Aromas and the memories they evoke are powerful and can help us heal our mind, body and spirit. Positively or negatively, we are all affected by the scents we experience. It’s innate. If you have a pet, you know well how they use their sense of smell to make sense of their environment, find their way, recognize food, a loved one and danger, etc. It’s encoded. At one point we humans did this too, but over time our ability has diminished.
As you may have read in my blog posts last week, fragrances like the ones my mom and dad used still produce vivid memories for me. These synthetic fragrances, as well as pollution, habits, medical conditions, medications and a host of other experiences, may all have contributed to our diminished ability to use scents to make sense of our environment; but, it can be relearned.
Experimental studies have shown that aromas carry emotional memory based on life situations and that over time, these memories become interconnected. This is referred to as the Proust phenomenon. These memories get encoded in our brains and because of that, our bodies can also react to them, with positive or negative impacts, based on our life experience.
Memories form in three distinct ways:
Semantics – odors that carry an emotional memory based on life situations that have become inextricably linked over time, and can produce physical and psychological changes when they’re reencountered.
Hedonics – a person’s perception of an aroma as being desirable or undesirable based on their experience with it.
Expectation – the placebo effect, (it is still an effect) where an aroma elicits a specific effect based on being told that it would and this effect becomes a belief, increasing the chances of the said effect.
The psychological effects of aromas, the memories they create, and the physiological responses they can elicit are interconnected and can enhance feelings of well-being.
Olfactory therapy can help not only in retraining our diminished ability to perceive aromas but also in enriching our quality of life, supporting our healing from everyday stressors.
Tapping into the power of aromas to support our mind, body and spirit is an effective and simple tool we can use to supplement our daily health and self-care regimens.
Give this exercise a try. Grab a piece of paper and something to write with. Find a quiet place and follow these three steps:
Think of an aroma that elicits a vivid positive memory and assign the memory a color.
Write down any psychological (thoughts, emotions, feelings) and physiological (pace of breathing, heart rate, smiling) changes you observe and connect them with that color.
Observe how many times a day you see the color, experience the aroma and recall the memory.
Visit me on Instagram and leave me a comment if you tried this aromatic recall exercise and it made you feel good!