Calming Down through…Smell?

Take a moment to think of scents that make you happy. It could be the smell of your favorite food, your significant other’s perfume, or the scent of opening up a new binder. 

There’s something about scents in particular that seem to evoke strong emotions and feelings. Think of nostalgia, for example. Sure, you may have vague memories about certain things in your life, but get a whiff of something like sunscreen and all of a sudden you’re transported back to that beach you used to go to all the time growing up. Not only may you find yourself nostalgic, but you may see an increase in your mood as you remember splashing in the water and the feeling of sand through your toes. 

Why is this the case though? Some scientists have found that there’s a connection between the olfactory bulb (or the part of the brain that processes smells when you sniff something) and the amygdala (the part of your brain associated with emotions and memory). They’re both a part of the limbic system, so they have access to each other. 

Good smells and its association with mood isn’t just limited to nostalgia though. Pleasant smells in general have been found to be relaxing; one study saw that the smell of oranges in a waiting room lowered anxiety levels for patients waiting for their dentists appointments, for example.

Overall, our sense of smell can cause us to react strongly to things. It may be because it’s a sense we don’t use as commonly as sight and hearing, so exposure to strong scents can cause these sensations (alternatively, bad smells can make us annoyed, stressed, and emphasize bad sensations like nausea).

And just like a clean and organized environment, having nice scents that make you happy in a place where you spend a lot of time can have a huge impact on your mood. If you want to go the nostalgic route, you can have air fresheners around you that smell like clean laundry or baby powder. You can also keep an orange or something citrus-scented (like lotion) to eat or use before an exam to help calm you down.

Good smells can have a positive impact on our moods and even calm us down, whether it be through them simply smelling nice or sending us back to simpler, happier times. Just be careful what it is though and where you use it; that nice smell could be bad to someone else, and no one likes being around things that smell gross.

What are your favorite scents? How do you feel when you smell them? How do you think you can keep them on you during stressful events?

Moderator ★

Hi! The moderator is a research team member with a background in behavioral health. We're here to help answer your questions and stimulate some great conversation! We don't provide therapy and are not available 24-7 so please if you are in crisis, go to our crisis page: We look forward to talking to you!

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