Did you know the sense of smell connects directly to the limbic system in your brain?
The limbic system is the most primitive part of the brain, responsible for emotions, memories, and motivation. When you smell something, signals are sent from the olfactory bulb, located at the back of your nose, directly to the limbic system where it can be used to trigger a reaction based on memory. This is why when you smell delicious food, you feel the urge to eat vs. when you smell smoke you feel the urge to look for fire or leave the building. Your sense of smell works with emotions, memories, and motivation to keep you safe, fed, and alive.
Ever notice that certain smells remind you of different times in your life and bring back very specific memories? If you have a grandmother who baked cookies, one whiff of freshly baked cookies can make you feel like you are right back in her kitchen. Or maybe you played sports as a child and the smell of fresh cut grass returns you to the field playing baseball with your friends.
And while smells can trigger happy memories, they can also cause anxiety, stress, and worry. If you had a boss or family member that you really hated and they wore cologne or perfume that was really strong, smelling that smell again can trigger the same emotional response you felt when dealing with them in the past.
But you can also train your brain to respond to smells to trigger reactions that can get you excited, make you relaxed, or feel at peace.
Using essential oils or scented candles during times of feeling calm or relaxed will cause your limbic system to connect that feeling with the smell in your brain. Then, when you smell that smell again your brain will automatically respond by going back to that mental state. By intentionally pairing a smell with a feeling, you create a shortcut for your brain to return to that state of peace, of focus, or of tranquility – on demand.
Here’s how to do it:
- Go home and do something you find very relaxing. You can run a bath, recline in your favorite chair, or simply get in bed with your favorite book.
- Select a scented candle or essential oil you love. I suggest something floral (like lavender) rather than something food-based. The idea here is to make you relaxed not hungry.
- Now, allow yourself to relax and let your nose take in the aroma. Spend as much time as you can feeling relaxed and breathing in the smell.
- After you do this a few times, your limbic system begins to use the smell as a trigger for returning to that same relaxed state. You will then be able to more easily relax or de-stress simply by smelling the same scent in the future. If you work in a stressful job, having that smell near you, on your desk, or in your car will help you to relax and take the mental edge off your day.
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