Scent, Memory, & the Emotions

ACS_1026Scent and memory are closely related. Think about how a certain scent triggers a memory. For example, whenever anyone makes coffee after a family dinner, as soon as it starts perking the first thing my sister and I say is “Ooooo it smells like a party”. Why? Because whenever there was a family party, no matter who’s house it was, coffee was always freshly brewed for dessert time. I make coffee every morning and never have that reaction. But at night, when it isn’t typically made, it brings back that memory. I’m sure the reason the reaction is so strong is because the scent was always associated with positive memories shared with our family.

How does it happen?

First, it is important to note that one way for your body to absorb essential oils is through inhalation. They absorb quickly into the bloodstream through the lungs, as well as having a direct effect on the central nervous system.

Essential oils evaporate quickly, making their molecules easily inhaled. The scent molecules provide triggers to our brain and stimulate the limbic system.

When we smell something, scent molecules are brought into the nose and pass over the olfactory membrane which has special receptors that can recognize millions of different molecules based on the molecule’s shape. Once a scent molecule fits into a receptor, the receptor then sends a message to the brain identifying that particular scent molecule.

So, how does that work on our emotions?

As I mentioned earlier, scent molecules provide triggers to our brain and stimulate the limbic system. Without getting too technical, two things the limbic system controls are our emotions and our memories. That is why when you have a distinct memory associated with a scent, and you smell that scent, you get an automatic reaction whether good or bad.

Scent Preference

Now that we know how scent memory is stored in our unconscious mind, it is important to note scent preferences.

Everyone has their own scent preferences. Just because I love the smell of roses, someone else may hate them based off of a bad memory. That should always be taken into consideration when creating any blend. If you don’t like an aroma it could create an uncomfortable experience with a blend and you probably won’t want to use it. And, if you don’t use it, it can’t help you.

The physical and emotional benefits of different essential oils do overlap. So, for instance, you want something to help you gain clarity and motivation but hate the scent of basil, you could substitute rosemary or eucalyptus. All three have the ability to clear the mind and uplift the emotions, and all three have totally different scents.

If you are just beginning to start a collection of essential oils, my advice is to smell them all first. Notice which scents you are drawn to and start your collection from there. Research all of the emotional and therapeutic properties of the oils and make a list (or buy a book) that you can reference back to when creating your blends.

Tip: Save that money! You don’t need alllll the oils. By creating your collection this way, it is more personalized to you and you will find you won’t need as many as you think.

As you get more comfortable with how scents blend together, you will notice that you will start to expand your collection and not worry so much about the aroma of an individual scent. (Remember me and the Juniper oil from this post?)

Next I want to show you one simple diffuser blend, made with two different sets of oils. Let’s make a daytime blend that is comforting and eases worry when you feel overwhelmed; while uplifting and providing positive energy.

*Use equal drops of each oil in your diffuser according to manufacturer suggested drops.

Blend #1

  • Grapefruit – Uplifting, reduces tension and mild depression, brings happy, positive energy.
  • Lemongrass – Uplifting and refreshing to the mood, eases difficult emotional transitions.
  • Palmarosa – Calming yet uplifting, reduces anxiety, and helps you to be more adaptable in difficult situations.

Blend #2

  • Cypress – Soothes overwhelm, eases major life transitions.
  • Juniper Berry – Brings positive energy, releases worry, and eases overwhelm.
  • Siberian Fir – Brings positive yet calm energy, and is revitalizing to the emotions.

Without even smelling the blends you can see how different each one is. Blend #1 is bright, sweet, and citrusy while blend #2 is fresh, woody, and piney. Same emotional benefits, two totally different scents.

I hope you enjoyed learning how scent and memory can affect the emotions. It is definitely the most exciting part of aromatherapy for me. I’m happy I could share it with you!

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