It's been a fascintating week at Bloom. We're in the throes of developing two new custom scent blends for retail and hotel clients which is always a fun process AND while at it, I've been listening to the fab Mel Robbins in her podcasts. One of these took a deep dive into the psychology of trauma and how smell can play a vital role in evoking either negative or positive emotional responses.
In one example a trauma victim smelt a cologne that took him back to an awful experience of abuse in a flash. He entered a state of flight, fright or freeze and shut down. The subconscious triggering of trauma through smell hadn't even been consciouslly acknowledged or recognised by him until he sought therapy, where the connection between the chance encounter with the cologne that his abuser wore, and his subsequent mental deterioration/breakdown was made.
There have been many scientific studies linking smell with trauma and the activation of the fight or flight nervous system, particuarly for sufferers of PTSD (e.g the smell of gasoline activating emotional trauma responses in war veterans)
Happily there have also been lots of studies linking smell with the activation of the rest and re-set nervous system. For both scenarios the link between feelings of calm or feelings of stress, stem from the fact that the olfactory bulb (which contains the nerves that process and recognise smell) is part of the limbic system. This is the part of the brain involved in our behavioural and emotional responses, especially when it comes to behaviours we need for survival including emotional responses: caring & loving feelings, and fight or flight responses.
The use of essential oils is a way to hack into the positive emotional responses of our brains. Certain oils - and no-one knows exactly why - elicit a standard response in most subjects in test situations. They evoke a feeling of calm, relaxation and general wellbeing. Because essential oils are distilled from natural plant forms that have evolved alongside us over 1000's of years, it could well be that these plants were an integral part of our ancestors lives. Plants that were in flower or that were abundent when times were good - e.g summer flowers like Rose, Geranium, Neroli could all be associated with times when food was more abundant and weather less challenging. In the summer months our ancient ancestors survival and stress mechanisms were likely less activated - abundance means less under threat. My theory is that our brains have evolved to associate smell of the summer season with good times.
It could be why the molecules in essential oils that are summer florals, or summer herbals, are so well recieved by so many...
One of my favourite blends for evoking summer sunshine on a grey day involves citrus scents - bergamot in particular.
The below recipe added to a warm bath is one of the best ways to use smell to soothe you - plus the warm water of the bath also soothes and tone your vagal nerve which is also involved in regulation of your nervous system! Win-win!
8 drops Bergamot essential oil
2 drops Lemon essential oil
2 drops Neroli essential
Add these three beautiful oils in drops to your bath just before you are going to get in. The oils are volatile and will release their fragrance on contact with the hot water so be sure to lean over and inhale as they hit the water. Lie back, breathe deeply and let the body do it's thing!