By Jasmine Eskenzi, founder of The Zensory.
Out of all five senses, smell is ultimately the strongest human sense. According to the National Institute of Health, humans can distinguish more than 1 trillion scents. Our sense of smell can trigger reactions in the brain that affect how we perceive taste, as well as have powerful effects on our behaviour, emotions, perceptions and even memories. All this begs the question: what if there was a way to use smell to help combat stress?
The risks of stress on our mental health and wellbeing
Unfortunately for many, stress is inevitable. Statistics show that 1 in 14 UK adults feel stressed every single day. This, if left unmanaged, can have huge effects on our mental health and wellbeing. Side effects of stress (mentally) include worrying and negative thoughts, hasty decision making, and, in worst case scenarios, can trigger depression. The symptoms of high level stress can also manifest into physical symptoms, such as headaches, dizziness, and muscle tension, amongst other things, according to the NHS. Continued low levels of stress over a prolonged period of time can lead to chronic stress, which can ultimately diminish our quality of life.
How using your sense of smell can help you to relax
There are multiple ways to harness your sense of smell in your everyday life to bring you joy and improve wellbeing. One of the ways this can be achieved is through aromatherapy, the ritual of inhaling the scents of essential oils. Essential oils consist of natural oils that are extracted from plants and typically obtained by distillation. Many consider the practice of aromatherapy to work as a natural remedy for stress relief. Incorporating scents into our daily lives doesn’t have to be a challenging task and there are numerous ways to do so. Essential oils can often be found in diffusers, candles, and wax melts, among other commonplace household items. Additionally, another easy way to harness your sense of smell can be achieved through paying attention to scents that are naturally occurring in our internal and external environments. For example, appreciating your first cup of coffee or herbal tea in your day as focusing on the aroma of this ritual can help you to feel more relaxed.
The top 5 smells to help you combat stress
To help you along your journey of discovering the power of your sense of smell, below are five stress-busting scents that are proven to make you feel more relaxed:
The distinct citrus aroma of bergamot can reduce stress and mental fatigue. Sourced from the peel of a citrus fruit known as Citrus bergamia, bergamot essential oils have anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) properties that can have an enlivening effect on your mood.
There’s a reason why many reach for chamomile tea when they’re wanting to unwind, but just being around the smell of it can have powerful relaxant effects! If you’re in need of a scent for relaxation, to combat feelings of anxiousness, irritability or angriness, chamomile can help.
The warm, resinous, and earthy aroma of frankincense can have anti-anxiety and depression-reducing abilities. A recent study found that the compounds within frankincense can activate ion channels to the brain which alleviates feelings of anxiety or depression. Obtained from trees of the genus Boswellia, the aromatic resin of Frankincense is often used in incense and perfumes, as well as candles. Frankincense is also an ideal scent for those who practise meditation and purification and can reduce heart rate and high blood pressure.
The delicate and sweet smell of lavender has gained global popularity for its easily recognisable and versatile scent. If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, the floral aroma of lavender can help you to relax and put your mind in a state of ease and contentment. Lavender oil is commonly used for sleep support but research has shown that it can also help reduce headache pain as well as improving mood, anxiety, and depression. This is because lavender can calm the nervous system, lift your mood, and even lower blood pressure. The sky’s the limit for how to utilise lavender essential oils because the scent is so strong and can be used in baths, distilled water to create room spray and massage oil.
The sweet, rich, and syrupy scent of vanilla is famously known for its relaxing properties. In fact, during an experiment, people who smelled vanilla whilst carrying out a stress test, were reported to have a more stable heart rate and better blood pressure readings, than in comparison to those who took the stress test in an unscented room. According to research studies, vanilla oil has numerous antioxidant properties, which can help repair cells and lead to better heart health among other benefits for your skin. Additionally, vanilla extract when mixed with warm water can provide an aesthetic effect to the throat and help alleviate respiratory conditions.
It is important to remember that, whilst incorporating essential oils into your daily routine can have powerful relaxant effects, you should be mindful of how you use them and make sure to handle them with care. This practice can be used alongside or as part of a greater wellbeing routine. Apps, like the Zensory, can help you manage all these wellbeing practices in one place.
About the expert
Jasmine Eskenzi is the Founder of The Zensory, a cutting-edge immersive app, designed to boost mood and mindset using multi-sensory experiences. Backed by +200 research papers and world-leading professors, The Zensory offers curated music, binaural beats, naturescapes, touchpads, scents and more to super boost focus and relaxation in order to help people thrive and combat overwhelm in our busy modern lives. Jasmine has also co-founded Health Tech Hive, a community to connect, educate and empower female innovators in global health tech and has also released award-winning women’s health research and launched events alongside companies such as Google and NHSx. Jasmine formerly worked with NHSx and the All Party Parliamentary Group for Longevity in the UK and she is also the podcast host of ‘Play Positivity’, sharing wisdom from leading positive psychologists and is a published musician and songwriter aiming to use music to improve mental health and wellbeing.