Using Scent to Keep Calm

Kat Nicholls
By Kat Nicholls,
updated on Mar 4, 2020

Using Scent to Keep Calm

Feeling worried? Here we look at how scent can help root us to the present moment and help us feel calm

It’s safe to say, right now – there are quite a few things making us feel worried. From scare-mongering headlines to global pandemics, it’s no wonder anxiety levels feel high. Whether you live with anxiety day to day or are simply feeling it more at the moment, there are ways you can help yourself feel calm.

When we feel anxious, our thinking is generally in the past (ruminating on something we did/said) or in the future (worrying about a possible scenario). This is why mindfulness can be such a helpful tool for those with anxiety.

Mindfulness encourages us to focus on the present moment and detach from our thoughts. Instead of getting caught up with every thought that flies through our head, mindfulness encourages us to step back and become the observer of our thoughts. Watching them float by like clouds in the sky, without getting too involved with them.

A short-cut to mindfulness

Meditation is the usual go-to mindfulness technique, and is highly recommended, but it can also be helpful to find quick ways to anchor yourself throughout the day for those moments when you can’t really drift off into a meditative state.

A tool that’s been helping me recently is so simple, I’m not sure why I didn’t think of it sooner – scent. And specifically, aromatherapy roller-balls.

Since I received three different scents as a birthday gift, I’ve been using them any time I need a moment of calm in my day. The one on my desk allows me to pause when I feel overwhelmed at work, the one in my bag is great for stressful moments when I’m out and about, and the one by my bed helps signal to my brain that it’s time to sleep.

Scent gently encourages us to be in the moment. For me it offers an excuse to take some deep breaths and remind myself that I’m OK. But what scents are the best for helping us relax?

A survey carried out by Cosy Owl found the most popular scents to stay calm, according to respondents, include lavender (32%), vanilla (15%), lemon (8%), fresh linen (8%), general fruit scents (6%) and baby powder (5%). Other scents mentioned included the ocean, jasmine, chocolate and… the smell of a library (we can relate!)

Speaking to Happiful last year about boosting your wellbeing, aromatherapist Louisa Pini explains that ylang ylang and lavender are wonderful scents to experiment with to promote relaxation.

“Ylang ylang oil acts on the parasympathetic nervous system, and slows your heart rate and breathing, which in turn can help to lower blood pressure. When everything is racing and you feel panicked or anxious, pop a drop of this in your oil burner or on to a tissue and take a few deep, slow breaths.

“Lavender oil has wonderful sedative properties, and is recommended to help you sleep. It has a calming and soothing scent, and a recent study in Turkey revealed that lavender essential oil increased quality of sleep and reduced anxiety levels in patients.”

Whatever scent helps you feel calm, there are various ways you can use aromatherapy to help you feel calm, from roller balls and candles to aromatherapy massages and baths.

Why does scent help us feel calm?

The reason aromatherapy can be so powerful in helping us feel calm is because it triggers our limbic system, the part of the brain linked to emotions and memories. Speaking to Cosy Owl following their survey results, clinical aromatherapist Geraldine McCullagh expands on this.

“When we breathe in a scent such as an aromatherapy oil it triggers a reaction in the part of our brain  and sets off a reaction in our bodies such as feeling calm or energised.

“The limbic system also associates smells with emotion and memories. For example,  the smell of Lavender can trigger a memory of a summer holiday in France and associate that memory with feeling relaxed.”

Geraldine goes on to say that because of this link between scent and memory we can effectively train ourselves to associate a certain scent with feeling calm.

“The next time we are starting to feel anxious, we can smell the essential oil and our minds will associate the smell with feeling calm. It means that we can stop the anxiety from escalating.”

So, next time you’re feeling overwhelmed with worry, find a scent you adore and breathe it in for a few long, slow breaths. Focus on the scent and being exactly where you are.

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