Could Smells Help to Break You Out of that Emotional Funk?

Have you ever lit a candle in order to relax at the end of a busy day, or felt the energising effect of inhaling fresh, clean scents? What about the uplifting feeling of sniffing a baby’s head, or the aroma of freshly baked cookies? The fact is; your olfactory system – or sense of smell – has an intimate relationship with your brain, and this means that certain scents might actually affect your emotional health, or, at least in the short-term, your mood.


When you sniff a certain scent, it sparks a specific mood – but this isn’t something that comes naturally. Associative learning means that scents trigger moods, because you brain has tied the smell to past experiences. Your mind has to associate the odour with an event or experience before it links it to a certain mood, and this is where the olfactory bulbs come in. These are linked to areas of the brain that deal with emotions and associative learning, and it’s their job it is to receive information about odours. So if the smell of rubbing alcohol reminds you of an unpleasant doctor’s visit, or peppermint recalls your Grandma and her peppermint creams, now you know why!


The emotional wellness phenomenon has been widely researched, and produced some interesting findings. In one study, for example, the researchers explored the difference between memories evoked by odour, and those which were recalled from a word trigger. When participants’ memories were evoked using smells, they were able to recall memories from farther back in time and were more emotionally stimulated by the recollections.


Another study noticed that there were different levels of olfactory response amongst the different emotions: happiness, disgust, and anxiety elicit the strongest responses, while sadness and anger have the weakest links to odours. Other researchers have discovered that if you expose yourself to natural plant odours, you will be calmer, more alert and in a generally better mood than if you weren’t in a natural plant environment. Plus, orange, lavender, coffee, and liquorice scents have been shown to lengthen your attention span, while the smell of cleaning supplies might even make you more generous!

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