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Anxiety and the Connection to Body Odor

Denise Griswold, MSc, LCAS
Medically reviewed by
Denise Griswold, MSc, LCAS
Anxiety and the Connection to Body Odor

Many of the physical symptoms of anxiety are particularly troubling as they can cause anxiety themselves. This is just one reason why people with anxiety struggle to effectively manage their anxiety—because their symptoms exacerbate and perpetuate their anxiety.

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. This change may be subtle or may occur to a degree that they feel more anxious in social situations due to fear of developing a noticeable odor. 

The Way Body Odor and Anxiety Relate

Body odor isn't a direct byproduct of anxiety. It's more of a secondary effect. The way that you experience anxiety changes the way your body handles hormones, bodily chemicals, and bacteria, which ultimately affects the way your body smells. Because anxiety doesn't simply create body odor out of the blue, the key to understanding body odor and anxiety is to understand the issues that may contribute to the creation of body odor. These include, but are not limited to:

Sweating

The first physical reaction of anxiety you may want to look at is sweating. Anxiety very frequently causes excess sweating.

Before you say to yourself that you don't notice yourself sweating more when anxious, do not disregard this section. At times the difference is very small but it may still be enough to change the way your body smells. So even if you do not notice a change in the amount of sweat you produce when anxious, it is entirely possible that your sweat is subtly increasing. 

When you sweat more, you smell more - even when you're not sweating. Sweat creates an environment that is more prone to bacterial 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.

Dietary Changes

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:

It's not entirely clear if dietary changes have an effect on body odor, but it's a possibility you may want to consider if you notice an increase in body odor. 

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.

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 increased breathing through the mouth, acid reflux, and dry mouth  as a result of anxiety. Flatulence is also more common in people with anxiety. While these smells that are not technically body odor, if you are frequently gassy you may begin to associate the smell with your normal scent.

Other Issues

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 medical conditions that may cause body odor.

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:

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 soap and use deodorant everyday - carry one with you if you're worried. You may want to refrain from garlic and other foods that cause bodily 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 well washed, and you are using hygiene items like deodorants, you may wish to confirm the presence of an odor.

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