On an intuitive and experiential level, many of us are aware of the connection between scent and mood. Although some may tune into the meaning of smell more consciously than others, our sense of smell is closely related to our emotions and even cognitive function and spatial awareness. In addition, attractive fragrances enhance our lives. We can all relate to the feeling of walking into a room that smells divine. Whether it's freshly baked bread, lavender, pine needles, or simmering herbal vegetable soup, smell has the power to evoke emotions—and losing it can have devastating consequences. In addition to our intuitive knowledge of the relationship between scent and psychology, science and herbal traditions have much to say about this connection. Whether you're looking to relieve anxiety, improve your focus, or create a cozy atmosphere, aromatherapy is a powerful way to influence your mood.

Aromatherapy: New Terminology, Ancient Practice

Although the practice of working with scents to evoke a certain feeling is an age-old art, it wasn't until 1900 that French chemist and perfumer René-Maurice Gattefosse identified aromatherapy as a distinct discipline with wellness applications. However, although aromatherapy may not have been formalized as a discipline in this way until relatively recent history, aroma has long been used in this way. We know that when we smell something good, we often want to get closer to it – and when we smell something bad, it can make our stomachs turn. In fact, Ayurveda and other health traditions view all stimuli absorbed by the five senses as having the potential to lead us to either health or disease. As one of my Ayurvedic teachers said, “If a smell can make you sick, why can't a smell heal you?” In the same way that listening to pleasant music or looking at a stunning natural landscape can induce a sense of well-being and peace, working with aroma is another way we can influence our well-being. Let's take a deeper look at how scent and mood interact.


The science behind olfaction and psychology

Smell identification (the ability to recognize something you've smelled before) is extremely important. A lack of smell has been linked to Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, and may even indicate a greater likelihood of death within 5 years. However, people still often underestimate the power of the sense of smell. According to a study conducted by neuroscientist and smell expert Rachel Hertz, 25% of people would rather lose their sense of smell than their smartphone!


So how are smell and mood connected? The sense of smell is unique and powerful because there is a direct line of communication between the olfactory bulbs and the amygdala-hippocampal complex of the limbic system. This part of the limbic system, where the olfactory bulbs synapse, plays a key role in managing our emotional responses, emotional memory and spatial navigation. "None of our other senses have this level of purposeful connection to the areas of the brain that process emotion, associative learning, and memory" (Herz, 2016). The connection between smell and memory is so well known that it has a special name: The Proust Phenomenon.


To further emphasize the connection between emotions and smell, since emotions are processed in the same place as the primary olfactory cortex (within the limbic system), if olfaction is compromised, emotional processing is also affected. This can lead to a deterioration in emotional well-being and even serious depression.


In addition, the hypothalamus, which is associated with sexual behavior, is also part of the limbic system. Motives for food and sexual behavior are closely related to the sense of smell. Scent is a well-known factor in sexual attraction, and the ability to orgasm can even be compromised when the sense of smell suffers.


Loss of smell certainly interferes with the joy of tasting food. Without the ability to smell aromas, we lose much of our ability to sense the flavor nuances and flavors of food. Chocolate cake just tastes sweet, instead of having the multi-faceted flavor of cocoa, fat, and other delicious ingredients.


Fragrance and Mood: Science and Tradition

There is a clear distinctive relationship between scent, mood and memory. However, depending on how an individual interprets a particular smell (as in the case of associated memories), the resulting mood and evoked emotions can vary from person to person. A single smell may not evoke the same sensation from one person to another. However, there is a significant body of knowledge in both modern science and herbal traditions that points to the relationship between specific aromas and psychological states.


In conclusion,

After reading this article, I hope you will have a better appreciation for your sense of smell. Our ability to smell is closely related to mood, appetite, arousal, and even cognitive and spatial function. While there is plenty of scientific research and conventional wisdom to support the connection between specific scents and mood, it's helpful to remember that we each have our own memory maps when it comes to scent. Pay attention to how you react to different scents – by fine-tuning your self-awareness when it comes to scent and mood, you can better manage your own mood atmosphere through the use of scents.


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