Whenever I get sick—which, recently, seems to be every few months thanks to all the viruses going around—I don’t handle it very well. I mope around the house and beat myself up for falling behind on my responsibilities. I get annoyed when anything slightly inconvenient happens—e.g., my food delivery gets delayed or a work email comes in right when I crawl into bed to nap. I generally feel like I could cry at any moment. In other words: I act like a baby. There’s a scientific reason why being sick makes me weepy and whiny: Mood changes are a symptom of a syndrome known as “sickness behaviors,” which experts define as a set of behavioral changes that can occur during infections like COVID, the flu, and the common cold. Getting sick can diminish your mood; make you feel sluggish; and even impair your memory, attention, and brain performance. Sickness behaviors can cause you to not want to be around other people and make it difficult to sleep and eat. Aside from the whole coughing-sneezing-sniffling-puking deal, it’s one of the main reasons why getting sick is such a drag. Here’s exactly how being sick can turn you (me) into a giant toddler.When you’re exposed to a pathogen, your body produces cytokines, small proteins that spread throughout your body to regulate inflammation. That inflammatory response is incredibly effective at preventing infections and kickstarting the healing process, but it can also make you feel worse before you feel better: Though cytokines, and the inflammation they trigger, are a crucial component of your body’s immune response, they can cause all kinds of uncomfortable symptoms, including fever, headache, body aches, and malaise. Cytokines also travel to your brain—specifically within the hippocampus, a region that deals with mood, Ashwini Nadkarni, MD, a psychiatrist and instructor at Harvard Medical School, tells SELF. As inflammation builds in your brain, you may experience mood fluctuations and cognitive issues, like attention and memory problems, Dr. Nadkarni explains. In short: The cytokines are probably what’s causing you to feel extra tearful and irritable when you’re under the weather. There’s a long list of neurological and psychological symptoms that fall under sickness behaviors. “Fatigue, malaise, lack of motivation, poor concentration, loss of interest in things you usually enjoy, poor appetite, trouble sleeping, emotional instability, and crying—all things we see in depression,” Janelle Duah, MD, a Yale Medicine internist, tells SELF. It’s known that inflammation plays a major role in developing depression, and that people with depression generally have higher levels of inflammation related to their immune system.Your body isn’t doing this by coincidence. Research suggests that sickness behaviors may serve a legit purpose—forcing you to slow down and conserve your energy so that your body can focus on healing. Some scientists believe that sickness behaviors motivate your loved ones to take care of you to help you recover faster. (This is good news if you feel needier than usual and are dreaming of the days when your caregiver coddled you with chicken noodle soup and Popsicles). Sickness behaviors vary from person to person—and from illness to illness.There are a couple of things that influence how moody you become when you’re fighting off an infection. First, if you already deal with a mental health issue, like depression or anxiety, getting sick can make matters worse, Dr. Duah says. Second, the more severe the symptoms of your infection, the greater the hit your mood will likely take, research suggests—but even totally asymptomatic infections can make you feel sad and irritable.
Every month, for about two to three days before my period, I experience terrible brain fog. It’s similar to the feeling I get when I oversleep: I can’t think as quickly or clearly as I normally can, my memory is a bit fuzzy, and I’m just kind of out of it. Experts use the term brain fog to describe a range of temporary “cognitive difficulties,” like trouble focusing, forgetfulness, and mild confusion. Brain fog isn’t a medical diagnosis; rather, it’s a symptom associated with a slew of health conditions, including pregnancy, depression, long COVID, and, yes, PMS (premenstrual syndrome). The research on PMS-related brain fog is limited, but anecdotally, going through it can be a slog, Jennifer Roelands, MD, an ob-gyn who specializes in holistic medicine, tells SELF. For example, the mental cloudiness and impaired concentration may hurt your performance at work, as SELF previously reported, and research suggests that PMS symptoms, including cognitive ones like confusion, can also impact personal relationships. For me, the easiest tasks—like sending an email—suddenly feel difficult, and sometimes I feel like I lack the wherewithal to navigate even simple conversations. “To deal with that every single month is pretty miserable, but there are definitely things you can do to help,” says Dr. Roelands. More on that soon, but first… Why might menstruation trigger brain fog?I’ve always chalked premenstrual brain fog up to hormonal fluctuations that occur during my cycle. I figured the mental sludge had something to do with cyclical changes in estrogen and progesterone. That’s possibly not too far off, according to Dr. Roelands. Menstruation can cause all sorts of drastic and rapid hormonal changes that are associated with an array of symptoms (a.k.a. PMS), as SELF previously reported. It’s known that estrogen and progesterone also play a role in brain function and cognition, but how, specifically, changes in those hormones may directly contribute to brain fog is somewhat unclear, Cheruba Prabakar, MD, ob-gyn and chief medical advisor for wellness-ingredient company Purissima, tells SELF. The evidence has been mixed: A small 2017 study concluded that there is no relationship between brain fog and the hormonal changes that take place leading up to menstruation, while a 2020 analysis suggests that it’s just too early to declare, either way, if and how menstrual-related hormone changes impact cognitive functioning. Though the research on PMS and brain fog is inconclusive, many reproductive health specialists, including the ones SELF talked to for this story, say that, anecdotally, people commonly report experiencing brain fog both before and during menstruation. The going theory, according to both Dr. Roelands and Dr. Prabakar: The mentally fuzzy feeling is likely due to all of the significant changes in hormones, neurotransmitters, and insulin levels that happen during your menstrual cycle. And there are some data that support this theory: Research shows that estrogen and progesterone influence neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin that deal with executive functions (a group of complex cognitive abilities that includes working memory and problem solving). Studies have also linked low estrogen levels to cognitive impairment and higher estrogen levels to improvements in memory and learning. There are estrogen receptors all over the brain, says Dr. Roelands, so it makes sense why your cognitive function is affected by the estrogen dip that happens during PMS. Experts also know that cognitive issues are common in menopausal people who have chronically low estrogen levels.
Getting laid off can be brutal. Despite the fact that you shouldn’t take it personally—after all, most layoffs are a consequence of rocky economic times or cost cutting efforts and not a reflection of your performance or work ethic—many people who lose their jobs find themselves questioning their professional value and self-worth. Layoff anxiety is no joke. Having a jobs—even a crummy one you’re desperately trying to move on from and forget about—often provides a sense of purpose and stability. Losing employment at a moment’s notice can completely upend your life and, of course, there’s also the sudden financial hit that may threaten your livelihood.In other words, there are a bunch of factors that can make layoffs really hard on your mental health—including loss of income, status, daily structure, social support, and, for those who feel like their job defines them, self-esteem and identity. There’s also the inherent uncertainty and confusion that often comes with job hunting and mapping out your next move, Connie Wanberg, PhD, an organizational psychologist at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, tells SELF. “Unemployment is a very stressful life event and not all people experience it the same way,” Dr. Wanberg says. If you’re here because you were recently laid off (or maybe someone you care about lost their job), there are a few ways to cope with the monumental stress and pressure, and hopefully start to feel at least a bit better about your sudden unemployment status. 1. Acknowledge the loss and allow yourself to grieve.Grieving is a natural part of healing from any type of loss, jobs included. It’s common to experience typical reactions to grief—including denial, anger, and depression—after being laid off Linda Kim, MD, a psychiatrist and executive coach with the women-focused health care organization Moon Mental Health, tells SELF. Because any major loss is a lot to process, you might need a little time to acknowledge what happened and feel your feelings. Take a day, three days, two weeks—whatever you need or can realistically afford—to think about the job and how losing it made you feel, Dr. Kim suggests. Then, put a name to those feelings, whether it’s anxiety, anger, stress, shame, or embarrassment. This type of emotional reflection won’t immediately change your circumstances, she says, but labeling your specific feelings (as opposed to general descriptors like “awful” or “terrible”) has been shown to reduce stress and might eventually help you think more positively and clearly.You may feel immediate pressure to kick off your job hunt and get back to work, but giving yourself some space to recover from the emotional hit can help ease the blow. “When possible, allow yourself a bit of a break, even if it’s only a day or two, to take a breath and focus on taking care of yourself,” Dr. Kim says. Taking a step back and doing some activities that bring you joy (like exploring nature or leaning into your creative side) can help you get out of your head and recover, she adds. 2. Try to create a new routine that feels good to you.There’s no shame in using your time off to sleep in, binge the latest season of White Lotus, or get back into an old hobby, but adding some structure to your days, even if it’s just penciling in a few activities, can protect your well-being post-layoff. Routines can act as a buffer against stress while giving you the support you need to meet your daily goals, ultimately helping you stay on track to get a new job sooner, Dr. Wanberg says. In fact, research suggests that daily routines can help give life meaning, lower stress levels, regulate sleep, and improve mood.
Think back to the last time you had the flu, or just generally felt really unwell. You probably remember hunkering down in bed for a few days while you fought off a fever. But do you remember the symptoms that appeared right before you got blatantly sick? If you’re like me, perhaps you shrugged off those early flu symptoms as sleepiness or a tickle in your throat caused by the dry winter air. They’re easy to ignore but important to pay attention to. Why? Sometimes, before it’s obvious that you’re sick with the flu (or some other illness), you can be pretty contagious, Daniel Pastula, MD, MHS, a professor of infectious diseases, epidemiology, and neurology at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, tells SELF. Those early warning signs are your body telling you it’s time to rest up so your immune system can work more efficiently. If you pick up on those clues quickly enough, you could potentially start treatment sooner and recover faster.It can take up to four days for flu symptoms to fully appear after the virus takes root in your respiratory tract, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In the first few days after you’re exposed to influenza, the virus makes copies of itself in your body and begins to spread, primarily latching onto cells in your nose, throat, and lungs. This is when the first signs of infection tend to manifest. They can look and feel slightly different from person to person, Dr. Pastula says, but research suggests these early symptoms generally include:Feeling a little off, run down, sluggish, or achyAn uncomfortable, almost scratchy feeling in the throat when swallowingFeeling more sneezy than usualRunny nose or post-nasal drip (before the full-fledged congestion strikes)At this stage, the immune system is starting to respond to the viral replication by releasing a ton of chemicals to ramp up its defenses—and that can cause people to feel icky, Dr. Pastula says. From an evolutionary standpoint, your body does this to force you to rest, so it can spend less energy on, say, exercise classes and more effort on fending off the virus. A day or so later, and depending on how severe your infection becomes, classic flu symptoms may strike: a fever, persistent chills, a painfully sore throat, and/or a deep-in-the-lungs cough. Even if you don’t get a fever, that doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have the flu. “You might just have a mild case,” Dr. Pastula says. The timing and intensity of your symptoms depend on the strain and amount of virus you’ve been exposed to, Dr. Pastula says. Your overall health, genetics, and age can also play a role in how sick you end up getting.
Even though you may know, intellectually, that social media isn’t real life (yes, including “Instagram vs. reality” posts), your brain, again, is hardwired to engage in social comparison, so it may need the reminder. Next time you catch yourself self-comparing online, remember that Instagram and TikTok posts rarely show the full picture—and the picture that is shown is often filtered or otherwise edited—and that it’s not fair to judge yourself against these false ideals, Dr. Peifer says. Simply acknowledging this can help you foster a more realistic evaluation of yourself and others, she adds, so your self-worth doesn’t take a hit.2. Take note of your scrolling habits.Dr. Peifer recommends taking stock of how you use social media and tracking when you’re most likely to scroll and compare yourself to others. Do you go down a rabbit hole when you’re already feeling anxious or depressed? Or do you maybe tend to scroll after a productive, fulfilling day?You can use a journal or a mood-tracking app (or even just make a mental note) to monitor when you typically go on social media, and how you feel when you do. “Notice, without judgment, the trends and what they may indicate,” Dr. Peifer says. Once you’re aware of any patterns, you can then try to modify your behavior—by turning off your Twitter notifications if “personal news!” threads cause you to spiral at night or resisting the urge to look at your phone first thing in the morning if it immediately derails your day.It can be helpful to note how long your scrolling sessions tend to last. Research shows that the more time people spend on social media, the more frequently they self-compare and the lower their self-esteem gets. So pay attention to how much you can tolerate, Dr. Kross says. If you realize that an intentional 15-minute check-in doesn’t bring you down, say, but an hour of scrolling sends you reeling, you can set limits for yourself and exit the apps when the allocated time’s up. “Try to augment the way you use the technology to improve the way you feel,” Dr. Kross adds.3. Be deliberate about who you follow.You want your online world to be just as safe and supportive as the real-world communities you’re a part of, Dr. Peifer says. She recommends jotting down the accounts you engage with the most and thinking about whether you negatively compare yourself to them and, if so, how that makes you feel. If certain accounts regularly cause you to feel anxiety, shame, or self-doubt, muting or unfollowing them can protect your peace and allow you to focus on the folks who have a positive effect on your well-being. And think twice before adding new accounts, Dr. Peifer says. Rather than mindlessly following anyone and everyone, she recommends doing a little more research, or asking your community, before you tap follow.4. Invest in real-life relationships.Self-comparison happens offline, too, but it’s not as distorted and obnoxiously in your face as it is through social media. In real-world interactions, you have access to more details and context; the information you take in IRL isn’t limited to strategically curated photos or 280 characters. You can actively engage in conversations (which also offers a clearer grasp on others’ situations) and opt to surround yourself with people you trust and feel comfortable with, Dr. Peifer says.
For most people, the best parts of the holidays are some combination of family traditions, gift-giving, travel plans, decorating, and feasting on delicious food and drinks. That sounds nice, right? And it is! But, as you might know firsthand from past Decembers, these are also all the things that can make the holiday season inordinately hectic and emotionally taxing. Survey after survey has found that the stretch between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is the most stressful time of year, largely because of the financial strain, social pressure, and endless to-dos we’re faced with. The holidays can also be a painful, isolating reminder of the people we’ve lost or grown apart from. And if you’re traveling home to see friends and family, you might feel like you’re thrown back into a role that you’ve moved on from. Finally, the robust eating, drinking, and not sleeping that often comes with celebrating can throw off our routines and make it difficult to cope with all the hoopla. So: The holidays can be intense. It’s totally normal to feel overwhelmed this time of year. It’s the season of cheer and togetherness, but also of grief, trauma, and stress, Catherine Mogil, PsyD, a psychologist and associate clinical professor at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, tells SELF. Below, she and other experts share five ways to take care of your mental health during the holidays.1. Leave perfectionism behind.It’s easy to get wrapped up in the idea of the perfect holiday celebration, whether you’re banking on all of your travels going according to plan, stressing over what present to get Grandma, or trying to mix up family-size quantities of your famous spiked eggnog. But an idealized approach can set you up for disappointment. You don’t need to buy everyone the best or most expensive gift, decorate every last inch of your house, or bake an Instagram-bait pumpkin pie. Things can and will go wrong, and that’s to be expected. That’s the nature of being busy, no matter how seasoned a holiday host you may be: Having more plans inherently means there are more opportunities for things to go wrong. Instead of being quick to judge your shortcomings, be kind and gentle with yourself so you can enjoy things as they are.Accept that whatever it is that you’re doing is enough. A bit of self-compassion can go a long way, making us more resilient in times of stress and more optimistic about perceived failures. “Give yourself the grace to not have everything be perfect,” Dr. Mogil says. By embracing imperfection, you’ll focus way less on what goes wrong and more on the positives—like how incredible it is to finally be reunited with friends and family again even though your flight got delayed, or, perhaps, how ridiculously fun it was to try and bake a loaf of cornbread with your cousin, even if it tasted like dirt. 2. Stick with some of your routines.Humans thrive off of routines. Consistent, healthy habits—like regularly eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep—combat stress, improve our mental health, and make our lives feel more meaningful, research suggests. During the holidays, when you’re eating and drinking more than you usually do, it’s easy to fall off track, which can throw off your biological clock (a.k.a. sleep-wake cycle), and all sorts of other vital body functions. “There are lots of things about our normal schedules that we’ve all gotten ourselves into that are very stabilizing for our stress levels,” Dr. Mogil says.
If you deal with migraine attacks and have struggled to find a treatment that actually works, you may have toyed with getting a daith piercing—a.k.a. the migraine piercing. Located on the middle ridge of cartilage within the ear—the external, C-shaped part nearest to your ear canal—the daith piercing has become an increasingly popular way to seek migraine pain relief. On TikTok, videos touting the daith piercing’s alleged benefits have racked up hundreds of thousands of views—but whether the technique actually works is more controversial. There isn’t much credible research on daith piercings and migraine. Though a few case studies1 have found that the piercing substantially improved some people’s migraine symptoms, much of the hype behind the trend is purely anecdotal. Some people claim it’s the only migraine treatment that has worked for them, but others say the piercing had no effect, caused an infection, or made their migraine episodes worse.To figure out if it’s ever worth getting a daith piercing for chronic migraine, we asked a couple headache specialists to weigh in. Here’s what they said. Why are daith piercings associated with migraine?The daith piercing came about as an earring fad in the 90s,2 but it wasn’t until around 2015 that speculation about the piercing’s ability to alleviate migraine pain started to pick up, Trevor Gerson, MD, a neurologist and headache specialist at Children’s Mercy in Kansas City, tells SELF. Around this time, Dr. Gerson says his headache clinic saw a spike in interest from migraine patients curious about daith piercings. From then up to now, it wasn’t clear if the piercing actually did anything, says Dr. Gerson. Despite the fact that there was—and is—essentially no hard data on the piercing’s effect on migraine, the trend accelerated as people shared their positive experiences on social media. “That’s why it’s spreading, and how it’s spreading,” Dr. Gerson says.How could a daith piercing potentially interact with migraine attacks?There are a few theories as to why daith piercings may help with migraine pain for some people. The leading belief is that, similar to acupuncture, the piercing hits on a pressure point within the ear and changes the chemical balance in the brain, potentially making certain people less prone to migraine symptoms.3 It’s well-known that acupuncture (which involves briefly sticking ultra-thin needles through the skin) can be very effective for headaches, Dr. Gerson says, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a long-term ear piercing will have the same effect.4 Another theory is that the piercing calms down the trigeminal nerve—a nerve that runs throughout the face and ears that influences migraine and head pain—or relaxes the vagus nerve, a nerve connected to the ear that can contribute to headaches.5 Lastly, the benefits could simply be due to a very powerful placebo effect—in which case the person’s belief in the treatment, not the treatment itself, leads to real-life benefits. In all, it’s difficult to pinpoint what’s truly what’s going on.Can a daith piercing really help reduce migraine symptoms?The jury is still out. We finally have a bit of scientific research, but the data is predominantly sourced from one-off case studies. Though case studies are helpful when observing how one person responded to a treatment, the results can’t be applied to other people. In a case study5 published in 2017, a 54-year-old man who struggled with chronic migraine headaches said his symptoms became less frequent and severe after he got a daith piercing. A woman in her 50s had a similar experience, per a 2020 report.2
Paula Zimbrean, MD, a psychiatrist and associate professor at the Yale School of Medicine, tells SELF that there are a handful of other factors that can influence hangxiety. These include how well your body metabolizes alcohol, if any other mood-altering substances or medications are in your bloodstream, how much and how quickly you drank (the faster you drink, the quicker your blood alcohol levels rises, and the more active your GABA receptors get), and how well you slept afterward (which, if you’re like me after I drink, probably wasn’t all that great).12People with underlying mental health conditions, like depression and anxiety disorders, are more likely to experience anxiety after drinking, Dr. Schacht adds.13 “These issues can essentially shift your brain’s ‘set point’ and make it easier for alcohol to ‘tip’ the brain into anxiety,” he explains.How to prevent and cope with post-drinking anxietyPay attention to your alcohol habits.According to Dr. Schacht, the single best thing you can do is monitor how much alcohol you’re drinking. “The more you drink, the more your brain reacts to the dose of alcohol it is receiving,” he says—so having a cocktail or two is way less likely to cause anxiety the next day than, say, five or six vodka sodas. Big note: If you’re dealing with an alcohol use disorder, stopping at one or two drinks may feel impossible. If you think you might have a drinking problem and you’re interested in seeking help, here’s SELF’s guide to substance use disorder treatment.)Identify your motivation for drinking.Dr. Schacht recommends checking in with yourself about why you’re drinking. Is it because you’re genuinely enjoying time with your friends or family, or are you trying to relieve taxing feelings you’ve been dealing with? Many people reach for alcohol when they’re stressed out, he says, but this can actually exacerbate their issues and trap them in a vicious cycle (e.g., you’re feeling stressed, you pour yourself a drink, and though it may provide temporary relief, it makes you even worse the next day, and then you want to want to drink even more).14 If you want to drink to lower your stress levels, do another activity that might make you feel better in the moment and the next day, Dr. Schacht says. Have a sober hang with friends, go on a hike or walk, read a book, or host a movie or Netflix night. Rely on mindfulness tools.If you’re in the depths of hangxiety and need fast relief, Dr. Greenfield recommends working through it with meditation, grounding activities, calming yoga poses or stretches, or deep breathing exercises. “A lot of the uncomfortable emotions we have, when we try to push them away or avoid them, they just get worse,” Dr. Greenfield says. When you turn toward your feelings, they often become less unpleasant.Tend to your physical symptoms.Treating the physical effects of drinking can help with the mental ones, too, according to Dr. Schacht. Drink water, eat a nourishing meal, take a cat nap, and try to get a good night’s sleep the following evening. All of these self-care strategies can help your body (and mood) recover from a hangover faster, says Dr. Schacht. Because exercise can boost and normalize neurotransmitter activity in the brain, including hangxiety perpetrator GABA, Dr. Schacht also recommends squeezing in some physical activity (maybe a brisk walk or a 10-minute workout)—if your hangover can handle it.15Know that your hangxiety will pass.Sometimes, no matter what I do, the only thing that abates my post-drinking anxiety is waiting it out. At the very least, I find comfort in remembering that my shaky-emotional-ground feeling, no matter how intense, will dissipate soon enough. Anxiety tends to build and peak then crash back down like a wave. As Dr. Greenfield puts it, “Time is on your side.” Just breathe, take care of yourself, and remember that hangxiety isn’t forever.
Thanksgiving is nearly here, and I’m starting to feel a bit jittery about all the awkward interactions I’m about to have with family members and long-lost acquaintances from high school. The small talk always seems to cover the same ground: work, relationships, politics, future plans—you know, all the touchy topics that get to the core of where you’re at in life. If the idea of seeing family or old friends overwhelms you or you experience social anxiety to any degree—whether you get jittery in social situations or have been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder—you probably know what I’m talking about. These feelings can manifest in many ways, but at its core, social anxiety stems from a dynamic fear or worry that you may be judged, watched, or embarrassed by others, per the National Institute of Mental Health. It can strike in the moments leading up to an event, in the middle of an interaction, or days later when you’re replaying certain moments in your head. From stressful small talk to deep discussions, the conversations that go down at holiday soirees can feel particularly intense; not to mention, they can act as a reminder that maybe you’re not exactly where you’d like to be at this stage in your life—or that you moved away from home for a reason. “It’s normal to feel like a broken record when you’re sharing the things you decide to disclose to family or friends,” Mandy Doria, MS, a licensed professional counselor and assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, tells SELF.To help alleviate some of the stress and anxiety you may be feeling around all the social events on your schedule, it’s best to come up with a game plan. Below are three things you can do to prep for the scenarios that might make your palms sweaty and your heart rate spike.Think of some talking points—and keep comforting people close.Planning ahead can ease some worries, especially if you’re expecting to deal with a few uncomfortable interactions. Doria recommends brainstorming a few topics you actually want to talk about so you can easily dodge the stickier discussions you may be roped into.For example, if you already suspect your nosy aunt will ask about your recent breakup, come ready to pivot to another topic or have some backup questions handy. After all, it’s not too hard to get people to talk about themselves, especially if you use a bit of flattery. Consider a response like: “Oh, I appreciate you asking but it’s not all that interesting. I want to hear more about how the renovation is going. Do you have progress pics of your lovely kitchen? I’m dying to see it!”On the other hand, if your dad starts going on about how he wants you to move closer to home, you can try to put a positive spin on your response: “I guess that means you’ll need to visit me soon. Should we plan a weekend for us in 2023? I’d love to show you some of my favorite spots.” If it helps, consider rehearsing how you’d like to tackle these conversations to alleviate the pressure of being put on the spot. “Remember these annoyances are temporary and remain confident in what you decide to talk about or not talk about,” Doria says.
Certain scented products—such as perfume, laundry soap, cleaning supplies, and air fresheners—may be particularly problematic, according to Dr. Gill, but it really varies from person to person.5 That said, it’s tough to pin down which particles, specifically, are to blame, since companies aren’t required to disclose the chemical formulations of added scents in their products (they can simply list “fragrance” on the label). Plus it’s tricky to measure just how many irritating particles scented products may be shooting out into your immediate environment.Why are some people more sensitive to smells than others?There are a variety of reasons why some folks have higher scent sensitivity than others, according to Dr. Patel. For example, people with asthma, allergies, and migraine are more likely to have scent sensitivities and aversions, as are people who are experiencing hormonal fluctuations (say, due to pregnancy or their menstrual cycle) or who have some type of endocrine, metabolic, or autoimmune disorder that can cause inflammation in and around the nasal nerves, she explains.6 7 8Age seems to play a role, too, as many people report this issue getting worse the older they get.9 “We do know that allergy-triggered migraine becomes greater as we age, and so the overall threshold for sensitization of the nerve system probably does increase with age,” Dr. Patel says. That said, the symptoms likely taper off after 60 or so, as smell capacity declines, Jonathan Overdevest, MD, PhD, the director of Columbia University’s Taste & Smell Center, tells SELF.There may also be a genetic component—anecdotally speaking, Dr. Patel has seen multiple people with scent sensitivities who claim it runs in their family.10 And Dr. Overdevest adds that certain medications (including antibiotics), time of day, and even cultural norms tied to aromas can influence how people perceive and respond to smells.11How to find relief if strong smells bother youIf certain scents trigger migraines, treating the migraine itself should help you feel better, Dr. Gill says. You can also try out what he calls the “counter-stimulation” technique, which involves sniffing peppermint (maybe from an essential oil roller you stash in your bag or desk) or applying a menthol rub under your nose.12 These cooling smells can act as a counterirritant by relaxing the trigeminal nerve and bringing relief. (Of course, this probably won’t work if peppermint is a scent that usually triggers you.)If your sensitivity to fragrances is high enough that your symptoms—like pain, congestion, nausea, migraine headaches, and so on—are interfering with your ability to function, Dr. Patel recommends talking to your primary care doctor. They may recommend prescription-strength treatments, like different forms of steroid medications or antihistamines, that can block or reduce inflammation in the nose. If your symptoms don’t get better with these remedies, your doctor might suggest nerve-blocking injections, anesthetics that temporarily numb the nerves for a matter of hours to months, or ablations, which use radiofrequency to permanently destroy the nerves so they can’t act up.