Underutilized yet extremely powerful, our sense of smell can significantly impact our daily lives. The scent is the first sense activated when we’re born. And it remains one of the strongest throughout our lives. However, the science of scent is only just being discovered compared to our understanding of the other senses. Still, research shows a close link between the olfactory system and emotions and mood. You can tell from experience that scents affect mood.
The effects of odors on our mood state are more subtle, but they still exist. In one study, for example, people exposed to natural plant-based scents had an increased sense of awareness and chipper attitude compared to those in odorless environments.
People who were exposed to specific scents like lavender or jasmine tend to focus on what they're hearing. And also remember it longer than others. Studies have shown that their pleasant scents affect mood and increase a person's cognitive functions!
Connecting how Scents Affect Mood and Emotions
Research published in Chemical Senses showed how a particular scent could significantly impact moods, emotions, and our psychological wellbeing. Understandably with this knowledge, we want to know about how different smells can affect our mood. And how we can manipulate and benefit from scents or improve or alter our mindset. It’s certainly possible as the practice of aromatherapy and even the wearing of essential oils has shown for centuries.
Speaking on a panel discussion entitled ‘Olfaction in Science and Society’ Venkatesh Murthy, Raymond Leo Erikson, explained the close links between the olfactory system and the limbic system. He said, “The olfactory signals very quickly get to the limbic system,” with odors directly connecting with vital parts of the brain, including the hippocampus and amygdala. Both are vital in forming emotions and memory. Erikson is a Life Sciences Professor and chair of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard.
This information has been understood in ancient art and health forms for many centuries. Ayurvedic medicine and aromatherapy lead the way for recognizing the profound impact our sense of smell can have on our mental health and wellbeing.
Aromatherapy is simply the art (or science) of repeatedly utilizing the same essential oil for specific tasks or activities. Over time, this trains the brain to relate that scent to the activity. Your cognitive state may alter slightly to be in the right frame of mind to carry out the task successfully.
Candles’ scents affect mood.
A great example is choosing a particular scented candle for meditation sessions. If you always select a sandalwood candle when you meditate, then if you use this candle at other times, your brain will still reach for the same cognitive state as if you were meditating. Your brain quickly connects the scent with the activity because you have trained it to recognize this association. Other good examples include feeling a close attachment or happiness when you smell the shift of a loved one.
Affect of scents on associative learning and mood
Scents affect mood due to associative learning – a connection our brains form based on our experiences. For the mind to link an odor with a particular mood, it must first associate it with an event. Or an experience from the past. Olfactory bulbs are a part of the brain responsible for processing odor information received via olfactory receptors. Olfactory bulbs also link to brain areas that deal with emotions and learning by association.
As already mentioned, our body’s limbic system is responsible for emotion and memory. It also has a role in our sense of smell, and it is entirely responsible for setting our emotional tone and helping us find the mental energy for tasks we need to complete each day.
When the limbic and olfactory systems combine and you train the connection between scent and activity, your hippocampus (part of the limbic system) begins to form memories based upon this connection. The smell is the only one of your senses with this direct and powerful connection to your memory.
Practicing aromatherapy and weaving different scents and their connected memories into your daily life can positively affect you. Your brain is quick to learn and you can train it to make these connections and associations with a little commitment. Of course, if you’re looking to benefit from and incorporate aromatherapy into your daily life, you need to know the most effective essential oil. And how they can enhance and improve your mood.
Powerful and effective mood-boosting scents
There is a significant range of regularly used scents that you’ll find in any number of products. From essential oils to candles to beauty products and fragrances, creating beautifully smelling products that also benefit the mind is not a new idea. But it remains popular. Let’s look more closely at some tried and tested scents that have strong and effective mood-boosting effects.
Lemon is known for its many health benefits, including its vitamin C content. However, the strong citrusy scents also affect your mood. The pleasant fragrance of lemon can also positively impact your stress levels. Lemon is not the most appealing scent to everyone, but it has a reputation for being a “clean” smell. Often used in cleaning products, aromatherapists also use lemon to help people shake off feelings of imperfection and impurity. It can also help improve and boost confidence.
Peppermint has been used for medicinal purposes since the Ancient Egyptian period. It is well-known to us for its ability to help improve concentration and boost focus. One study found athletes who inhaled peppermint outperformed those who did not. Peppermint can help keep your mind on track when you need to drill down into a task. A peppermint-infused candle could be the perfect partner for an intense study session or to prepare for a high-pressure day at work.
Coffee may not be a natural choice for candle scents, but it definitely affect our mood. We know the stimulating impact of drinking coffee, but does the aroma have the same effect? Research shows just the scent of coffee can impact your brain power. Drinking too much coffee may not be recommended, but no one has ever been told they shouldn’t smell it. For a brain boost, the pleasant smell of coffee is a great choice.
To release built-up anxiety and stress, orange-scented oils and candles are a great help. One research study found the scent of orange reduced stress and anxiety for women in labor. Another found it reduced aggression and increased tranquillity in male patients. Including tangy scents in your aromatherapy would greatly affect your mood this summer. It might bring about a rounded sense of calm as well.
Cinnamon can be a bit of a contentious scent. For some, it evokes memories of the holiday season and festive baking, while others don’t like the strength of this smell. From an aromatherapy perspective, cinnamon has got a lot to give. Despite its rich, comforting smell that you may connect to cuddling up in winter, cinnamon can actually reduce drowsiness and add a little pick-me-up into your day.
No discussion of aromas and strong scents could be complete without a mention of lavender. People always link its pungent, immediately recognizable floral fragrance to a great night’s sleep. Lavender can actually offer much more than this. Its powerful properties can slow the heart rate and calm the nervous system, even with a simple sniff. Its sleep improving qualities are also tested regularly, with one study showing that, when combined with sleep hygiene, lavender positively improved the sleep quality of participants with sleep issues. There’s a reason so many baby products are full of lavender. So, if you need help unwinding or drifting off to sleep, lavender is your friend.
When it comes to eating them, grapefruit is an acquired taste. Its scent, however, is much more popular and is utilized in many perfumes and aromatherapy products. Grapefruit has a gentle invigorating aroma that can help to reduce anxiety.
Warm and earthy, vanilla is a comforting fragrance that many people associate with their childhood. Research shows vanilla has the ability to lift spirits, with one study finding smelling vanilla beans elevated subjects’ feelings of relaxation and joy. The chance to relax and enjoy all the memories that come with the scent of vanilla makes it a great choice to have at home.
Not just to pep up your mealtimes, rosemary is a powerfully scented herb that has been recognized for its health-boosting properties for millennia. The ancient Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans all used rosemary to improve memory, and, in some cultures, it was even considered sacred. Rosemary has real benefits to the immune system, even when simply enjoyed as a scent. Rosemary is one of the most powerful aromas for improving memory retention, as it helps to reduce stress, fight mental fatigue, and encourage clarity in equal measure.
One study saw participants who walked through a pine forest report lower levels of depression and stress. While a pine candle can’t recreate all the sights and sounds of the forest, the connection your brain makes with that unmistakable aroma and the memories around it can bring similar benefits.
Perfect scents pairings that affect mood
Some scents work wonderfully together and combining the right essential oils, or natural scents can create an even more effective mood boost. Consider these perfect pairings to lift your mood:
Peppermint and grapefruit
Grapefruit brings its sweet, invigorating properties and combines them perfectly with the refreshing pep that you’d expect from peppermint. Grapefruit can help to minimize any sense of anxiousness or stress while peppermint puts your brain into the alert state you need for top focus or improved cognitive function.
Orange and cinnamon
Orange is another citric scent that can be highly effective for managing heightened emotions, including stress. It also has health-promoting qualities such as antioxidant and toxin removing properties that can help to aid all-around health. When you combine orange with the rich, immediately comforting scent of cinnamon, you’ve not only got memories of those festive flavors we’ve already mentioned, but you’ve also got a scent that helps level and ground your mind. The spicy kick from the cinnamon brings an uplifting feeling too.
Lavender and rosemary
We know both lavender and rosemary for their hugely powerful and, some might say, overwhelming scents. With this in mind, it’s hard to imagine they’d work well together or fuse in an effective and cohesive way. However, they make a perfect partnership, offering a double-punch of relaxation and mental clarity. Lavender’s flower scent, with proven benefits for relaxing and calming the body and mind, brings the soothing relaxation we often crave. On the other hand, rosemary’s depth of aroma and centering abilities help to keep the mind alert. The combination is highly effective and helps to promote real mental focus without overwhelming or encouraging mental fatigue.
There are many other common yet popular combinations of scents that affect mood. If you’re starting out in aromatherapy and want guidance for choosing the right essential oils, take inspiration from candles and perfumes. The list includes many tried and tested combinations for the reason that goes beyond simply smelling great. The more experience you develop, the more you can experiment with unique flavor combinations and find a mood booster that perfectly suits your life.
So, which scents affect the mood the most effectively?
Trying to single out a scent as more effective than the others is difficult when you look at the many different properties they offer. Finding the right combination of emotions you’re hoping to evoke is the most important consideration when looking to buy a new candle or mix a new aromatherapy oil in an aroma diffuser.
It is also vital to remember that to truly benefit from the effects of any scent, you need to expose your brain to it regularly. You must train your sense of smell to connect the scent with the activity you’re doing to create the long-lasting associations you’re hoping for. If you are committed to connecting the scent of peppermint with intense sessions of study or cinnamon as a little pick-me-up when you are home after work. In that case, you need to commit to the same setup every time, and your mind will soon pick up on the associations.
Aromatherapy is both an ancient art form and a science. It allows you to find the right combinations to suit your lifestyle and, with the right research, create aromas that nudge your moods in the right direction. The particular scent you consider the most effective is extremely subjective, and it’s all about experimenting and finding the right combination for you.