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Wellbeing through Aromatherapy: how your sense of smell can change how you’re feeling

Aromatherapy bath

Aromatherapy is not just reserved for spa days.  It can be used in everyday life to help you stay happy, positive and calm.  Here, leading aromatherapy experts Aromatherapy Associates’ Global Director of Education, Christina Salcedas, talks about the small things you can do with aromatherapy to help you feel better every day…

Why does scent change how you are feeling?

It’s really amazing and is the most interesting way aromatherapy can work.  We know oils can be applied to the skin and absorbed. We know that you can breathe them in and they will have an effect on the respiratory system.  But the scent alone is also extremely powerful.

Our sense of smell is the most primitive one of our instincts and is key to survival.  If you think about it, a baby only has its sense of smell to help it stay alive when it’s first born.  That’s why new mums are told not to wear perfume.

Scent is emotive, and the idea that you can reach for something that will completely change how you’re feeling in a moment is extremely powerful.  Scent can completely calm us down, partly because smell is linked to memory, but also because scent has an impact on the brain.

How does aromatherapy change our mood?

Aromatherapy essential oils are volatile.  So when they’re inhaled they’re picked up by our olfactory system via the hairs in your nose.  It’s almost like a lock and key process. When those molecules connect, it produces a nerve impulse which travels to the brain.  The molecule breaks down and the hair that detected it is free to pick up a new molecule.

Then it reaches the limbic system, the most primitive part of the brain, concerned with instincts and survival and emotions.  It is linked to hypothalamus, the control centre between the endocrine and nervous system. This can activate pathways and impact a hormonal response.  The change in hormonal response is what changes your mood. Eventually, this travels to back of the brain where aroma is finally recognised.

There’s a reason luxury spa hotels spray certain aromas.  They want you to remember the happy memories, and that’s why.

How can you incorporate aromatherapy into your daily routine?

There are lots of ways, but here are a few easy options for common feelings you may want to change.  It’s important to also remember that how you use these oils makes a difference to how you feel. Take a couple of inhalations, move away from your desk for a moment and apply them mindfully.

Frankincense to focus the mind

Frankincense is great for a slump in the middle of the day.  A lot of yoga instructors will use it as it relaxes your diaphragm and allows you to breathe more deeply. That in turn allows you to focus better.  Put a little on a tissue to breathe it in.

Lavender for a headache  

Lavender is known for relaxation, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a natural anti-inflammatory and is really good for helping to heal the skin.  In its pure form it can be put directly onto the skin, but you must be careful to have a high quality oil. The Aromatherapy Associates one is perfect for this.  You can put it neat onto spots, burns, bites and stings. Rubbing a couple of drops into your forehead for a headache and at nighttime to help you sleep is also a good idea.  Alternatively you can burn oils or add them to a diffuser or tissue. That’s an easy way to use it during the day. Baths and showers are a great way to incorporate aromatherapy in the evening, or as a steam inhalation for a mini facial.

Vetiver for sleep

Vetiver is a very powerful knock-out oil. If you use it on its own you could use it in an oil burner, but it’s not the nicest aroma so it’s best in a blend.  We already have everything pre-blended at Aromatherapy Associates, and we use vetiver with chamomile and sandalwood. You can also use it with a carrier oil on the body or in the bath.  We created a rollerball as well for easy use any time.

Tea tree for hayfever

Lots of people are suffering with hayfever at the moment.  Tea tree can be excellent for this. Use it as a steam inhalation. It’s also a super decongestant for colds and flu.

Pink grapefruit to help you wake up

If you’re not a very good morning person then pink grapefruit and citrus fruits are helpful to wake you up. Use them in a body cream or oil, but not a face cream, for a refreshing start to the day.

Rosemary to stimulate circulation

Rosemary is often used in massages as it’s brilliant for stimulating the circulation.  It goes into your bloodstream and stimulates blood flow, clearing out toxins from the muscles. Use it in a massage oil or body lotion.

Ylang Ylang to boost confidence

If you’re going on a date or to a job interview, ylang ylang (pronounced ee-lang ee-lang) is amazing.  You can roll it onto your wrist or put it in an oil burner, or see if you can find it in a good hand cream for easy use.

Geranium for hormonal imbalance

For anything from your period to post pregnancy (after breastfeeding), geranium is often used to help balance hormones.


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