By Annie Jacobs, ACMHC, EMDR Trained

Why is it that when we smell certain scents we suddenly feel the emotions associated with a past event? You smell chocolate cookies baking in the oven and are instantly flooded with memories of Grandma’s house when you were young. You smell the delicious aroma of turkey cooking for Thanksgiving and start laughing because you remember the funny joke your uncle shared that made your dad spray his beverage all over the table because he was laughing so hard. Or, at other times,  you may find that a smell reminds you of something traumatic or scary in your life. Whatever the situation may be, scents and aromas play an important role in remembering past events in our lives as well as how we heal and recover.

Scents and The Brain: When we breathe in a scent, the scent travels through our nose straight to the Olfactory Bulb in our brain. The Olfactory Bulb then sends the information to different structures that play an important role in processing the information, including the amygdala (responsible for controlling our emotions, emotional behavior, and motivation). The amygdala is part of the limbic system. The limbic system houses different structures, including the hippocampus (responsible for long-term memory), the hypothalamus (responsible for the autonomic nervous system and releasing hormones), and the cingulate gyrus (responsible for blood pressure, heart rate, and attention). So when we smell chocolate chip cooking baking in the oven, we are instantly reminded of Grandmother’s house as a child and start to feel happy, excited, your heart rate increases, and you may even start to salivate in anticipating of eating a chocolate chip cookie. The smell of baking chocolate chip cookies activates the memory of being a small child at Grandma’s house and brings up the emotions associated with that event.

Since scents help your brain navigate the world around you and bring up memories associated with those scents, how can we use scents to benefit us? By Aroma therapy. Certain fragrances can invoke feelings of peace, joy, relaxation, or alertness and can reduce negative feelings, such as sadness, lethargy, anger, and resentment. One of the most common scents associated with Aroma Therapy is lavender. The smell of lavender can help reduce feelings of being tense, racing thoughts, and fear of rejection and promote feelings of calmness, emotional honesty, and peace of mind. Lavender is often used to help us fall asleep because of its calming properties.

Here are some other common scents and the positive and negative emotions they can reduce and promote:

Clove

  • Reduce negative emotions of: defeated, fear of rejection, codependent
  • Promote positive emotions of: empowered, clear boundaries, courageous, independent

Jasmine

  • Reduce negative emotions of: unresolved sexual trauma, sexual repression, sexual fixation
  • Promote positive emotions of: healthy sexuality, pure intentions, self-acceptance

Lemon

  • Reduce negative emotions of: confused, inability to focus, mental fatigued, lack of joy and energy
  • Promote positive emotions of: focused, energized, alert, mental clarity

Melaleuca

  • Reduce negative emotions of: parasitic and codependent relationships, drained, emotional toxicity
  • Promote positive emotions of: energetic boundaries, healthy and respectful connections, empowered

Peppermint

  • Reduce negative emotions of: unbearable pain, intense despair, heavy hearted
  • Promote positive emotions of: optimistic, relieved, strength to face emotional pain

Roman Chamomile

  • Reduce negative emotions of: purposeless, discouraged, frustrated
  • Promote positive emotions of: peaceful, fulfilled, relaxed, spiritually connected

Rosemary

  • Reduce negative emotions of: confused, difficulty adjusting or transitioning
  • Promote positive emotions of: mental clarity, knowledgeable, open to new experiences

Sandalwood

  • Reduce negative emotions of: disconnected from God or spiritual self, emptiness, overthinking
  • Promote positive emotions of: humble, spiritual devotion, connected to higher consciousness

Wild Orange

  • Reduce negative emotions of: overly serious, rigid, workaholic, lack of energy, discouraged
  • Promote positive emotions of: sense of humor, playful, generous, spontaneous, joyful

Next time you are feeling down, discouraged, sad, or any other negative emotion, think about what scent brings you peace of mind and helps you feel uplifted. Keep in mind some scents will smell better or worse depending on what your body needs at that time. For example, lavender may smell more appealing to you than wild orange or lemon if your body needs to sleep because of the different properties each scent has. Also keep in mind the quality of the scent you are smelling. A synthetic scent versus a natural scent may not have the same effects. For example, a synthetic lavender lotion versus lavender essential oil. 

Here at Namaste, we believe in Aromatherapy and use it as a complimentary tool to promote feelings of calmness, acceptance, peace, and many more. While Aroma Therapy can help with emotional distress, please talk to your therapist about any deep emotional issues. 

*For more information on Aroma Therapy and essential oils discussed in this blog, please check out the books Modern Essentials: A Contemporary Guide to the Therapeutic Use of Essential Oils and Emotions & Essential Oils: A Reference Guide for Emotional Healing.

Namasté, 

Annie