Out of the five senses, smell is the one that has the strongest connection to the seats of emotions and memories in your brain. This helps to explain why aromas can be such evocative reminders of long-ago times and places and why aromatherapy is a $1.6 billion industry worldwide.*
Scents, particularly those derived from essential oils, have been used to promote relaxation for thousands of years. And, far more recent science has suggested the brain reacts to the scent of linalool, the compound that gives lavender and many other flowers their scent, the same way it responds to well-known anti-anxiety medications including Valium.
Next time you need to unwind from an especially stressful day, try using a candle or diffuser to infuse important rooms or your whole home with one of these exceptionally soothing scents:
Bergamot — Produced from bergamot oranges, which are similar in size and shape to more familiar oranges but have a yellow or green skin. The invigorating citrusy quality is also used to make Earl Grey tea.
Chamomile — Used most frequently in teas intended to calm nerves, digestion, pain and colds, chamomile oil can be applied to your skin (as a few drops within a diluting agent) or drizzled into bathwater.
Jasmine — Another floral scent long treasured for its rich, exotic qualities, jasmine has built its reputation as an aphrodisiac. It is notable among the essential oils for promoting relaxation without leading to drowsiness.
Jatamansi — This lesser-known essential oil is believed to connect powerfully to the brain’s centers of emotion and memory and may help relieve symptoms of depression by increasing the level of GABA neurotransmitters in the brain.
Lavender — Perhaps the most widely used scent for relaxation, its longtime use means it can affect people by directly tapping into their relaxation receptors and through association with prior events when it was used as a calming agent.
Ylang ylang — Found in a plant native to the shores of the Indian Ocean, this scent is both fruity and flowery. Small studies have found it increases self-esteem while relieving anxiety.
*Several essential oils and fragrances are toxic or fatal to pets. Learn more at www.foundanimals.org/essential-oils-toxic-pets or speak with your veterinarian.