Do You Smell Good?
I’m going to explain what effect smell has on memory, how it affects our nervous system and how we can utilise this wonderful and sometimes overlooked sense to advance our wellbeing.
Before I started my career as a hypnotherapist I myself struggled with OCD, anxiety and panic and I found resolution through hypnotherapy. I started to look for and take note of the good things in my life as my hypnotherapist explained this would increase my levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in my brain and have a positive effect on my wellbeing. Little did I know that by doing this practice I was starting to use my senses in a very different way. I wasn’t just visually noticing, feelings or hearing good things I was smelling them too.
I can remember that I absolutely dreaded heading to work in the morning, however, as I started to look for ‘what’s been good?’ (a question I ask my clients in every session), I noticed something was very different between leaving the house and arriving at my car door. I would usually leave the house, jump into my car and solemnly head off to work and not one summer in the 5 years I live there did I notice my neighbours’ fragrant roses that literally brushed my shoulder every time I walked to my car. They were so fragrant and so vibrant, and I had never noticed, why could this be?
Let’s take a look into how we perceive smell and how it can affect our wellbeing.
During our time in the womb as a foetus, we are developing our sense of smell so that when we are born it is established. This is the only fully established sense we have as children until the age of 10 when the development of our sight takes over. During those early years, we are exploring and creating lots of memories with smell as our number one sense driver. These memories are banked in our brains and used for the rest of our lives.
So when we smell the fresh bread as we walk past a bakery there is a cavity at the back of our nose called the olfactory region which detects the wonderful smell and communicates with the Olfactory Bulb in the front of the brain. It’s the job of the Olfactory bulb to handle the information that the smell generates and send signals to other areas of the brain for further processing, one specific area is the limbic system also known as the primitive part of the brain. The central part of the limbic system is the amygdala, and this is often referred to as the flight/fight/depression area of the brain and is associated with the hippocampus which is related to memory and emotional behaviour patterns. When the primitive brain detects a delightful aroma signal from the Olfactory Bulb it can create feelings of wellbeing and/or pleasant emotions based on past memories realising the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin. Lots of us have experienced the ‘Proustian moment’, that moment when a flood of sensory delight triggers wonderful feelings inside us. It might be the smell that lingers in the air after rain on a summer’s day, or the intense smell of fresh coffee when you split the seal on a new jar or of course the wonderful smell of baby powder on a newborn.
However, one of the major objectives of the limbic system is to keep us safe so therefore if it detects an off odour that could potentially cause us harm, it responds accordingly. This is great news as our brains can quickly tell us that bleach in the kitchen cupboard is for cleaning and not for adding to our cup of tea. When we smell bad odours chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol trigger our sympathetic nervous system to tell us something is wrong. It can even change our breathing pattern to become quicker and shallower as the brain prepares the body in primitive terms to fight or flee or in modern-day terms not to drink bleach!
We know our brains are super-efficient so if our sympathetic nervous system is on high alert the brain searches for bad odours in an attempt to keep us safe and ignores the lovely pleasant aromas that might be right under our nose.
So, when my brain started to see and hear the good things it also started to smell the good things too and my neighbour’s roses made an appearance in my life, I could quite literally smell the roses (excuse the pun!).
Through the ages, we have been using scents such as lavender and jasmine as ways of calming down the brain enabling us to relax and unwind and we know how great we feel when we smell freshly cut grass. So how might you incorporate feel good smells into your daily routine?
The olfactory bulb is a part of the brain that we can train to smell well. Just by sniffing out the good things in the first instance, we can train the brain to look for them on a more regular basis.
It’s a great practice to take a mindful walk and really take notice of all of our senses, this has proven to have a really positive effect on our well-being. Taking in the landscape around us in great detail, feeling the gentle breeze on our skin or the sensations of our feet when we walk through rough terrane, noticing the rustling of the trees and hearing the birds sing. But, don’t forget to ask yourself ‘do you smell good?’ and notice what you can smell and seek out the fragrant flowers or the coffee as you pass or decide to stop at the bistro.
About the Author: Emma Rose is based in our Spalding clinic in Lincolnshire. Emma chose to re-train as a solution-focused Hypnotherapist after experiencing lifelong anxiety and OCD which spiralled out of control due to a family bereavement. After experiencing the benefits of hypnotherapy for herself, Emma became motivated by the changes in her own thought processes to help others.
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