One of the main problems with the physical symptoms of anxiety is that many of them cause further anxiety. That's why so many people with anxiety struggle to cure it on their own - because their symptoms create even more anxiety than they had without it.
A great example of this is the way anxiety can affect body odor. It doesn't happen to everyone, but some people find that their body odor appears to significantly change when they have anxiety, to a degree that they become more anxious in social situations.
Is Anxiety Causing Body Odor?
Are you smelling your anxiety on your body, or is your anxiety making you more attune to the way that you smell? Anxiety changes hormones, creates sweat, weakens immune system, and more, all of which can lead to body odor.
Our free 7 minute anxiety test can help you score your anxiety symptoms and help you learn more about the anxiety/body link, so start the test today to learn more about your symptoms.
The Way Body Odor and Anxiety Relate
Body odor isn't directly tied in to anxiety. It's more of a secondary effect. The way that you experience anxiety changes the way your body handles odors and bacteria, which ultimately affects the way your body smells. It's why you need to take my free 7 minute anxiety test now to get an understanding of which symptoms of yours are causing this smell.
Because anxiety doesn't simply create body odor out of the blue, the key to understanding BO and anxiety is to understand the issues that may contribute to the creation of body odor. These include, but are not limited to:
You'll first need to acknowledge the elephant in the room - sweating. Anxiety nearly always causes excess sweating.
Before you say to yourself that you don't notice yourself sweating more so it must not be true, the reality is that nearly everyone sweats more when they have anxiety or during anxiety attacks. It's possible to not feel yourself sweat more because the difference is minute, but often it's there in imperceptible ways.
And when you sweat more, you smell more - even when you're not sweating. Sweat creates an environment that is more prone to bacteria overgrowth. So if you sweat more by just a little bit, you make it more likely that bacteria will grow on your body, and body odor is a result.
One issue that may contribute to body odor is the way that your diet changes as a result of your anxiety. This issue has not been extensively studied, but some believe that anxiety affects both what you eat and how it's digested. If true:
- The foods you used to love may be creating more of a scent on your body, which could contribute to body odor.
- The dietary changes you have done as a result of your anxiety may make you smell different as well. There's no way to know exactly how, but eliminating some of the foods could help you figure out if any one of them have created more body odor.
It's not entirely clear if dietary changes have an effect on body odor, but it's an interesting theory and one that could possibly lead to your current body odor symptoms.
Sensitivity to Smells
Another important issue to ask yourself is whether or not your body odor actually changed, or if perhaps you have become more sensitive to smells.
It's important to remember that most people cannot smell their own body odor. The nose adjusts to scents in order to reduce the impact that these scents have on recognizing future scents. That's why if you own a dog, you are often unaware that your entire home smells like dog.
But anxiety makes people more sensitive to very small changes in the senses, and smells are no exception. It's possible that you've become more sensitive to your own smell, or more cognizant of your own smell, in a way that wasn't true previously. Anxiety does make people notice things they deem as negative more often, so if you had any smell in the past that your nose used to ignore, it may not ignore it as easily once you have anxiety.
Halitosis, Gas, and Secondary Scents
Also, what you may see as body odor may be some other type of smell. Bad breath (halitosis) is a common problem in people with anxiety for a variety of reasons, including more mouth breathing and acid reflux as a result of anxiety. Flatulence is also more common, and there may be other issues that contribute to smells that are not technically body odor, but may seem like it to the untrained nose.
It's also certainly possible that other issues may contribute to anxiety BO as well. It's possible that bacteria may thrive for other reasons in your skin. It's possible that skin stress may be causing unusual and unwanted smells that would otherwise be prevented if you hadn't had anxiety.
Stress and anxiety are incredibly complex, so narrowing it down to a specific issue is difficult. Those that are concerned should visit a doctor or dermatologist, and trust that they'll be able to rule out any conditions that may have you concerned.
What to Do If Anxiety Causes Body Odor
Dealing with body odor can be a bit tricky. The solution to body odor is the same for anxiety as it is for anything else. First, make sure you've ruled out the following:
- Poor Hygiene Those with anxiety may refrain from showering or cleaning. So make sure that you're properly washing yourself and using high quality soaps.
- Improperly Washed Clothes A great deal of body odor comes from clothes, not from the body. Bacteria often grow under the armpit. If your clothes aren't washing correctly, find a cleaner or washing machine that works.
- Breath, Etc. Rule out any other issues for bad smells as well. Remember, when you have anxiety, bad smells may be more obvious but may not be anxiety caused. So rule out the potential for other smells first before assuming it's body odor.
Once you've taken these steps, you need to make sure that you're addressing two things: your odor, and the fear you have about your odor.
The first part is simple. Make sure you wash yourself with a soap that has a good smell, and use deodorant every day - carry one with you if you're worried. These are specifically designed to prevent body odor, and work well for just about everyone. You may want to refrain from garlic and other foods that cause smells as well.
The second part is trickier. Once someone fears they have body odor, they start to see it in others. Meaning, when they see someone walk by them and sniff, they believe that they're smelling the body odor and use that to reinforce their fear.
You absolutely need to make sure that you're not assuming you smell when you don't. Many people with anxiety report talking to their doctors about their "horrible" body odor, only to find their doctors can't smell anything. Chances are the person simply believes they smell, and believes that other people are reacting to their smell.
If you have good hygiene, your clothes are completely washed, and you are using scented items like deodorants, you need to train yourself to be confident that you don't smell. Remind yourself that these items are specifically designed to mask any smell, and they work extremely effectively. If for any reason you still think you have a scent, contact a doctor.
You also need to take the necessary steps to cure your anxiety. Start with my free 7 minute anxiety test. The test will show you how your symptoms are related to anxiety and what you can do to treat it. Then you'll be able to stop anxiety body odor forever.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.