Aromatherapy is a great self-care tool

If I say the word “coffee,’’ most of us would picture a cup of coffee, no? I’d agree with the “common” or “basic” picture of a simple dainty cup, full of hot, dark bean water. Now, close your eyes and reflect on how you feel when you smell freshly ground coffee. 

Kymberly Young, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, documents interesting and supporting results from her study regarding smells and the ability to recall detailed events from those scents. 

She notes that “around 68% of the participants could recall specific memories in response to the odors, whereas only 52% could recall specific memories after hearing words out loud.” This means that our senses of taste, touch, hearing, seeing and smelling elements can act as cues for recollection.

Memories and smells have been scientifically proven to be intertwined, as Science Daily supports and states that “We have about 4 million smell cells in our noses, divided into about 400 different types. There is tremendous genetic variability within and between populations for our ability to detect odors. Each smell cell carries just one type of receptor or ‘lock’ on it — the smell floats through the air, fits into the ‘lock’ and then activates the cell.”

Just with our sense of smell alone, we can reimagine different memories, which is amazing, but it also has the power to provoke our negative or traumatic memory banks. With that being said, the average person holds a great deal of negative memories. Many of us unintentionally suppress our negative and/or traumatic memories as our natural and ingrained way of protecting ourselves. We can easily be reminded of these times by the smells we associate them with.

This process of disentangling and coping with our past traumas can considerably help decrease overthinking and stress. Overthinking and stress-induced symptoms is a common side effect and a likely contributor to depression and anxiety. Ancient and Indigenous peoples discovered the use of natural smells and remedies to relax and assist in various types of medical and mental therapies. One of the oldest holistic techniques in “smell therapy” is the use of aromatherapy. 

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, “Aromatherapy is the practice of using essential oils for therapeutic benefit.” Aromatherapy is believed to improve mood and reduce stress and anxiety. This commonly known technique is recognized and contemporarily practiced throughout the world. 

Some essential oils even have medical properties, like peppermint and ginger. Other oils like lavender and eucalyptus hold beneficial mental assets. Peppermint can help aid digestion and ease nausea and headaches, while lavender oil promotes relaxation, stress relief and sleep. 

Mount Sinai Health Library states on its website, “Essential oils have been used for therapeutic purposes for nearly 6,000 years.” The hospital then goes on to say, “In general, it seems to relieve pain, improve mood, and promote a sense of relaxation.”

There are countless studies and evidence-based statistics about how smells are directly involved with our brain processes and storage. I think the more recent use of smell therapy in aiding ourselves through traumatic memories is a massive step in the holistic therapy direction. Our brains are so complex and the fact that we’ve been able to figure out and prove that our senses coincide with our brain is astonishing. 

So, is smelling a memory really a thing? I’d say yes, and have even put it to the test myself. Certain smells trigger specific memories that are crafted by our personal experiences. For me, the smell of patchouli reminds me of my grandparent’s home in California, which is a positive core memory stored in my brain. However, other smells bring me back to a bad time in my life, but with the guidance of mental professionals, I have been able to use this process to my advantage.

I highly suggest researching this topic yourself, and for those of us with depression, try to incorporate smell therapy into sessions to soothe your mind and contribute to personal growth.


Featured photo courtesy of Katrin Bolovtsova