Isn’t it interesting that most probably we all experience similar feelings or sensations when we sense a smell of a freshly brewed coffee in the morning, baked bread, burning firewood, or an aroma of herbal tea on a rainy day? Just the mention of these scents has the power to trigger us positively. When I close my eyes and think of an aromatic cup of morning coffee I can feel so vividly the unfolding potential of a new day, a fresh start, a clean slate, a moment of relaxation before the cacophony of city life.
Albert Einstein once said: “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”
I wish to live by these words more often so here’s what kept me passionately curious these days:
How come we evaluate some fragrances as good therefore pleasant? Why when we smell something good we also feel good? What is the connection between our emotions and smells? Could they influence each other and if yes, how? On my quest of finding answers to these questions, I came to know quite a lot about the intricacies of the human body - the nose, to be more exact.
Let’s learn more about our sense of smell, shall we?
Olfaction, or in other words smelling, is our most primal sense thanks to which we, humans, survived throughout evolution. It served us as a first warning signal of the potential danger which would trigger our fight or flight response.
Even today, in advanced civilizations, the structure of our brain is not so different than ages ago. On a very survival level, we connect a certain smell with an emotional state related either to a safe or a dangerous situation. For example, we have the ability to “smell the fear”, unconsciously or not, which is spread in the pheromones of other people. Maybe that would explain why we don’t want other people to smell our sweat when we’re anxious or stressed…
On the other hand, we can also associate certain smells, such as burned wood, with the feeling of security, comfort, and relaxation. Scents have their curious ways of influencing our emotional states. We now know that different smells coming from our surroundings reach the olfactory bulb, a neural structure involved in the sense of smell. Then the signal is being sent to the limbic brain. To be more specific, scents reach the amygdala that plays a big role in decision-making processes and emotional reasoning. That is the link in our brains between the sense of smell and emotional states. Great! One is connected to the other… What can we do with this fun fact then?
We experienced this profound and surprisingly strong influence of scents on us many times and now we also get the science behind it. Why not try to harness this power and use it to achieve a positive outcome? What if it’s possible to elevate our mood with a certain fragrance? Keep on reading because what comes next seriously blows my mind!
Christopher Bergland, an American athlete and the author of “The Athlete’s Way”, talks in his book about the idea of using one's sense of smell as a personal tool. Since we can, consciously or not, connect certain scent with a specific emotion or sensation, we can choose to surround ourselves with the smells that positively affect us. What is your choice? ‘
Bergland's main focus lies in achieving a peak performance mindset which is desired in the competitive world of athletes. He invites readers to create an environment of "scents that evoke positive psychology and your ideal mindset”. The fragrances that you’re familiar with, such as vanilla, or lavender, are very helpful in creating a sense of safety. You can also try to connect a new fragrance of your choice to a desired emotional state and build a mindful ritual around it.
Setting an intention for each practice and pairing it up with a specific scent is highly likely to create a positive association in your brain (unless you already have an existing one). Is there something that you long for? Would you like to feel more grounded and relaxed? Maybe gaining an insight into your feelings and achieving emotional clarity is what you need? The possibilities are endless… and so is the variety of fragrances to choose from!
It is up to you now which scent you’d wish to use as a way to elevate your mood.
Let me know in the comments below what is your favorite scent and what does it make you feel.