Feeling shattered? Need to focus? Low sex-drive? Whatever your ailment, there’s a scent for that. Eva Caiden reports on scents that can transform your mood
It might sound unlikely but scents have been scientifically proven to affect – and improve – our mood. How? Smells stimulate nerves in the nose which send messages straight to the brain, directly affecting our emotional state.
Dr Bryan Raudenbush, Professor of Psychology at Wheeling Jesuit University, explains why: ‘Of our five senses, scent is the only one with a direct pathway to three important areas of the brain: the orbito-frontal cortext, which presents you with an awareness of scent, the hippocampus, which is associated with memory, and the amygdala, which is associated with mood and emotions.’
When we smell something nice, the receptors in the amygdala respond by releasing dopamine and serotonin. They’re powerful neurotransmitters and the former is linked with the high you feel when taking drugs such as cocoaine, the latter with mood. ‘In a nutshell,’ says Dr Raudenbush, ‘You smell something ‘good’, and those scent chemicals stimulate the amygdala, which in turn prompts the release of dopamine and serotonin, and we feel ‘good’.’
Here’s how you can use this to your advantage, whatever your mood:
For motivation: PEPPERMINT
Peppermint scent stimulates an area of the brain known as the ‘reticular activating system’. ‘This is the area that wakes us up in the morning and puts us to sleep at night,’ says Dr Raudenbush, ‘More stimulation in this area has been shown to result in more attentive drivers, motivated athletes to complete more exercises and distracted people from pain.’
For focus: CINNAMON
Dr Raudenbush says, ‘Cinnamon scent increases blood flow throughout the body. More blood flow in the body equates to more blood flow in the brain, thus enhancing our ability to focus.’
For alertness: JASMINE
Dr Alan Hirsch, Neurological Director of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation says, ‘Jasmine has been shown to increase beta waves in the cortex (front of the head) which is associated with a more alert state as well as improved hand-eye coordination.’
For winding down: LAVENDER
Countless studies have consistently linked lavender with a sedative effect. Dr Hirsch explains why, ‘The scent of lavender has been shown to induce relaxation – it’s associated with increased alpha waves in the back of the head – again, linked with a more relaxed state.’
For arousal: LICORICE AND CUCUMBER
These two scents are a surefire way to banish a lagging libido. Not only have liquorice and cucumber been shown to increase blood flow to the female genitals by 13 per cent (resulting in heightened female arousal), but according to Dr Hirsch, cucumber has been shown to reduce anxiety too. Double whammy.
For smart thinking: MIXED FLORAL
We’re not saying you can stop swatting up for that important presentation, but every little helps, right? Dr Hirsch says studies have shown that a mixed floral scent increases learning speed by 17 per cent. We’ll go back to procrastinating in that case.
Words: Eva Caiden