How Does Smell Change Your Life

A few years ago, I was visiting an Ulcerative Colitis patient at home. I knew from previously treating patients at home, as a Registered Nurse that using hypnosis lessened the symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis. Hypnotherapy also was successful for many years as a treatment for psychological disorders, and for the treatment of various medical diseases worsened by psychological stress. These include hypertension, asthma, and eczema and psoriasis. Emotional conflict can cause particular autoimmune bodies to overproduce, and then attack specific tissues. Hypnosis can help in handling stress with the Ulcerative Colitis patient through visualizing healthy intestinal functioning and maintaining the autoimmune antibodies close to a normal level.

My patient with Ulcerative Colitis had an intravenous catheter stitched into her upper arm and was receiving an infusion of partial parenteral nutrition. She was able to take in some food by mouth, and this IV solution provided part of her daily nutritional requirements.

As we sat in her living room during my initial assessment, I noticed a particular scent or should I say odor from an undetermined source. The patient had no open wounds, and she stated she was meticulous with her hygiene. Her IV medication should not have caused the odor either. I wondered what the reason for this malodor was.

As human beings, we have an excellent sense of smell. Over the years, research has shown that we have the ability to detect  emotional and physical states with our noses, even though we may not be consciously aware of what we are sensing. Babies identify their mother by pheromone-like chemical signals, and the mother can do the same with her offspring (Vaglio, 2009). Scent plays a role in the mating behaviors of many mammals, and this includes humans. One study found a t-shirt worn by an ovulating woman could elevate a man’s testosterone level when he sniffs that same t-shirt (Gildersleeve, Haselton, Larson, & Pillsworth, 2012).

So how does all this information tie in with my patient and many others like her? What I was detecting became apparent; her Ulcerative Colitis was taking its toll on her emotions. What my olfactory was able to identify was the increase in her anxiety and stress level; the smell of stress sweat was coming on strong.

Ulcerative Colitis, like other chronic illnesses, can initiate or increase anxiety and emotional distress. Living with Ulcerative Colitis may overwhelm an individual. Concerns include where the closest bathroom is or when you have to go to the bathroom. Due to the anxiety and worry, a person feels more comfortable at home and avoids going out.

Results from a study (McCombie, Mulder, & Gearry, 2015) found that people with Crohn’s disease or Ulcerative Colitis are twice more likely to have a generalized anxiety disorder compared than those who do not. In addition, the risk was four times greater in women.

Experts also believe that depression and anxiety can make Ulcerative Colitis worse. Getting the disease under control is important. Much like the treatment for Ulcerative Colitis, you should not wait to treat mental health issues. Research shows that avoidance is not a healthy way to cope. A study found that people who were willing to face their disease and approach it with a positive attitude were better off than those who avoided their illness (McCombie, Mulder, & Gearry, 2015).

Untreated depression and anxiety can make it harder to deal with the symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis, sometimes even disabling and interfering with the ability to carry out daily activities. In each hypnosis session and in between, I encourage my clients to communicate information about their illness, and we seek out additional resources as needed. I tell my clients to make a list of items they want to talk about so they can convey to me how they are feeling and what is occurring when there any symptoms. 

Anxiety is a normal reaction to stressful situations. However, in some cases, it becomes excessive and can cause sufferers to dread everyday situations. The excessive worries and expectations of adverse outcomes in unknown can often accompany increased physical symptoms including muscle tension, headaches, stomach cramps, and frequent urination. Hypnotherapy, with or without medication to control symptoms, has proved highly effective against anxiety. I review with clients what they are experiencing and we collaborate to maintain a perspective of comfort.

Gildersleeve, K. A., Haselton, M. G., Larson, C. M., & Pillsworth, E. G. (2012). Body odor attractiveness as a cue of impending ovulation in women: Evidence from a study using hormone-confirmed ovulation. Hormones and Behavior, 61(2), 157–166.

McCombie, A. M., Mulder, R. T., & Gearry, R. B. (2015, October). Coping Strategies and Psychological Outcomes of Patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease in the First 6 Months After Diagnosis. Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, 21(10), 2272–2280. doi:10.1097/MIB.0000000000000476

Parekh, N. K., McMaster, K., Nguyen, D. L., Shah, S., Speziale, A., Miller, J., & Melmed, G. (2015, June). Coping Strategies Used by Adult Patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Southern Medical Journal, 108(6), 337-342.

Vaglio, S. (2009, May-Jun). Chemical communication and mother-infant recognition. Communicative & Integrative Biology, 2(3), 279–281.