Using aromas to lift our moods

Have you been overcome with an emotion when you’re met with a certain smell? Ever walked into a room that just smells inviting or relaxing? Do you have sharp, vivid memories attached to some scents? The science of scents and their impact on our brain chemistry and overall health is called aromatherapy.

Using natural scents to calm, invigorate, balance, or focus throughout the day is a beautiful way to bring wellness into your routine.

A little science on aromas

The chemicals that are responsible for scent are very small and often come in a ring shape (in chemistry terms, they’re called aromatic structures). These small airborne molecules travel into our noses when we breathe in and can pass through the olfactory nerve into the center part of our brain. This place in our brain is called the limbic seat and controls our moods, emotions, memory and learning. So it’s no wonder that smell is strongly related to all those experiences.

Scientists have found scents like lavender increase our alpha brain waves (which is associated with relaxation), and scents like jasmine increase our beta brain waves (causing a more alert state).

Nature is chock full of thousands upon thousands of scents, each composed of many different molecules that can impact our well-being simply by breathing them in.

Simply getting out in nature and turning our attention to the variety of smells is a calming and balancing act. As you walk around your backyard, try taking some leaves and crushing them in your fingers to release their odor, and begin to sharpen this underused sense.

Targeting aromas to work with our moods

Beyond the plants themselves, a simple, satisfying way to use aroma is with the essential oils of pure plants. Plants contain complex and powerful substances called essential oils, which act for the plant much like our blood does for us.

Essential oils feel and work differently than vegetable oils (like olive or sunflower oil). Vegetable oils are pressed from the seeds of plants and feel slippery and greasy to the touch. Essential oils are distilled from plants and are highly concentrated extracts from all the plant parts; flower, tree, root and shrub. They are light to the touch and evaporate rapidly. Because they are so concentrated, a little goes a long way.

Photo by Shine

A Beginner’s Mood-Scent Menu

Relaxing and Calming :: Lavender, Roman Chamomile
Invigorating :: Peppermint, Sandalwood, Lemon, Orange
Balancing :: Cinnamon, Basil, Parsley
Uplifting :: Rose, Bergamot, Geranium
Focus :: Cedarwood, Frankincense

Some ideas to get started

There are many ways to engage your sense of smell and benefit from the healing powers of specific scents in nature. Here are just a handful to get you started.

1. If you are using an essential oil, start with just a drop or two in your palms, cup your hands over your nose and breathe in for a few seconds.

2. Dab some essential oils on your neck or wrist as a natural perfume. Sometimes I even run a bit through my hair — there is something romantic about perfumed hair.

3. Freshen a whole room by using a diffuser or add a drop or two of an essential oil on a tissue and place in a vent of the room. The forced air will circulate the smell throughout the room.

4. Start an aromatherapy garden. Growing these plants and herbs, even in a window sill, can bring their natural scents into your home all day long, a natural way to infuse your home with nature’s healing smells. You will also have them on hand to crush a few leaves in your fingers for a deep breath.

5. Add scents to your daily routine with children. Before nap or bedtime, bring out a calming or relaxing aroma. Before homework time, bring out a scent that helps with focus. Children tend to respond well to natural scents used in moderation, but always be sure not to overwhelm them with aromas that are too strong.

Explore the impact that different natural scents have on your moods and emotions. It is a simple, enjoyable, elegant way to enhance your day.

Do you respond well to certain scents? What emotions, moods or memories do you have that are strongly connected to smells?

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  1. steadymom

    Lisa’s posts are always so innovative and interesting. I learned so much from this one – I’ll be crushing up some leaves and giving them a sniff today for sure! =)


    steadymom´s last blog post…Rest for the Weary Mother – An Introduction

  2. Shannon

    I have really been enjoying my herb garden this year and plan to make it much, much bigger this year. I have been reading “A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove – a history of american women told through food, recipes and remembrances.”

    I really enjoyed the portion of this book that spoke of women as healers of their family through food and herbal medicine. 150 years ago us women were our family’s doctors through the use of common herbs and spices that we all use in cooking today.

  3. Kendra @ A Sonoma Garden

    I just started wearing perfume again two weeks ago. I was in a funk and remembered that blend of essential oils that I smelled a few months back at Whole Foods that I loved, so I went and bought some. It really does help me feel better to smell something yummy through the day.

    The blend is ‘Love Potion’ if anyone happens to go by Whole Foods soon. Give it a sniff – so good!

    Kendra @ A Sonoma Garden´s last blog post…A Ripe Tomato Would be Nice

  4. Chele

    Awesome! I always wondered what scents did which thing! Thanks. I now know why our family friend uses lavender scents in her lakehouse! It is so relaxing there! 🙂

  5. Sherry

    Is it true you can put a dab of an essential oil on a light bulb & the heat (when turned on) will circulate the aroma? Is this safe?

    • Jennifer Sword

      You can buy a metal ring to put the oil in, then place it on top of the bulb. It’s not safe to put the oil directly on the bulb! 😉

  6. LaToya

    I love this post. I remember in undergrad a friend of mine made me a bunch of soap, oils and lotions with chamomile when I was dealing with insomnia. After a few days I was resting so much better. I hadn’t thought about using it with the little ones though, maybe that would help out with some of the naptime battles.

    LaToya´s last blog post…The Great Shoe Debate

  7. The Urban Cowboy

    And…certain smells will bring back memories also.

  8. Megan at Simple Kids

    I love how a beautiful scent can completely change your mood and the atmosphere wherever you are.

    Last month’s Mothering magazine had an article about treating kids to aromatherapy footbaths as a way to calm and cool them. Such a good idea – kids are certainly sensitive to all kinds of sensory stimulation.

    Great and helpful article, Lisa! Thank you!

    Megan at Simple Kids´s last blog post…What We’re Reading Wednesdays: James and the Rain

  9. tabitha

    Question: I have no sense of smell so will the essential oils still help me?

    I love the idea of placing a few drops in a tissue and placing in it a vent, I’m going to try that this evening before I put the kids to bed.

    tabitha´s last blog post…What I’m Studying

  10. Yvonne

    Love this post. I love essential oils and have incorporated them in my daily life for years. To this day I wear a blend of lavender, geranuim and tea tree as a perfume. Everytime I wear it my hubby says I smell like earth. I like that!!

    • debbie

      Yeah I love this post too, thanks for the info’s about all kind of aromas and their effects on mood, it’s nice to know what kind of perfume to wear on a certain occasion, thanks again Lisa 🙂

  11. Rana

    When I was sick through the winter a friend of mine who uses oils gave me a small bottle of melrose and what a difference it makes. I have a couple of other bottles for when I can’t sleep and a pick me up for when I’m feeling depressed. I give the lavender to the kids when it’s time to relax.

    Rana´s last blog post…Just Us Girls!

  12. turnitupmom

    I love the smells of peppermint and lavender. I have never considered an aromatherapy garden, though. That menu is wonderful! I have some window boxes that need something….aromas perhaps?!

    turnitupmom´s last blog post…Summer Salads from the Barefoot Contessa

  13. Jennifer

    I love these ideas–I have some lemon oil and lavender oil, but I’ll have to get some more!

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