Aromatherapy: Unlocking the Power of Smell On Your Mental Health

An integral part of our life, the sense of smell enables us to smell food, all the different delicacies with their unique fragrances that that make our mouth water with just one sniff.

We humans have been gifted with five different but unique senses. The sense of sight, hearing, touch, taste and the last, the sense of smell. While we’ve been employing all of these senses at all times in our regular life, one very underrated and underestimated sense of an individual is the sense of smell.

The Sense of Smell

An integral part of our life, the sense of smell enables us to smell food, all the different delicacies with their unique fragrances that make our mouth water with just one sniff. It enables us to recognise dangers, for instance, you always tend to recognise the smell of a gas leak and are able to save yourself from it or you can also, more than often, identify if your food item has gone bad without tasting it by just smelling it. Our sense of smell helps us ourselves from unwanted circumstances, even when we don’t realise it.

Besides this, our sense of smell also has the power to connect us with our past, our memories, even the ones that we may have locked up deep inside our minds and moments we may even have forgotten about. For instance, one day you smell a fragrance that you would have first witnessed years ago but have never really thought back on that moment or about the people who you witnessed that particular fragrance with and do not remember who they were, nonetheless, smelling the fragrance again tends to bring back all of the memories from that first time. It reminds you of the exact same moment, the people, the surrounding, it tends to bring back all the memories you had made when you had first come in contact with that fragrance. Our sense of smell, therefore, also has the power to make us nostalgic and bring back some fond but forgotten memories.

What is aromatherapy?

While, it does so much, did you know that it could also give you therapeutic benefits? Did you ever think about how your sense of smell also had the power to soothe your mind, calm you down and work like therapy when you are in a lot of stress or are panicking?

This kind of therapeutic smell is attributed to or is a part of aromatherapy. Aromatherapy is the practice of using aromatic materials including essential oils and other aroma compounds for therapeutic benefit. It has been used for centuries with claims for improving psychological well-being. It is used as a complementary therapy or as a form of alternative medicine, and typically is used via inhalation and not by ingestion.

And even though we’ve never really paid a lot of attention to how fragrances affect out minds in a therapeutic manner, we have all experienced the benefits of aromatherapy at some point in our lives.

Corroborrating the same view on the unique kind of therapy, Dr Neerja Agarwal, Psychologist and Co-founder Emoneeds stated that aromatherapy is a holistic healing treatment using natural plant extracts, particularly essential oils, to promote physical and emotional well-being. It leverages the therapeutic properties of aromatic oils to enhance health and improve mood.

Is aromatherapy proven?

Aromatherapy has been a proven technique that can be employed to calm one’s mental distress. Dr. Neerja, while talking about whether there is any research that proves aromatherapy is impactful for the mind and body, affirmed that there were many studies that acknowledge and support the benefits of aromatherapy. she stated, “For example, research in “Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine” shows lavender oil reduces anxiety and improves sleep. Another study in the “Journal of Clinical Oncology” found aromatherapy reduces pain and distress in cancer patients, indicating its therapeutic potential.”

There are several companies that work towards providing products that can enable people to get aromatherapy and calm their minds without having to go for prescribed treatments to ease their minds. Ridhima Kansal, Director, Rosemoore, stated, “The idea behind working on aromatic fragrances is to provide luxurious fragrances in an affordable range to customers for home spaces, offices, spaces, malls, yoga meditation studios, etc. The goal is to create a unique blend of fragrances that evoke emotions that bring back memories, calm people’s nerves, or boost energy.” She suggested that by offering aromatic fragrances that appeal to various seasons and moods, the main aim of these companies is to improve the well-being and mood of their customers.

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Aromatherapy is a simple technique but with a complex process of how it soothes one’s mind. When inhaled, the molecules of a scent in the essential oils travel from a person’s olfactory nerves directly to their brain and impacts their nerve system, especially the amygdala which is the emotional center of the brain. Explaining it further, Dr Neerja stated, “Aromatherapy works through inhalation and skin absorption. Inhaled essential oils stimulate the olfactory system, sending signals to the limbic system which governs emotions and memories. When applied topically, these oils penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream, delivering physical benefits like pain relief and improved circulation.” Therefore aromatherapy is not just a process that is carried forward by our olfactory senses but also through our skin to ensure relief from any kind of physical or mental discomfort. She also mentioned that aromatherapy has the power to alleviate anxiety, depression, insomnia, chronic stress, headaches, pain, digestive issues, and respiratory problems. “While it may not cure these conditions, it complements conventional treatments by reducing symptoms and enhancing overall well-being.”

Aromatherapy: A tradition

Aromatherapy has been a part of our lifestyle for decades altogether. Initially in the form of herbs and plant extracts, it gradually evolved as people began using attar. Traditionally used in puja practices, its applications eventually extended beyond religious devotion. Aromatherapy employed attar to tap into the mood-enhancing and calming properties of  the Attar scents for meditation, relaxation, and stress relief. This was gradually transformed into perfumes and fragrances and over time, the demand for essential oils came into being. Ridhima Kansal elaborated on how these different forms and types of fragrances rose to such popularity. She explained that the fragrance industry in India has been growing fast and has become extremely popular around the globe. “This industry is expected to touch 5.2 billion dollars by 2027 which is approx 12 percent growth each year. This growth is because of the upgrading lifestyle change of middle-class groups and the ability to spend more so that is why they are buying luxurious things to keep them up to date. Also, they are paying attention to tiny things like body odor and everything which is why perfume has become an integral part of their lifestyle. It helps them go out of the house confidently about how they appear among their colleagues,” she added that the influence of ads and celebrity recommendations plays a vital role in playing with consumers’ minds and creating a zeal to buy more. In addition, she asserted that the government has also been helping by making rules to make sure Indian perfumes can be sold abroad, which helps the industry grow even more.

Is aromatherapy an alternative to therapy?

According to Dr. Neerja, convincing people to try aromatherapy is a very subjective technique. She suggested,”Those open to alternative therapies may be more receptive, while skeptics require education and evidence. Sharing research, personal anecdotes, and providing first-hand experiences can help demonstrate its benefits.” Aromatherapy is also largely a form of therapy which may be administered individually or can be a part of an ongoing therapeutic process to bring a change and can be prescribed by a mental health professional. However, it may also be administered as an alternative to people skeptic of therapy sessions but are in urgent need of help. She further cited one of her personal experiences with a patient where aromatherapy was able to help better someone’s illness. She mentioned that there was a patient with severe anxiety and insomnia who found significant improvement through a regimen of lavender and chamomile essential oils. “Over a few months, these oils helped enhance her sleep quality and reduce anxiety, complementing her existing treatments.”

Leading it towards the conclusion, the director of Rosemoore stated that their brand focuses on creating refreshing fragrances that match the different moods and environments in which they can be used and help calm and soothe people’s minds. “Reflecting influences from around the world, the fragrances offer an exotic blend of scents that can be selected by our customers based on their sensory characteristics, i.e. for a soothing experience. Our Lavender Blue brings the calm and soothing feeling you need; or for a more invigorating scent, you can choose our Eucalyptus & Kaffir Lime fragrance. We carry five main fragrance categories: floral, fruity, spicy, citrus and woody with enriching scents in each category. Rosemoore is dedicated to creating beautiful fragrances that evoke special memories and favourite occasions for its customers.” She added that they are working on a variety of products based on what is required by their target customers and what would suit people’s mind and emotions. These include, scented candles, diffusers, scented potpourri, scented wooden balls, scented burner oil, festive-themed aromatic decorations and accessories. All of these are the different types of products that enable people to perceive aromatherapy as different from a traditional therapy session and still has similar therapeutic benefits for them.

Ridhima further explained that people prefer scented candles and diffusers more since it incorporates an aspect of home decor as well, especially during the festive seasons.

Thus, a combination of luxury and therapy, aromatherapy, in its different forms of diffusers, scented candles, potpourri, has been a large part of our life, and has helped us calm our minds several times.