Can Scent Affect Your Mood and Improve It? Yes!
By Caryn Gehlmann
Welcome to another installment of my “Just for the Smell of It” series where I share aromatherapy and essential oil news and tips with you. This month. I wanted to talk about how scent can affect your mood and how you can use this knowledge when you’re feeling down to lift yourself back up again. There’s so much going on in the world right now that we can’t control. Knowing you can make a choice to feel better — whether that’s more grounded, more optimistic, more resilient, more courageous — that’s empowering!
#1 You can enhance your ability to smell (and why that’s important)
Many people don’t spend much time thinking about what they can and can’t smell. They appreciate the good smells (fresh baked cookies) and are repelled by the bad ones (your dog’s run-in with a skunk). But you have the ability to enhance your often-underappreciated sense of smell. Helen Keller is an amazing example. As someone who was both blind and deaf, it is said she knew each place, time, weather, and thing as having its own unique smell.
After many years as a clinical aromatherapist, I have trained my nose to detect sometimes very subtle differences in essential oils. For instance, I can tell you whether a lavender essential oil came from a local farm here in Oregon or from a lavender farm in France.
You can improve your sense of smell too. Start by slowing down a bit and smelling aromatic things around you such as herbs, teas, coffees, chocolate, olive oil, and fruit. Before you take a sip of wine or take a bite of dark chocolate, breathe in the smell first. Not only will it taste better, but you’ll be training your nose to work even better.
There is another important benefit to enhancing your ability to smell. There have been many studies done to show that our sense of smell and our mood is very much intertwined. With COVID-19 robbing some people of their ability to smell, this topic is very relevant right now. To learn more, this article by the Amen Clinic shares some of the research being done. It highlights among other things, a 2016 review of existing research on anosmia and depression. It appears people with depression are more likely to have problems with a sense of smell, and people with anosmia are more likely to have symptoms of depression.
#2 How aromatherapy alleviates anxiety via your vagus nerve
What is your vagus nerve? It begins at the base of your brain, and then branches down to your heart, lungs, and digestive tract, with stops along the way at your larynx and diaphragm, before reaching your abdomen. It’s a key player in the autonomic nervous system (ANS), and it orchestrates your body’s responses to keep you safe.
The problem is with the chronic stress in our modern world (especially in 2020!), our vagus nerve can be on overdrive. The good news is you can activate a more relaxed response. Aromatherapy helps your vagus nerve in two ways:
- Using essential oils helps you to take a deeper breath. Deeper, diaphragmatic breathing, basically slow abdominal breathing, signals your brain that you’re safe, and your body can let its guard down.
- Essential oils can provide an additional layer of calmness and serenity. The study, Autonomic Nervous System Responses to Odours: the Role of Pleasantness and Arousal, found a correlation between odor ratings (intensity, arousal, pleasantness, and familiarity) and the activation of your vagus-based parasympathetic nervous system.
This leads us to my final tip…
#3 Regularly make opportunities to use the power of scent to affect your mood positively
Take an aromatherapy moment whenever and wherever you need it. The key to allowing aromatherapy to influence your mood for the better is finding a scent you love. Don’t let other people or marketers influence what your body is telling you. As I’ve said for years, listen to your nose! Take time to experiment with different scents until you find that one that leaves you feeling…. Ahhh… so relaxed!
The next step is to incorporate the psychology of scent into your day. I find including aromatherapy into my yoga practice to be a good way to recenter myself. I’ll use a roll-on of Meditate or Serenity and apply them to the top of my feet to help encourage deeper inhalation.
It can be very simple to incorporate aromatherapy into your everyday routine! You can use an aromatherapy inhaler (or even a cotton ball with a drop or two of essential oils) that you keep in your purse, pocket, or desk drawer. When you sense your mood shifting into a dark or low place pull it out and try this simple exercise…
Take deep, slow breaths, visualize filling up the lower part of your lungs just above your belly button like a balloon, and then exhale slowly. Try the following 3-step breathing exercise anywhere and any time of the day:
Inhale…Bring yourself into the awareness of the present moment.
Pause….Enjoy the stillness.
Which scent affects your mood positively? I’d love to hear about it on Facebook. Be sure to follow and like my page. And for all my loyal fans, I invite you to turn on notifications so you don’t miss any of my aromatherapy tips that make life more pleasant. If you’re ready to come up with your own unique blend to help you find a more relaxed state, download my free new workbook, The Art & Science of Blending Essential Oils.