The transportive power of scent is undeniable — whether it is a whiff of a fragrance worn by an ex-lover or the exact same sniff of warm cookies in your childhood kitchen. But beyond its time-traveling powers, scent has a potent ability to boost wellbeing. As the lines between wellness and beauty become increasingly blurred, scent is being used as a tool to fight the so-called “stress epidemic” and help the eight in 10 Americans who encounter stress in their daily lives.
Think back to the most zen yoga class you have ever attended. After you flowed through the sequence, working through each muscle and building strength, you finally landed at the grand finale pose that everyone looks forward to: Savasana. It is meant as a way to decompress, get your heart rate back to normal and soak in the good vibes from other practitioners. Most instructors use the opportunity to walk around the room, massaging temples and applying a tiny drop of their preferred essential oil. Though CEO and co-founder of ANATTA, Inc. Joshua Thomerson says this ritual has been exercised for centuries, the organic compound of essential oils has recently become trendier, as more and more folks have discovered their benefits. If you have not dabbled — or ahem, dabbed — this viral practice, consider springtime as the chance to start anew in a new season.
As aromatherapy expert Annee De Mamiel explains, scent has a unique power because it is linked to the deepest part of the brain. “Smell is processed via the olfactory bulb within the limbic system, the area of our brain which governs basic instincts, memories and emotions,” De Mamiel said. “When we smell an aroma, it triggers both an emotional and physiological response that can improve our state of health and wellbeing,” she adds. In terms of tackling stress, scent proves extremely useful. “Small scent molecules can cross the blood brain barrier and trigger reactions and engage the parasympathetic nervous system to slow the effect of stress,” De Mamiel adds.
In aromatherapy, each essential oil has its own properties and serves a specific function. “Each essential oil has their own unique signature comprised of a complex recipe of natural chemicals that evoke emotional responses from joy to peace of mind, confidence and security,” Aromatherapist Michelle Roques-O’Neil comments. For tackling stress, you can take a variety of approaches. For instance, jasmine to counteract stress, vanilla to calm the mind, frankincense for relaxation, sweet orange for soothing anxiety, chamomile for tension reduction and vetiver for grounding. Essential oil guru and psychic Linda Lauren says it is important to be mindful of the quality of the oil you are using if you want to benefit from their natural healing properties. “Chemically induced synthetic oils are not really oils. They primarily carry a ‘scent’ that is familiar, even though inferior, to what you are looking for, but the aroma tends to sour quickly,” she explains. To ensure you are choosing quality, Lauren urges newbies to read their labels. Lower quality oils will have added chemicals or harsh properties, like alcohol. Though pure essential oils may fall on the pricier side, they are worth the investment. These will only have — well, you guessed it — oil, and sometimes butters.
How to Use Aromatherapy
And while specific scents have potent powers, the application process itself can also serve as a calming ritual. Lauren says candles or diffusers are the easiest route to take, since they add fragrance to your space — and create a nice ambiance. If you are curious about applying oils to your skin, make sure you check with a dermatologist or an esthetician for his or her recommendation. Because they can burn your skin if it is sensitive, it is better to err on the side of caution.
Taking a moment to spritz a much-loved scent can punctuate your day with grounding anchor points. In fact, amongst the busyness of work and family, applying fragrance can help you reconnect with yourself and your body. “Tapping into the effects that different notes have on our psychology is a great way for us to become more in tune with ourselves,” Dove explains. “If you are overwhelmed, rub an essential oil into your hands, cup them around your nose and inhale for three, pause and exhale for five,” De Mamiel adds.
However, as De Mamiel is keen to caveat, while stress busting rituals can be extremely helpful, they are not a one stop solution. “Alongside rituals, I think it’s essential to find a way to deal with the core of what is causing the stress. Nothing apart from the way we perceive the issue will combat it completely,” she told us. In the meantime, combining both bigger work and smaller rituals can be beneficial.
3 Best Stress-busting aromas
Lavender: Promotes calmness and relaxation. Induces peaceful sleep.
Your calendar is booked solid, your friends are fighting, and your partner is out of town. You need a night to seriously zen out, and there is only one essential oil for the gig: lavender. “There’s nothing out there quite as relaxing as lavender essential oil, its commercialized scent is familiar to almost everyone by now, but a real bottle of lavender right from the distillery is something I think everyone should experience,” Thomerson shares. “Linalool, one of the major constituents of Lavandula angustifolia [real lavender] is well documented in its calming and relaxing properties.”
Rose: Relieves anxiety and boosts mental strength.
Read advice from any sort of entrepreneur and they will probably admit “faking it until you make it” is a true tactic. While we all need to exercise a bit of bravado, Thomerson says confidence boosting is often done from the inside-out to be effective and sustainable, so choosing a scent that will motivate you with every inhale and exhale is essential. To bloom into your most self-assured self, he recommends the note of rose — one of the most complex essential oils, it contains over 300 compounds. “A spray from a hydrosol, or even a couple of drops in a carrier oil will go a very long way. The fragrance is again, unmistakable, and has a luxurious appeal to it,” he raves. It is intense and dramatic and will inspire you to be your most authentic self. “It helps us to open to all avenues of our capabilities,” Lauren adds. “It has never failed me as a recommendation for when someone was going for a particular job interview or a student having a test.”
Sandalwood: Helps with motivation
Cloudy head? Is your list of personal and professional demands only stretching higher and longer, but you are still glued to Netflix, currently half-way through your sixth episode in the row? We all need down time to unwind from time to time, but we also need that extra burst of energy to be productive, no matter if we are at home or in the office. Sandalwood will quickly fill up the room with a complex aroma and offers a long-lasting scent to get you through whatever task is at hand. One of its main compounds, a-santalol, has been shown to increase attentiveness, and because it has notes of nature, it will help keep you rooted and focused, which is great for organization or firing off emails.
It is not just aromatherapy that can affect our well-being — fragrance has powerful mood-shifting abilities, too. “Fragrance is the most profound of all the senses and has been used as a tool for altering mood since the 8th century BC,” says Roja Dove, famed perfumer and fragrance expert, highlights. “Odor impacts every function and action in our body by stimulating the synapses in our brain and kick-starting the release of hormones. Smell has the power to boost energy levels, lift us from glumness or enhance pleasure.”
When it comes to using scent to tackle stress, different aromas offer different benefits. As Dove points out, it depends both on situation you are facing and your own personal preference. After all, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. In terms of traditional perfumery notes, he recommends narcotic notes for their calming, stress-busting properties. “White florals such as jasmine and neroli will combat stress by inducing a sense of serenity,” Dove says. If you are feeling exhausted (stress and tiredness almost always go together) you might appreciate something more energizing. “Fruity and citrus notes have the power to uplift.” However, if you are feeling frazzled, a grounding and comforting scent like vanilla or sandalwood may help. “These [are] comforting scents that will envelop you and make you feel secure.”
Reporting by Elizabeth Bennet and Lindsay Tigar.
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