams told The Telegraph in 2007. “But I hoped it really could work magic.”

As anyone who has ever been in that situation can probably predict, the ibuprofen did work magic on Adams’s hangover. After that, according to The Washington Post, the pharmaceutical company Adams worked for began promoting the drug as a general painkiller, and people started to stumble upon its use as a miracle hangover cure.

“It's funny now,” Adams told The Telegraph. “But over the years so many people have told me that ibuprofen really works for them, and did I know it was so good for hangovers? Of course, I had to admit I did.”