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a woman sniffs her sweaty shirt

Remember the Saturday Night Live schoolgirl character, Mary Katherine Gallagher, who would stick her fingers under her arms and then smell them whenever she got nervous? It’s likely she was getting a whiff of something strong. Sweat produced when we’re under emotional stress is made by the apocrine glands, which are responsible for the stinky sweat.

What exactly triggers stress sweat is still unclear, though scientists hypothesize that it’s linked to the adrenaline release that accompanies a fight-or-flight situation. This serves as an evolutionary — and odorous — warning signal.

Stress may also cause a vicious circle of sweat: When you notice you’re perspiring a lot, it can increase your anxietyWhat if someone notices my wet underarms?  And this in turn can make you sweat even more.

This was excerpted from “Everything You Wanted to Know About Sweat” which was published in the July/August 2022 issue of Experience Life.

Margret Aldrich

Margret Aldrich is a frequent Experience Life contributor.

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