We all have those days when we just want to crawl into a corner and make it all go away. The news is enough, not to mention trying to manage home, family and work during these uncertain times. The stresses can make it all feel, well, a bit too much.
Here’s the good news…
You’ve got a friend and ally in your nose. A pleasant aroma can be a great support in providing a little pick-me-up on those days when you need some sunshine in your life. You see, scents can trigger positive (and negative!) responses in the brain which, in turn, affect your mood.
But, there’s no prescription for happiness…
From the moment you’re born, your brain is gathering sensory information from your surroundings. It’s taking in information and mapping it in your brain all day, every day. Your world is shaped by where you are and the experiences you’re having.
That is why your sense of smell is unique. And it’s why scent can be so helpful.
It’s all in your head.
Our senses of hearing, seeing, tasting and touching send their sensory information to the brain at the thalamus first. The thalamus acts as a sort of “executive assistant” which screens the sensory information and decides where in the brain the information should be processed.
But your olfactory (smell) receptors, on the other hand, bypass the thalamus and send signals directly to the olfactory bulb. Your olfactory bulb is part of the limbic system, which is the system that processes emotions.
Because of this direct connection to these emotional processing centers, smelling an aroma is able to produce stronger feelings than anything you see, taste, touch or hear.
Here are 3 ways to find what scents uplift your mood:
- Remember your kid years. Think about the trees and flowers outside of your home, in your neighborhood growing up. Was there a certain spice or herb that your mother or grandmother used regularly? Your scent memories are shaped in the first decade. The odors you took in those days, months and years are stored in your olfactory memory bank.
- Be mindful of your body language. When we smell, our brains process the information quickly and trigger muscular responses accordingly. Notice if your body gets tighter (retractive) or your shoulders go down (expansive). Let your body be your guide in helping you decide which scents will uplift you.
- Be open to new, unfamiliar, fragrances. We tend to go back to the same 2-3 again and again. That’s fine. It’s familiar. But try expanding your horizons. Even if you can’t remember that you smelled something, your brain never forgets. Have you ever found yourself saying “this smells so familiar, but I don’t know why”?
Once you know which scents uplift you, here are 3 ways to use them:
- Diffusing is an easy go-to. If you have a favorite fragrance, pop it in and sit quietly (with a cup of tea or a good book) while the scent surrounds you. Just 15 minutes, even, is enough to uplift, and in turn, calm you.
- Cook a flavorful meal. Use aromatic spices and herbs that bring back your favorite scent memories and enjoy their aromas while you cook. Then experience the flavors again, in a new way, when you eat. Bon appetit!
- Go for a walk outside. Inhaling nature’s aroma is good for the soul. Stroll around your neighborhood and smell the newly-blooming spring flowers, take in the scent of fresh grass growing, and breathe in the smell of leaves on the trees blowing in the wind. It’s the purest form of aromatherapy and guaranteed to make you feel better.
Remember, scent is personal. Decide for yourself what makes you happy. After all, half the fun is smelling what that may be.
Frauke Galia is a Certified Professional Aromatherapist, member of the National Association of Holistic Aromatherapists and founder of F.A.L.K Aromatherapy. Frauke is passionate about educating and empowering people to engage with their sense of smell and harnessing this under-appreciated sense for our wellbeing.