We all have scents that immediately send us back to our past. Both good and bad. Research shows certain smells can trigger powerful and vivid memories. Such as warm cocoa that reminds us of a safe, protected youth. The smell of Play-Doh can act as a timestamp, sending us back to a place or memory. Other scents like citrus remind us of warm summer nights when we took an orange off a tree, broke it open and felt the juices on our tongue. These types of scents engage the sympathetic system, helping us to feel invigorated and ready for anything.
Aromatherapy has been proven to induce relaxation by decreasing the sympathetic nervous system activity that regulates fight or flight. It dates back to 4,500 B.C.E. in ancient Egypt where different scents were used depending on the malady it was meant to treat.
Aromatic oils can be utilized via:
- A diffuser
- A few drops on a cotton ball
Or simultaneously inhaled and absorbed through the skin by means of a
- Bath or shower
But never by eating essential oils. They are toxic.
Genuine essential oils come in a dark bottle to protect its contents and should have the following on the label:
- The Latin name for the product e.g. lavandula angustifolia for lavender
- Which part of the plant, flower, herb or tree was used
- The country it comes from
- How it was processed e.g. distilled or pressed
- The purity e.g. 100%
- A registered seal of approval e.g. USP -US pharmacopeia or GRAS certified , meaning generally regarded as safe since there’s no official oversight agency such as the FDA.
It’s easy to make your own blended oils at home. Take 15 drops of whatever combination suits your needs and dilute it in a neutral or carrier oil such as almond, avocado or jojoba. Undiluted oils can cause skin irritations and citrus oils can cause sun sensitivities. Dab it on the skin and you have it wherever you go throughout the day. Add them to your favorite lotion or put a few drops on a cotton ball in order to refresh your senses anytime, anywhere.
Here’s a breakdown of scents and their potential benefits:
Citrus can elevate mood. According to one study those who received sweet orange aromatic therapy had less stress and anxiety during a high pressure test than those who didn’t. Lemons can also elevate mood. Cut one up and put a piece in a zip storage bag. Just open and breathe in the citrus scent anytime you need a quick pick up.
Vanilla helps to relax and calm your mood. Participants who smelled vanilla during a heart stress test had a more stable heart rate and blood pressure than those who were in an unscented environment. Put a few drops on a handkerchief and it’s easily accessible throughout the day.
Apples, particularly green apples have been shown to decrease the severity and duration of joint pain and headaches by reducing muscle contractions and spasms. Eating a green apple a day may actually keep the pain at bay. Not into the taste? Add it as an oil to your bath. In another study any type of apple actually reduced the severity and/or progression of rheumatoid arthritis in mice due to their healthful phytonutrients that can decrease inflammation.
Clove and lime have been shown to encourage vagus nerve activation. Put a 3% blend in a carrier oil and dab a couple of drops at the vagus junction (at the jaw line in front of the ear ) to improve calm, decrease fatigue and promote digestion.
Ginger was shown in one study of patients with moderate to severe knee pain to significantly lessen stiffness and pain after they massaged their knee directly with 10-15 drops of ginger oil mixed with 1 ounce of a carrier oil like jojoba or almond oil. For an added bonus they found blending it with a 50% mixture of orange oil improved results even more.
Lavender has been shown in studies to promote longer duration of restorative and slow wave sleep and participants reportedly woke up feeling more refreshed. Use a spray bottle and add 30-45 drops of lavender oil to 3 ounces of water, shake before each use and spritz your pillow each night. Or add a few blossoms to your bedside table.
Basil has been shown to sharpen concentration, elevate mood and relieve headaches. It can be used as an essential oil or picked from an easy to grow window box herb garden and added to any dish for flavor.
Peppermint and jasmine Even though they have a wonderful scent they act as a mild irritant, similar to smelling salts, so a few drops can help you to feel more alert and improve performance. Sprinkle onto your candle diffuser or add 15 drops to 1 ounce of your favorite carrier oil and then rub onto the back of your hand. Or add fresh mint to a cup of tea, coffee or beverage in the late afternoon for a quick pick up.
Rosemary is another easy herb to grow in a window box garden and has been shown to increase levels of awareness and reduce levels of the stress hormone- cortisol. Sprinkle on food, smell the aromatic needles, or use in an essential oil.
Bergamot has been shown to decrease blood pressure and improve mental health. It also improves sleep quality when blended with lavender. Put 5-10 drops of each into a carrier and add it to your bath at night, dab it onto your wrist or temples and massage in to your skin or spray the combination on to your pillow at bedtime.
Chamomile The Roman variety is better known to reduce anxiety, whereas the German one is known for relieving pain. But either type helps to induce sleep. In one study adding it to lavender potentiated both effects. And paired with music this powerful blend reduced anxiety even more. Add it to an herbal tea at night and you have the perfect combination for a restful night’s sleep.
Cedar wood This essential oil has a woodsy scent that’s been shown to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and improve relaxation and sleep. Researchers found participants reported increased sleep time and reduced early morning awakenings after using for twenty consecutive nights.
Clary Sage oil This particular herb also promotes sleep and calm by decreasing cortisol levels, blood pressure and respiration. It also appears to have an antidepressant affect lowering anxiety and improving sleep cycles.
Whether you need a quick pick me up without the caffeine boost, an aid to relax the tensions of the day or unwind and get a good nights sleep, aromatherapy may be the easiest and safest way to achieve your goal.