SENSITIVITY TO PARTICULAR ODORS correlates with depression or anxiety symptoms.
That’s the conclusion of researchers who examined more than 400 subjects. Anxiety symptoms appeared associated with a heightened sensitivity to floral or kitchen smells.
Depression seemed linked to an increased awareness of social odors (for example, the “good” and “bad” smells of other individuals.
While historical studies have demonstrated a strong connection between reduced odor detection and depression symptoms, there is less evidence linking smell sensitivity and anxiety.
Odor sensitivity, anxiety, and depression
Researchers in Paua (Italy) studied 429 healthy subjects aged 18 to 45 years. They recruited the study subjects through social media, enrolling a group consisting primarily of women (77 percent).
The researchers had an age cut-off of 45, given our olfactory perceptions begin a decline at that time.
The study group completed psychological questionnaires that targeted anxiety (including social anxiety) and depression.
They also completed questionnaires focusing on odor perceptions for food, people, places, and things. One questionnaire examined the ability to form olfactory images (such as garden fragrances) and social odors (for example, the smell of sweat in everyday interactions).
Publishing online in the Journal of Affective Disorders, the Italian researchers discovered:
General anxiety symptoms were a significant predictor of higher levels of awareness of common odors.
Perhaps surprisingly, individuals with social anxiety symptoms reported less attention to social odors. Depressive symptoms predicted a higher social odor awareness and lower affective responses to odors. Female respondents appeared more attentive to (and aware of) odors than men.
Odor sensitivity: My take
The study has some limitations. Young women composed the vast majority of the study, and we know that olfactory sensitivity is associated with time during a menstrual cycle. The researchers did not control for this.
Also, the subjects self-reported smell awareness. I think it would be more valuable to have individuals smell researcher-controlled substances.
Someday we may have enough evidence of the smell: anxiety connection to include olfactory sensitivity in screening tools.