When we are feeling especially low, it doesn’t help that we have a natural tendency to fret and stew about how we are feeling, until we’ve made ourselves worse than when the bad feelings started. We need something to short circuit what we are doing to ourselves. We need someone to slap us and yell, “snap out of it.” Well, maybe not yell.
But there is a way to reboot our minds and our moods, and it caught me by surprise just the other day. Getting a surprise is always fun, because we can be doubly impacted when things are unexpected.
I was just having a really rough day, and going down fast. As some point I stopped to make some coffee, and had to open a new bag. Suddenly, I was transported. It even made me laugh, because all my troubles had disappeared in the aroma of Arabica beans. Heaven for my senses, and a reboot for my brain.
I laughed because I was aware of how effective this simple action had been. Nothing had actually changed in my life, but I had found the short circuit switch. A three second vacation in a Paris café.
Scientists have a name for this, olfactory memory. And we have all experienced it. The scent of a cologne that our grandmother used to wear, the smell of cookies someone used to bake for us, that earthy smell of our first dog. Whenever we smell these things, our brains immediately take us back to another time or place, without us doing anything conscious to cause it.
Our sense of smell does this more effectively than any other of our senses. Of course an old favorite song can stir fond memories, but what happens with scent is an observed physical phenomenon.
Just a Hop and a Skip From Nose to Emotions
If you dive into the science literature, you will find that there are only two synapses between the olfactory nerve and the amygdala, which is part of the brain controlling our emotions. Two steps are nothing in the immense system of our brain. It probably takes more time to turn on a light bulb.
This process short circuits whatever mood we are in right now, because for at least a few seconds, it carries our mood back to the origin of the smell. Grandma’s house, or wherever we felt safe and happy.
You Can Create Your Own Scent Vacation
When you are aware of the power of the smells in your life, you can use them to raise your mood, or reset your emotions. We get overloaded from the scent of air fresheners and laundry additives, so it is best to keep our favorite smells separate from those foisted on us.
Some scents are said to have specific qualities, peppermint to help us focus, lavender to help us relax. Try some essential oils and use them specifically when you need a lift. Candles may work too, if you are not allergic.
Do you have favorite scents that automatically make you feel better? Do you get a kick from the scent of chocolate, even without eating it? Or feel brightened by a special flower? Leave me a comment, I’d enjoy hearing what scents mean to you.