You are probably familiar with how activities such as exercising, meditation and deep breathing can help you unwind after a stressful day. However, did you also know that smell as your strongest sense can be a powerful force in influencing brain activity and even mood? Remember the last time you smelt your favourite food cooking in the oven? It probably triggered a positive emotional response without you realising.
Here, we talk about how your sense of smell can work to create positive feelings and which smells are most likely to help.
How your sense of smell works
Your sense of smell is controlled by your olfactory system. When airborne odour molecules diffuse through the air, passing through your nose, they come into contact with olfactory neurons - millions of specialised sensory cells situated towards the top of your nasal cavity. These cells form part of your nervous system, sending chemical messages around your body including to your brain.
The olfactory neurons send signals to an area of the brain called the olfactory bulb which is able to distinguish the chemical composition of the odour, as well as the hippocampus and amygdala areas of the brain which are associated with emotions and memory.
This is why a smell can trigger an emotional response and even a trip down memory lane. What’s more, a simple inhalation of a smell can even activate certain bodily functions such as your immune system which in turn impacts blood pressure and digestion.
The potency of the odour is a factor of its concentration and volatility. This is why essential oils often used in aromatherapy have such high potency - and why you may feel such an intense response when breathing them in.
What is aromatherapy and what are its benefits?
Aromatherapy is a healing treatment which uses essential oils, aromatic plant extract compounds (e.g. roots, seeds, leaves, etc), with the aim of improving your physical and psychological wellbeing. Although there is little clear scientific evidence to suggest that aromatherapy treatment can cure disease and illnesses specifically, there are plenty of studies which highlight the ability of essential oils to improve your wellness.
Recent research has shown aromatherapy helping with the following areas of your mental wellness
- sleep and insomnia
What’s more, research has also shown essential oils to help with the following
- head, body and muscle aches
- general pain
- menstrual problems
- menopausal problems
- hair loss
- circulatory problems
There are two main ways in which aromatherapy is used to interact with you body: inhalation through your nose or mouth and topical application with skin for absorption. Commonly used treatment methods include diffusers, inhalers, bathing salts and body creams for topical application.
Inhalation works by triggering and stimulating your nervous system and brain in response to sensing the composition and potency of present essential oils. For topical application, essential oils are massaged into your skin with the organic compounds thought to increase absorption and improve circulation.
Three great smells to reduce stress and anxiety
Lavender comes from the purple flowering plant and is famous for its iconic floral and herbal smell. As one of the most popular aromatherapy oils, evidence has shown its ability to enhance relaxation increase feelings of contentment as well as reduce stress and cortisol levels. It can also be used as a herbal anti-septic for cuts and burns.
Frequent application methods for lavender include blending and inhaling with a carrier oil such as avocado oil, inhaling directly through a cloth or tissue and massaging into your skin for absorption.
Chamomile is well-known for its relaxing and sedating properties as well as its intoxicating sweet almost fruity scent. Research has shown chamomile to help with digestion, generalised anxiety disorder, sleep and depression. It is also sometimes used to treat wounds and eczema. Common methods of application include through a diffusor or spray.
Oranges are perhaps more commonly associated as a source of healthy vitamins however research has shown that its sweet aroma which is rich in inalool may also help you unwind, having a positive impact on your anxiety, stress, mood, sleep as well as ease symptoms of depression. Other citrus fruits such as grapefruit, lemon and lime also have high concentrations of inalool meaning that they can also promote positive effects.
Your sense of smell can play a crucial role in reducing your stress levels. Smells such as lavender, chamomile and sweet orange are proven and can be found in our calming stress balm.
This article was created for informational purposes only and does not necessarily represent the views of For Chaps Ltd. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.