Scent has a direct connection to our emotions because odor, emotion and memory all are processed in the brain’s limbic system. It’s also why scents can significantly alter our emotions. Example: A scent your mind associates with calm can lower your anxiety.

Virtually any scent can evoke any emotion—it depends on the experiences linked to that scent in the mind of the person smelling it. When studies suggest links between particular scents and emotions, that’s because of the way those scents have been used in our culture. Example: Many people find the scent of lavender calming, but that’s because lavender is added to products that are used when we are relaxing, such as bath soaps. Exceptions: A few scents have an inherent emotional impact because they affect the body’s trigeminal system—the part of the nervous system that sends pain, touch and temperature sensations from your face to your brain. Examples: Menthol and minty scents are cooling and therefore invigorating.

What to do: If you can identify the scents that your mind associates with particular moods, you can inhale those scents when you want to evoke those moods. A quick sniff of one scented essential oil might make you calmer…another might invigorate you…a third might make you happier…and so on.

If you aren’t certain which scents your mind associates with desired emotional states, create your own associations from scratch. To get started…

Sample scents at an ­aromatherapy shop. Start with ones that are uncommon in your culture—lychee fruit is unfamiliar for non-Asians, for example. Reminder: Sniff your own nonperfumed arm or shirtsleeve between each scent to preserve your ability to process scents.

Purchase a few unfamiliar, non-emotion–evoking essential oils. Don’t rush to the “all natural” label. All scents are made from chemicals, whether they’re natural or lab-­manufactured, but natural scents aren’t regulated and are more likely to trigger allergic reactions.

Link an emotion to a scent. When you’re experiencing an emotion you want your mind to associate with a scent—happy, alert, calm or something else—open one of these essential oil containers, and take a few deep sniffs, then close the container again. Do this once or twice.

When you want to trigger that same emotion, try sniffing the scent. Example: Sniff an essential oil while upbeat music is playing and you’re in the middle of an invigorating workout…and perhaps repeat this one more time…then take a sniff when your energy levels are dragging and you need a boost.

Caution: Don’t overuse emotion-linked scents—the more you smell something, the less notice your mind takes of it.

Related Articles