Ever found yourself sniffing your partner’s clothing when they are away? Well, doing so can help reduce stress levels and feeling of loneliness and anxiety, according to a study conducted by the University of British Columbia.
Metrolife spoke to a few experts to understand how this works and if it can help one get over a broken relationship sooner.
Dr Sulata Shenoy, psychologist and director, Turning Point, says that sense of smell is one of the most powerful emotional bonding.
“Studies have shown that human beings literally sniff out their potential partners (not consciously). We are drawn to people with certain genetic compositions which are compatible with one’s own,” she adds.
Smell triggers strong memories, so partners like to keep or sniff clothing which still has their smell to get over loneliness.
Sulata says, “It has also been hypothesised that when one falls out of love, the sense of smell may alter from attraction to aversion or indifference.”
Does it have any negative implications? She answers, “It could, but smell is not the only defining factor. It’s one among the highly complex neurological processes in human interactions.”
She further adds, “After a break up one tends to look for people with a similar smell, which is fine because it’s just a genetic predisposition.”
One can let go their ex by disposing of all memories of the person like messages, photographs, as well as personal items like clothing and accessories that give out their partner’s smell.
Suhita Saha, clinical psychologist, MindfulTMS Neurocare, says that the smell of an individual’s partner’s sweat or scent can prove to be therapeutic even in their physical absence. It makes one feel calmer and reduces the level of the stress hormone cortisol.
“Odours usually influences mood, it can remind a person of influential experiences of preference or disapproval. It can produce attentiveness or relaxation and reduce long-forgotten emotional memories known as olfactory memories,” she says.
She explains that often these effects reflect the dependence of olfaction on parts of the brain involved; amygdala for emotions and hippocampus for memory.
“Sniffing the other person’s item of clothing can evoke the pleasant memories which then can lead to the reduction in the perceived stress level, as memory and emotions are interconnected,” she adds.
However, the reverse may happen if a person is too attached to their partner’s body smell. Suhita notes that they would not want to move on in life even if that person leaves and would like to stick to their memories as they would feel the presence through their clothes.
Bhupendra Chaudhry, consultant psychiatrist, Manipal Hospitals, says that one can feel a sense of relief not only through sniffing but also via other senses like touch and feel.
“The more the number of sense organs involved, one is likely to go through more emotional satisfaction and relief,” he asserts.
However, it is very subjective in nature. Whether smelling a piece of clothing can reduce stress level or trigger negative memories depend on the quality of the relationship the two individuals had.
“It is a natural tendency to long for someone when they are gone. Though we all tend to remember good memories, it entirely depends on the situation. If a person is not retrievable, the other person can face distress - unable to cope with the loss,” he explains.
Bhupendra suggests that it is not a welcoming idea to keep remembering someone who will not come back because it stops us from moving forward.
Kala Balasubramanian, counselling psychologist and psychotherapist, Inner Dawn Counselling, says, “It is important to contextualise the whole thing. If a relationship is great, and there are more positive memories then their partner’s smell is associated with safety and protection. However, if a person was in an abusive relationship, smelling their partner’s clothes can make one even more anxious and scared.”
On the other hand, if one wants to move on from a breakup, it is advisable to cut off completely from your partner after a breakup, but she says that one needs to take their own time to get over it.
“A loss of relationship is also a significant loss to self. Hence, there is a need for grieving to happen before moving on so that you don’t carry any baggage in future relationships,” says Kala.
It is important to experience the emotions of losing relationships or dreams or hopes fully; they shouldn’t be suppressed.
From that perspective, she says that olfactory cues can help one move on effectively.