Aromatherapy and the Science of Smell

Did you know that there’s a limbic connection between smell and emotion that you can use to support your health and mood?

In the November 2007 issue of Psychology Today, Theresa Molnar, executive director of the Sense of Smell Institute, was quoted:

“Scents can have positive effects on mood, stress reduction, sleep enhancement, self-confidence, and physical and cognitive performance.”

It’s the science of smell.

What’s the science of smell?

Field of yellow flowers

“Smell is a potent wizard
that transports us across
thousands of miles and all
the years we have lived.”
- Helen Keller

As the approximately twelve million cells in the nasal cavity respond to incoming vapors, signals are transmitted to the olfactory bulb and then sent to other areas of the brain—and that’s how we perceive odor.

Interestingly, the ability to smell is rooted in the same region of the brain as emotion and memories. It is here in the limbic system that an odor gets connected to an experience, and this connection allows us to access memories and associated emotions when we later experience the aroma.

The odor has no personal significance, until it makes this connection in the limbic system. Once the connection is made, you can be brought back to certain intense memories and feelings simply by smelling the associated aroma.

This explains one of the ways that essential oils, with their intense, concentrated aromas, can help you reconnect—playing a significant role in supporting your physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

For example, applying your favorite essential oil topically and breathing it in while studying for a test may improve your performance when you breathe in that same essential oil during the test. Try it with Mother E’s AIR::FOCUS blend. 

Air Focus Essential Oil with books and coffee at a desk where someone studies

How else can the science of smell help in my everyday life?

Simply stated, aromatherapy.

According to the same Psychology Today article, you may be able to tap into the association between smell and emotions to support your health and well-being in various ways. Here are a few of our suggestions, based on the science of smell:

1) Try a pleasant scent, like ELIXIR No 2’s sweet smell of Wintergreen, to activate opioid systems in the brain, which may result in improved pain tolerance.

Elixir No 2 Essential Oil Bottle in the Mountains

2) Train yourself to invoke relaxation by using your favorite essential oil blend (try Mother E DEEP GRATITUDE or WATER::BALANCE) during multiple calming meditation sessions. Once the association is made between the aroma and your feelings of relaxation, the essential oil blend itself will elicit a relaxed state—without the meditation!

Mother E Essential Oils Diffuser

3) Use the sense of smell to shape other people’s impressions of you. For example, using Mother E EARTH::GROUNDING essential oil blend topically as a natural fragrance will exude earthiness and groundedness, while using TRUE JOY blend will exude an outgoing, uplifting aura. Change it up to fit with your mood and what you are trying to create in your life!

Improving tolerance to pain, gaining relaxation, and forming other’s positive impressions by using aroma and the science of smell are great ways to support your health and well-being. We'd love to hear how you use the science of smell to enhance your mood and well-being! Let us know in the comments . 



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