How What We Smell Influences Our Emotions

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It’s a well-researched fact that smell is the nearest sense to memory. Anecdotal evidence is just a sniff away. Have you ever walked into a room and noticed a scent that instantly evoked memories that you thought you’d forgotten? It’s not just you. When triggered by scent, the olfactory neurons in your nose send an impulse to an area of your brain called the olfactory bulb, which then sends the information along to your limbic system. Sound complicated? It is. But that's what we're here for. 

What’s the Limbic System?

The limbic system is a structural system in your brain that is made up of the hypothalamus, the amygdala, the thalamus and the hippocampus. But you don’t need to get out your dictionary just yet. Suffice it to say that the limbic system is the part of your brain that handles memory and emotions. Smell is the only sense that is directly connected to the limbic system. Are you starting to see how what we smell influences our emotions, in addition to triggering distant memories?

A Long History of Aromatherapy

Long before modern researchers connected the dots between scent and emotion, ancient “medicine men” used aromatherapy to inspire, excite, soothe and relax their patients. Shamans burned fragrant herbs to promote emotional health and healing. Bottles of fragrant oils were waved under the nose to help calm fretful women. There is a long history of aromatherapy that continues to this day. And it works because of that close physical connection between the olfactory senses and the limbic system in the brain.

Practical Applications of Aromatherapy

Imagine if you could influence your moods and emotions in just a few minutes. It’s possible with aromatherapy, because it’s based on real science. There are three scents in particular that are very effective for calming the mind and creating a tranquil state. These are lavender, neroli and rose, three of the main ingredients in our Zen aromatherapy line. Lavender has been shown to reduce anxiety and reverse agitation. Neroli, derived from a specific species of orange tree, has a relaxing effect on the nerves. Rose oil imparts a soothing floral scent that has a documented relaxing effect on people.

There are many ways to use this knowledge that our emotions are influenced by scent. There are aromatherapy roll-ons that you can carry with you for instant relief, scented candles that you can burn at home, and of course, fragrant living herbs and plants that you can grow and enjoy. The point is that scent is a vital part of how we experience the world around us. With more information about which scents do what, you can positively influence your own moods and emotions for a more peaceful, healthier life.

Bryan Williams