Give your mood a boost through the power of smell. How to use scent, the Proust Effect and aromatherapy to improve well-being.
Of all our senses, our sense of smell is our most underappreciated. Smell can alert us to danger; it factors in who we choose as a partner (pheromones); it’s also responsible for around 80% of what we taste.
Different scents can also impact how we feel. Studies indicate that scents can increase positive emotions, decrease negative moods, disrupt cravings, lower stress, and decrease inflammatory immune responses, thus enhancing psychological and physiological well-being. [source].
But not just any scent will do. It’s not about perfumes or pretty smells. Aroma is very personal, and the scents that impact how we feel are the ones that evoke powerful and positive memories.
The Proust Effect – Scent, Memory and Happiness
If you’ve ever caught a faint whiff of something familiar and have instantly been transported back to a childhood memory, then you understand the power of a nostalgia-inducing smell.
For me, the smell of pine needles in the hot sun instantly transports me to school lunch-time and soggy vegemite sandwiches. The smell of galvanised steel and oil makes me think of hanging out with my dad in his shed.
This scent-triggered memory is known as the Proust Effect after the French author, Marcel Proust, who first described this phenomenon after dipping a madeleine in his cup of lime blossom tea.
“Immediately the old grey house upon the street rose up like a stage set… the house, the town, the square where I was sent before lunch, the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took… in that moment… the whole of Combray and of its surroundings… sprang into being, town and gardens alike, all from my cup of tea.”[Proust]
When scents evoke nostalgic memories, they also impact the way we feel. Studies found that high levels of scent-evoked nostalgia were associated with high levels of positive affect, self-esteem, self and social connectedness, optimism, and life meaning [source].
Since smells evoke emotional memories more than any other of our five senses, and because those memories tend to be positive and positively affect our minds and bodies, scents help enhance mood states.
The Mind-Scent Connection
The sense of smell is the only sense with primary access to the brain’s amygdala (emotional processing) and hippocampus (memory formation). Because of this, memories triggered by smell are more emotional and evocative.
These emotional, nostalgic memories – assuming they are positive, of course – lead to positive feelings. It generally feels good to take a walk down memory lane.
But studies show the benefits don’t just stop with happy memories. There is a flow-on effect to general improvements in mood, decreased stress and anxiety, reduced inflammation in the body and possibly even possible improvements in immune function and an overall increased sense of well-being.
“Scent-evoked nostalgia predicted higher levels of positive affect, self-esteem, self-continuity, optimism, social connectedness and meaning in life.”[source]
How To Use Essential Oils to Create Personalised Well-being Blends
Because there are a rich variety of essential oils, and because we can mix and match them to create personal blends that can evoke positive memories, essential oils lend themselves to creating scent-evoked well-being.
And while studies on the relationship between odour-evoked memories and wellbeing aren’t endorsing specific properties of aromatherapy, other studies suggest that specific essential oils *may* have direct effects on our wellbeing (although more studies need to be done to be sure).
Rather than be seen as panaceas, they can be seen as enjoyable, self-care life enhancers, says one researcher, an adjunct that compliments standard well-being strategies and other self-help strategies.
Because scent evoked well-being comes from the distinctly individual relationship between smell and memory, you will get the best effects from creating your own aromatherapy blends.
And when you create a blend that is just right for you, you will want to record it so you can recreate that scent again. That’s where an essential oil journal comes in handy.
Using Essential Oils to Create Your Well-being Blends
While the whole point of scent-induced memories is that the scents are personal to you, below are a few common oils that are purported to improve mood to use as a starting point. I use Eco Modern Essential oils, a company from the Gold Coast, Australia.
Essential oils can be used in a diffuser to scent a room, or on a rollerball for a personal pick-me-up wherever you may be. They can also be used in the bath for scented relaxation.
Essential Oils To Improve Concentration and Productivity
- Sweet orange
Essential Oils to Increase Energy
Essential Oils To Reduce Stress and Anxiety
- Sweet Orange
Essential Oils To Improve Mood
- Ylang Ylang
- Melissa (Lemon Balm)
- Clary Sage
Essential Oils To Improve Sleep
- Ylang Ylang
Keeping a Record of Your Essential Oil Blends
Making your own blends feels a little bit magical. A small act of alchemy. At least, that’s how it feels to me.
And when you create a blend you like, you want to make sure you can recreate it! Writing your recipe down in a journal will mean your special blend doesn’t get forgotten.
Not only can you track your own blends, but you can also use a journal to keep a record of varying recipes, what essential oil has what benefit, each oil’s safety precautions, mixing ratios, and more.
Eco Modern Essentials have a new essential oil journal, where you can keep track of all of these things and more. They sent me a journal to try and it’s very lux and enjoyable to use. It’s also super useful to have all the essential information in one place including how many drops to make the correct dilution, and how many drops to add to a bath or diffuser. If you’re looking for a gift idea, this would be perfect for the person who enjoys using essential oils.
Nostalgia-evoking scents create positive emotions that can improve overall well-being. It may be possible to recreate those scents by blending essential oils to create a unique aroma profile that is personalised just for you. Record your blends in a special aromatherapy journal.
For recreational use. No claims are being made as to the effectiveness of essential oils. Always seek professional advice before using.
[Top feature image by Pixel Shot @ stock.adobe.com]