Why do scents, smells and fragrances affect your mood? An aromatherapist explains

Posted by
Aiden Wynn
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Aromatherapist Hayley Merrick explains how scents can boost your mood, and recommends some of the best essential oils for if you’re feeling low. 

I think it’s safe to say that a lot of people have been feeling at least a little up and down this year, with the coronavirus pandemic having introduced a plethora of restrictions and anxieties into our everyday lives. The colder days and longer nights of winter can very often exacerbate a person’s mental health issues, too.

Many people have turned to new things to give themselves a much-needed boost this year, trying everything from mindful running and daily walks to more creative hobbies such as baking and painting.

But there is one pretty simple way of raising your spirits that you might have overlooked: scent. You see, while certain scents are in no way a cure for mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD), there are some that have been found to improve wellbeing and give you a lift on days where you’re feeling down. 

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Therapist and women’s health practitioner Hayley Merrick is a member of Therapy Directory and offers aromatherapy, and so understands the many benefits that fragrances can have on your mood.

She explains that “there are fragrances which can uplift and soothe anxiety, and those that can help to balance our emotions.” The reason for this has to do with the limbic system in the brain, “where our feelings, mood and memories are processed, as well as the perception of scent.”

“The limbic system is why certain fragrances can trigger memories and instantly transport us back to a different place and time,” she continues, which shows just how potent the power of association is when it comes to our sense of smell. 

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The limbic system is where our feelings, memories and sense of smell are processed.

According to smell and taste disorder charity Fifth Sense, the idea that “much of our emotional response to smell is governed by association” is “borne out by the fact that different people can have completely different perceptions of the same smell.” This would help to clear up any times you’ve been baffled that people just can’t stand a smell you really love.

Hayley goes on to say that, for this reason, “fragrances that remind us of happy times can really help to lift our mood.”

“My go-to scents that help to lift the mood are citrus scents, which I call sunshine oils,” says Hayley, because “these transport us to cocktails and sunshine on holidays and are naturally warm and uplifting, making them perfect during winter.” She also recommends trying essential oils such as geranium and bergamot, which “have a balancing and uplifting effect” and can “soothe the nerves.”

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And, as it turns out, essential oils are the best way to experience the benefits of aromatherapy. Healthline recommends other good options that include jasmine, sandalwood and lavender scented essential oils, amongst others, to be used in diffusers, room sprays, baths and skin products. 

Because of just how closely scent is linked to our emotions, simply spraying the right scent or popping a few drops of soothing oils into a hot bath could very well give you the mood boost you need.  

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with their mental health, you can find support and resources on the mental health charity Mind’s website or see the NHS’ list of mental health helplines and organisations here.

Images: Getty

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Aiden Wynn

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