Sweat does more than stink: sniffing body odour helps relieve social anxiety

Although sweating can be a result of feeling really nervous or anxious, new research has found smelling other people’s sweat can help treat social anxiety.  

Published yesterday, Swedish researchers have found that people who suffer with social anxiety can help relieve their symptoms by sniffing other people’s body odour whilst engaging in more traditional mindfulness therapies. 

person's eyes looking on left side

To gather data, armpit sweat was taken from volunteers who watched either happy or scary film clips – including Mr Bean’s Holiday, Sister Act and The Grudge. The study involved 48 women who suffered from social anxiety, some of whom were exposed to clean air and others to body odour.

Experts revealed the women who completed a mindfulness session while exposed to the sweat saw a 39% reduction in social anxiety, while without body odour there was a 17% reduction in anxiety scores.

Researchers claim there is something about human sweat that affects the response to treatment, however, more work is said to be needed on the matter to confirm the link.

Whilst conducting the study, experts thought that there might be different effects on treating social anxiety with the sweat produced from watching the different genres of film, but the effect was the same.

Lead Researchers of the study, Ms Elisa Vigna, of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, said: ‘Sweat produced while someone was happy had the same effect as someone who had been scared by a movie clip. So there may be something about human chemo-signals in sweat generally which affects the response to the treatment.

‘It may be that simply being exposed to the presence of someone else has this effect, but we need to confirm this, In fact, that is what we are testing now in a follow-up study with a similar design, but where we are also including sweat from individuals watching emotional neutral documentaries.’

Social anxiety is a mental health condition where people worry excessively about social situations. According to the NHS website there are currently a number of treatments available for the condition, including cognitive behavioural therapy, guided self-help and antidepressant medicines.

The number of people who now suffering with the disorder has also hugely increased as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Last year, the World Health Organisation reported a 25% increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression, particularly in young people.

Image: Hans Reniers


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