The scent of approaching rain; the smell of balsam and pine; the aroma of freshly brewed coffee that hangs in the air as you walk past the corner café…
These are just a few scents that can bring memories rushing back in vivid detail, and it’s no wonder. Aroma has a mystical way of transporting the mind to specific moments in time, activating both intense memories and the associated feelings and emotions.
The sense of smell and its effect on mood isn’t a new concept. As early as 4,500 BCE, the Egyptians used essential oils to perfume their bodies and purify the air. Cleopatra was said to have soaked her ships’ sails with essential oils so the wind would carry her essence across the water, presumably to seduce Marc Anthony long before she reached the shore.
To ancient cultures, scents and their influence on the psyche may have seemed like magic. Still, scientists have identified a distinct reaction between the olfactory system and a region of the brain known as the limbic system, where memories and emotions are processed and stored.
When you inhale through your nostrils, tiny cells called olfactory neurons capture scent molecules and send electrical messages to the olfactory bulb in front of the brain. From there, signals are sent directly to the limbic system, which contains the hippocampus, where memories are created and stored, and the amygdala, which manages emotion. These regions are connected, and the process is virtually instantaneous.
Understanding the interplay between scent, memory, and emotions gives us greater insight into the feelings associated with certain smells. It has also helped us unlock the phenomena of aroma and the therapeutic benefits of Aromatherapy.
The Benefits of Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy involves diffusing natural essential oils extracted from plants, roots, and flowers. The word “essential” refers to the natural plant chemicals that provide a distinct scent. The molecules released in the diffusing process stimulate the limbic system to create various desirable effects. For almost everyone, smelling these oils is an enjoyable experience.
Once thought to be a niche market reserved for new-agers and magical thinkers, research has shown that Aromatherapy is a quick and effective method to alleviate mood-related issues. And as more information and essential oils become available, it’s easier than ever to take advantage of the stress-relieving benefits of Aromatherapy at home.
Now, if you’re a novice, shopping for essential oils online or perusing the shelves at specialty shops can be confusing. Some essential oils address stress, others anxiety, and others fatigue. Some oils will pick you up and help you think, and others will help you sleep. The choices seem endless – that’s why I’ve put together a list of my top six.
Lavender – Chill
There’s a reason this best-seller is top of the list and why it should be first on yours too. Lavender smells heavenly; that’s why it’s commonly used in fragrances and shampoos. Meanwhile, there’s convincing evidence that smelling it can instantly reduce your anxiety. It’s also been shown to promote relaxation and can help alleviate depression, insomnia, and even menstrual cramps.
Eucalyptus – Clear Mind
This multi-tasker checks a lot of boxes; it helps relax and clear the mind and elevate your mood, and it’s an excellent aroma for stuffy noses and breathing problems. (Vick’s Vaporub, typically applied to the chest as a cough suppressant, contains essential Eucalyptus.) It also has potent antibacterial and antiviral abilities. Bonus: the smell of Eucalyptus repels pesky little bugs like mosquitos and other annoying biters.
Peppermint – Wake Up!
Wake up! Peppermint is an instant energizer that has been shown to boost memory and alertness. I keep it on hand for moments when I need a lift to combat drowsiness.
Rosemary – Thinking
Research suggests rosemary promotes accuracy and speed during tasks that require mental acuity. It’s also an instant refresher for your foggy brain.
Lemon Oil – Mood Lift
Lemon oil may be even more effective in elevating your mood than lavender oil. Plus, its uplifting, clean scent may also decrease anxiety and help with stress.
Orange Oil – Joy
Orange oil helps reduce anxiety, and its cheerful aroma is both uplifting and relaxing.
Ways to Experience Aromatherapy
There are myriad ways to experience Aromatherapy.
Diffusers, which vaporize essential oils, are a nice option. They are quiet, they fill the room with lasting fragrance, and there’s one to compliment every decor. I’ve noticed a large selection of discounted diffusers at home furnishing stores such as TJ Maxx, Home Goods, and Marshalls.
Because essential oils can be applied directly to your skin, consider spoiling yourself with a relaxing Aromatherapy massage. Or, if you’re feeling stressed, why not add a drop or two of essential oil to your body lotion? (Be careful, though, some oils, like Eucalyptus, can irritate your eyes.)
There are also spritzers, incense sticks, candles, aromatic sticks, and bath salts. Experiment with a few of these to find out what works best for you.
The effects of Aromatherapy are subtle, yet using your sense of smell can positively impact your emotional and physical health. And it can support your healing process. And no doubt, inhaling a fresh, beautiful scent instantly brightens the moment.
Adaptogens for Stress Relief
There are many benefits to Aromatherapy, chief among them is the way you may instantly feel less stress and anxiety.
Another approach, which may be more enduring, to help control stress is through the use of adaptogens. Adaptogens are therapeutic herbs shown to increase resistance to stress and decrease sensitivity to physical and mental stressors. The result is an improved ability to adapt to stressful situations. Adaptogens also help restore balance and a greater sense of calm.
Some popular adaptogens are ashwagandha, holy basil, turmeric, and functional mushroom.
Functional mushrooms, such as Reishi, Maitake, and Chaga, help support your immune system, especially during times of stress. Studies show they are immune-modulating, meaning they contain chemicals that may help promote the production of immune cells critical for preventing illness.
Stonehenge Health’s Dynamic Mushrooms™ combines five of the most studied and proven functional mushrooms – Lion’s Mane, Reishi, Chaga, Maitake, and Shiitake. Each one is considered adaptogenic; collectively, they help boost cognitive brain performance, relieve stress, reduce the adverse effects of stress on your body, and help you sleep better.