Scent and Emotions – Your Scent Brain

A pearl is a beautiful thing that is produced by an injured life. It is the tear that results from the injury of the oyster. The treasure of our being in this world is also produced by an injured life. If we had not been wounded, if we had not been injured, then we will not produce the pearl.” ~ Stephan Hoeller

When I created the Mood Perfumes range in 2009 to help me work naturally with difficult emotions, I never imagined how much there is to learn about the effect perfumes have on our emotions.

I now realise that scent and emotion are intimately connected on a biological level. As a matter of fact we are hard-wired to have an association between the two.

Here’s how it works. “All systems of the body exchange neuropeptide information, and it is the internal feeling state (emotions) that elicits the neuropeptide response. This is the mind-body connection in which every change in the mental-emotional state causes a change in the body physiology. Likewise, every change in the body physiology causes a change in the mental-emotional state. Neuropeptides circulate throughout the body in the blood, extracellular fluid and spaces, and cerebrospinal fluid.”(3)

It is interesting to note that when the formed elements are removed from these body fluids namely, blood plasma, lymph and “CSF” they’re all chemically similar in composition to sea water.(2)

Neuropeptides are called messenger molecules because they send chemical messages from the brain to receptor sites on cell membranes throughout the body. The average cell has thousands of receptor sites for neuropeptides, which are constantly opening and closing, and brain cells have millions! It is like a “lock and key” mechanism where the neuropeptide is the “key” that opens the “lock” on the cell membrane to cause complex and fundamental changes in the cells they lock onto. However, Dr. Pert feels the standard scientific “key fitting into a lock” analogy is too static an image for this dynamic process. She uses the description of two voices, peptide and receptor site, hitting the same note, and resulting in a resonance that rings the doorbell of the cell to open it.”(3)

The olfactory bulb is the link between smell, memory and behaviour as it’s seated in the limbic system closely connected to the amygdala, which processes emotion and the hippocampus, which creates associations.

The result is that a smell can instantaneously bring on strong feelings and memories and even affect your behaviour and performance at work.

Naturally, we create most of our first scent memories as children and this explains why so many scents bring up childhood memories. This process starts in the womb. The scent and tastes your mother are exposed to and even her favourite foods are hardwired in your brain before birth.(5)

When you first smell a new scent, you link it to an event, a person, a thing or even a moment. Your brain creates a link between the smell and a memory, for instance, associating the smell of vanilla with ice-cream on hot days or Lily of the Valley with Grandma. When you smell the same scent again the association is instantaneous, bringing on a memory or a mood, be they happy or sad.

We will only experience a trigger of emotion and memory if the scent has been hardwired by an emotional reaction, which I’ll elaborate on in a bit. This explains why we have such strong reactions to some scents and none to others.

Delving deeper we see that the pathways of the olfactory system come together in the Limbic system (nose brain). The limbic system is made up of 122 regions.

It is a “bridge” between the two brain hemispheres and makes quick decisions that affect the central nervous system and the body. It initiates and governs primitive drives and is a part of the Primitive/Reptilian-brain; the seat of memory, emotions, sexual drives, hunger and thirst. It also causes us to behave in certain ways and can drive states of anger, sorrow, revulsion, sexual attraction and fear.

Both sides of the brain are stimulated by odour. The left brain identifies an odour and is affected by some scents in ways that increase logic, concentration, judgement and reason. The right brain responds in turn with memories, emotions, images and moods.

The amygdala and hippocampus, all part of the Limbic system, play important roles in memory.

The Amygdala is an almond-shaped mass of nuclei. It decides which memories are stored and where they’re stored in the brain. We’re not exactly sure why some memories are stored and others not, but it is thought that the intensity of emotion we associate with a memory has something to do with this. It’s involved in emotional responses, hormonal secretions, and memory.

The Hippocampus sends memories to the correct long-term storage place in the cerebral hemisphere and also retrieves them when necessary. We may be unable to form new memories when this area is damaged.

Part of the forebrain known as the Diencephalon is also included in the limbic system. The diencephalon is located beneath the cerebral hemispheres and contains the thalamus and hypothalamus.

The Thalamus is involved in sensory perception and regulation of motor functions like movement. It connects areas of the cerebral cortex that are involved in sensory perception and movement with other parts of the brain and spinal cord that also have a role in sensation and movement.

The pearl-sized Hypothalamus is an important component of the diencephalon. It controls many important functions such as waking you up and pumping adrenaline into your bloodstream in a crisis. It’s also an important emotional center, controlling neuropeptides that make you feel happy, sad or angry. It plays a major role in regulating hormones, the pituitary gland, body temperature, the adrenal glands, and many other vital activities.

The Cingulate is a fold in the brain involved with sensory input concerning emotions and the regulation of aggressive behaviour.

We’ve seen how the Limbic system is the seat of subconscious drives and where scent is processed in the brain. Your sense of smell is a tool you can use to self-heal and release old, unhelpful patterns and heal painful memories.

I feel our sense of smell gives us access to the subconscious mind, by bypassing the ‘critical factor’ or gatekeeper to the critical mind. Just as some healers induce trance-states to access the subconscious, our sense of smell can induce altered states of being and create opportunities for healing.

l have utterly embraced this association between scent and emotion as a gift to use to support the healing process of painful emotional conditions such as stress, anxiety, mania, depression and C-PTSD. My belief is that natural perfumes can be gifts to aid in emotional and physical healing.

Here’s a few of the emotionally supportive natural perfume preparations I’ve created for different emotional states.

Joyous – uplifting, awaken, anti-depressant, mood stabilising, euphoric

Tranquil – calm, relaxed, comforted for anxiety stress, sleeplessness, adrenal fatigue and panic attacks.

Balance – grounding, focused attention, clearing, harmonising for hormonal imbalance, stress, anger, irritation.

Warm for Him and Her – self-love, positive body-image, sensuality.

Wild Earth EdT – Earthy, playful, laughter, mirth and connected.

Vanilla Spice Island – Comfort, bliss, joy, clarity, warmth and pleasure.

Melt Body Mist Balancing, relaxing, aphrodisiac, destress, tonic, clear, warming, invigorating.

Gaia Parfum – grounding, finding support in nature.

Helios Parfum Solide – self-worth, drive, relationships, inner-illumination of motives and drives.

Shaman Huile de Parfum – healing the heart, emotional release and clearing, grounding, grief support, trauma and PTSD.

Seeing as fragrance association is so personal I’m here to create bespoke preparations just for you. Call me on 072 134 9872 or kindly fill in my form below.

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2. Upledger 1998
3. Pert 1997
6. The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy – Salvatore Battaglia ISBN 0 646 42896 9