The aroma of freshly-baked bread. The unforgettable, earthy scent that arises after rain. The smell of clean laundry. These are a few smells we often get a whiff of in our daily lives, but our noses are capable of sniffing out thousands more.
We are even gifted with the ability to distinguish between different scents even though their molecular structures are just mirror images of one another. It’s a fantastic testament to the under-rated sensitivity of human olfaction (sense of smell), and studies about its connection with the limbic system (emotions, fear, memory) have too suggested a link between smells and the way we think. The Proust effect, for instance, concerns itself with vivid memory recalls that are triggered by certain smells, and it explains why certain scents are able to invoke feelings and moments that are reminiscent of a strong past experience. Aside from a little feeling of nostalgia, it also further solidifies the clear relation on how smells are able to invoke perceptible changes in our mental and emotional states.
So don’t treat that fragrance diffuser in your home or workspace as just an air refresher - by using the right essential oils, the smells wafting about could do you a world of wonders when you need a pick-me-up.
When you need to turn that frown upside down
When you’re feeling a little down, the subtle, floral fragrance of jasmine is the trick to help with depressive thoughts. A 2010 study discovered that jasmine oil had stimulating effects that enhance the alertness and vigour of those exposed to it, and thus lead to the relief of depression and to an uplifted mood.
The evergreen vanilla helps to reduce anxiety and stress, proven through a medical experiment whereby cancer patients undergoing MRI reported 63% less anxiety when the scent was present during the procedure. Meanwhile, researchers that developed Mood Mapping, which ‘reliably measures the mood associations of aromas’, found that the scent of vanilla bean was able to elevate the participants’ feelings of joy and relaxation, and was overwhelmingly rated in self-reports as being ‘happy’ and ‘relaxing’.
When you need to beat out the hunger pangs
Who knew smells could help keep your cravings in check too? The bright, uplifting fruitiness of green apple could help you lose weight. According to Dr Alan Hirsch, the smell of green apples, along with bananas and peppermint, led to reduced appetite and weight loss in his patients compared to those who didn’t smell the scents. Doreen Virtue attributes this to the fact that these neutral, sweet scents are considered ‘stimulants’, and would amp up your energy levels, thus making you eat less.
Olive oil is an essential part of the Mediterranean diet, and the scent of it can help keep your figure trim, too. A research conducted by the German Research Center for Food Chemistry revealed that the group eating yoghurt imparted with the scent of olive oil reduced their calories from their other meals and had improved blood sugar responses.
When you need to refresh and rejuvenate
Citrus scents (lemon, orange, grapefruit, etc.)
The zesty smell of citrus is a favourite scent of many when they need a boost of energy! It’s able to boost the body’s production of serotonin, a hormone that makes you feel happy, and it’s a stimulating scent. Lemon is also known as a powerful scent, as the greater the concentration of volatile ingredients, the more uplifting the scent, and lemon is one of the most volatile.
It’s no surprise that this refreshing, cooling scent would appear in this part of the list! The ideal remedy for many when they are feeling sluggish, the smell of peppermint not only makes you more refreshed, alert and stimulated, it’s also great to keep nearby if you’re working on tasks that require long hours of focus and concentration. A study at Wheeling Jesuit University revealed that those who inhaled peppermint vapours had more cognitive stamina, motivation, and overall performance. Peppermint is also good for its antibacterial properties, and is an extremely versatile cure for a range of respiratory and digestive ailments too.
When you need a good night’s sleep
With a long history of its therapeutic applications, it’s a no-brainer why lavender is the go-to scent for total relaxation, and it’s even being used as filling for pillows. Its well-documented ability to treat insomnia and increase deep slow-rest sleep for a fitful night’s rest is an often lauded use for lavender. The Medical Association of Thailand also discovered that lavender oil significantly decreased blood pressure, heart rate, and skin temperature of those that inhaled lavender oil, and the participants described themselves as being more active and refreshed after its use.
We know that chamomile tea is a great way to unwind after a long day, but the sweet scent of it can be a wonderful sleep aid too. It not only relaxes your mind and body, its calming influence is said to ease the emotional symptoms of PMS and menopause as well. Sip on chamomile tea 30 minutes before bedtime or have chamomile mist or essential oils handy to diffuse the scent around your room. Use lavender instead if you have a known ragweed allergy!
When you need a brain booster
Rosemary does so much more than just adding a dash of flavour into your meals and seasonings. It has been shown that rosemary is effective in enhancing proscriptive memory (the ability to remember things happening in the future such as appointments), and boost overall memory while giving an additional energy lift with its invigorating scent. This is because rosemary is able to reduce the stress hormone cortisol, thus invoking a sense of calmness while amplifying the energy levels of those who use it.
Cinnamon invokes a pleasantly warm feeling, but it can also help you feel more alert too. Cinnamon has the ability to improve various cognitive functions, such as visual-motor response and working memory. In a driving simulation too where cinnamon wafted throughout the experiment, participants were less fatigued and had lower chances of blowing up in road rage. The sweet spice is able to stimulate the central nervous system, thus enhancing performance and motivation.