We're all afraid of something -- spiders, flying, tight spaces, public speaking, heights. And we all deal with our fears differently -- avoidance, medications, meditation.
Did you know, though, that the perfume you wear could also help to ease your anxiety in a stressful situation? The olfactory sense (your nose) and the brain are connected in an interesting way. The olfactory bulb is closely linked to the limbic system, the part of the brain that stores emotion and associative learning. This is why you link smells with memories -- for example, that warm memory of Grandma you get when you smell chocolate chip cookies.
The theory behind aromatherapy is that smells have the power to alter your emotions and ease your anxiety. Aromatherapy practitioners believe that certain fragrances, in the concentrated form of essential oil, can affect certain parts of your brain. When you smell these odors, it can calm down your nervous system, slow a quickened heartbeat and breathing, and settle racing thoughts.
Aromatherapists recommend putting a few drops of essential oil on a tissue and inhaling the fragrance from the tissue. If you don't have time for that, you can sniff directly from the bottle. Scents thought to ease fear and anxiety include the following:
- Neroli -- calming
- Vanilla -- calming
- Frankincense -- brings balance, deepens breathing
- Lavender -- calming and gentle enough to use right on the skin
- Bergamot -- relieves stress
- Clary sage -- alleviates stress and exhaustion
- Patchouli -- relieves stress
- Chamomile -- calming
As with many holistic therapies, aromatherapy is a bit controversial within Western medicine. Scientific research conducted on scent therapy is inconclusive, and some researchers have found that placebos offer the same relief as essential oils. However, a scent study conducted by Sloan Kettering showed that the scent of vanilla reduced symptoms of claustrophobia by 63 percent in patients undergoing MRI scans. Another study by the Healthy Brands Group also reported dramatic reduction of claustrophobia symptoms by volunteers who sniffed vanilla, lavender, cucumber, or green apple before getting onto a crowded elevator. Eighty-three percent of the volunteers reported partial to total reduction of symptoms while riding in the elevator after inhaling the vanilla scent.
If you decide to try aromatherapy, treat the essential oils with care and educated yourself on how to use them. Many essential oils are too concentrated and strong to apply directly to your skin. They must be inhaled instead. Or, you can use them in a diffuser to spread the fragrance throughout your home.
If you're unsure about using essential oils, look for wearable fragrances containing the scent you want -- vanilla, lavender and chamomile perfumes are all pretty easy to find. Deeply inhale the scent and think positive, calming thoughts. You may feel your fear and anxiety drift away.