The sense of smell is our most primal of all the senses. It exerts a powerful influence over our thoughts, emotions, moods, memories, and behaviors. A healthy human nose can distinguish over one trillion different aromas through hundreds of smell receptors. By way of comparison, we only have three types of photoreceptors used to recognize visual stimuli. Olfaction is far more complex than sight, and we are ten thousand times more capable of smelling than tasting.
Our sense of smell is inextricably connected to our survival, and it plays a major role in remembering what is and isn’t safe and what is pleasurable. Why remember danger, stress, trauma, and pleasure? So we may learn from experience, to better protect ourselves, survive, and procreate. If it wasn’t safe this time, we can avoid it the next time; or if it was pleasurable (e.g. food, physical intimacy), we want to participate again. People, environments, food: smelling them is part of everyday life.
Aromas serve as exogenous ligands. They are received via olfactory receptors, which are highly concentrated in the limbic system, the primitive part of the brain and seat of emotion. In the center lies the amygdala, which instantly receives the incoming scent information before other higher brain centers. By the time the information reaches our “thinking” and decision-making cortex and we actually figure out what we smelled, the scent has already triggered emotional and body chemistry responses.
The amygdala is the storehouse of traumas and contains the densest concentration of neuropeptides, affecting cellular memory. Smell is the primary sense that unconsciously activates and affects traumatic memories stored there. Acting as the watchdog, the amygdala is constantly on the lookout for danger or threats. As it belongs to the more primitive part of our brain, it doesn’t have the intelligence to discern between real threats versus perceived threats. It passes on its concerns and notifies the hypothalamus when safety and security are at risk, which then in turn notifies the pituitary, which alerts the adrenal glands, which sets off the alarm for fight-or-flight stress response and releases cortisol and adrenaline. Bottom line: The emotional stress triggered the release of the stress hormone.
Essential oils can facilitate a rapid emotional response in the brain and the body to help process such a release. Essential oils are powerful biochemical agents for emotional balance, wellness, and toxic release, which can be paired or partnered with any holistic or medically-derived program to create a successful approach to mental and emotional wellness.
Essential oils can be diffused into the air, which help to support healthy olfactory responses. This can be done through the use of a diffuser or the same effect can be achieved by placing a drop or two of oil in your hands, rubbing them together and then taking long deep breaths while cupping your hands around your nose and mouth.
Combining popular blends of essential oils can be a fun way to enjoy their aromatic benefits. Here are a few favorites:
- Bright Morning: 4 drops Lemon, 3 drops Wild Orange, 2 drops Peppermint.
- Afternoon Pick Me Up: 4 drops Wild Orange, 4 drops Peppermint.
- Stress Be-Gone: 4 Drops Grounding Blend, 3 drops Lavender.
- Happy Home: 4 drops Joyful Blend, 2 drops Frankincense.
What are your favorite essential oils to blend and diffuse?
For more ideas and information on Emotional Health, check out our page on Essential Emotions.