How can short- or long-term loss of smell and taste affect our wellbeing?
When you ask people which sense they would least like to lose, nobody says they would worry about losing their sense of smell. But when you lose smell, you lose your emotional contact with the world. I’ve read some accounts of those who have lost their sense of smell saying it feels like living in a movie somehow – there’s something missing, there's a lack of emotional engagement. Even those of us who don't have Covid are still losing some of our olfactory channel of communication. Given that it's such an emotional sense, that can have profound consequences.
As everyone is spending more time at home than ever before, how can we ‘sense-hack’ our living spaces?
Bringing nature into the home is one way to hack our senses, through scents, but also through plants, nature soundscapes and even the idea of digital nature. In the home, smells that we might not notice are there in the background and they might be stopping us from breaking out or transitioning between the different roles that are all now taking place in the same space. Something as simple as just changing the fragrance is a really effective sense-hack to reset your mental capacities. And then there are also the colour scheme, lighting levels and music choice.
Pre-pandemic, there was a growing trend for quite extreme practices like sensory deprivation and dopamine fasting. What do you think will come next?
Dopamine fasting burst into the headlines in 2019. It's really more stimulation fasting. The idea is that after a period of withdrawal from sensations maybe you can appreciate them more when they’re brought back. So I think that hints at the problem of sensory overload and the need to withdraw. Although, ironically, sensory deprivation can also be a form of torture. Fundamentally, we are drawn towards sensation. I wonder whether what will happen is perhaps a shift away from sensory deprivation, and towards the right kind of stimulation.
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