Fresh baking, peppermint, roasted turkey, or maybe that perfume your mother only wears for special occasions, all of these scents inspire a heightened experience. So how are smell and memory connected?
For many, the holiday season brings a sensory experience; the cold crispness in the air, the sounds of children laughing or our favourite carols, and the spectacle of lights and decorations. But what about our sense of smell?
The idea that certain aromas can take us back to childhood or trigger memories isn’t just speculation, it is backed by science. It’s one of the reasons why aromatherapy has become such a popular way for people to relax and restore a sense of well-being.
How does our sense of smell work?
While the smell of freshly baked cookies wafting through your kitchen may seem uncomplicated, the reality is that our sense of smell is complex. When molecules in the air find their way into your olfactory receptor cells, these cells send a signal to your olfactory bulb located in your brain, which is where the signals are interpreted as various smells.
But the process doesn’t end there. The part of the brain responsible for emotion, the olfactory bulb, is connected to the amygdala, and also connected to your hippocampus (the part of the brain used for memory and cognition). Neuroscientists believe these close connections in our brains cause us to link certain smells with memories.
And the connection between scents and emotions and memories isn’t just a fun fact either; it is something we can use to boost our mood. Aromatherapy, which uses essential oils to create aromas, has been studied extensively. While studies drawing a straight line between the impact of scent on anxiety and depression are inconclusive. Some research shows that scent can have a positive impact on mood. According to a study conducted in 2011 by Masahiro et al, scents can be used to lower stress levels and elicit positive emotions.
Tips for using scent this holiday season to boost mood
An essential oil diffuser is an effective and relatively inexpensive way to fill your home with holiday scents. Which can help you reduce stress and put you in a positive mood. Avoid perfume oils made from chemicals, and use only natural, authentic essential oils (made from herbs, flowers, peels, bark, etc.).
For an even less expensive option, you can experiment with “stovetop potpourri”. Start with apple or citrus peels, vanilla pods, star anise or cinnamon sticks in a combination that appeals to you. Add your organics to a small pot of water and simmer on very low heat. Allow the fragrance to fill your space and add some moisture to the dry winter air.
Use any scent that triggers a happy memory for you, whether it’s the scent of pine needles, peppermint, or ginger. Certain scents can work well for specific purposes. Consider these to choose a scent that might be beneficial for you:
- Peppermint, Wintergreen, and Rosemary – can give you energy after all that holiday shopping!
- Vanilla – can help you to feel calm and reduce stress.
- Pine and White Fir – can be very uplifting if you’ve got the winter blues.
- Cinnamon, Clove, Ginger, and Nutmeg – these scents can bring back fond holiday memories and a sense of calm.
Scents and smells are an essential part of the holiday season. When used mindfully and deliberately, they may even help to support our sense of well-being. Why not experiment with different scents this year to see which aromas work best for you? And connect your smell and memory!
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