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Aromatherapy and Emotions

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Aromatherapy and Emotions

by Joie Power, PhD, Guest Editor of Aromatherapy on

Aromas effect mood and evoke memories. If the smell of baking cookies, a smoky campfire, or a lover’s favorite perfume have ever transported you back in time, calling up long-forgotten events and feelings, then you have experienced the powerful association between aromas, emotions, and memories.

Long before modern scientists began the study of the physiological processes that underlie this association, human beings were exploring and utilizing the power of fragrant substances in their daily lives. Many ancient cultures, including those of India, China, and Persia have left records that document their use of fragrance for its effect on mental states and feelings. The Egyptians, in particular, made extensive use of incense and fragrant oils in their religious rituals.

Kyphi, an incense containing at least 16 herbs and other fragrant plants such as Juniper, Cinnamon, and Myrrh, was used by Egyptian priests to facilitate the attainment of ecstatic states during religious rites. Virtually every culture has reported aphrodisiacal properties for various fragrances. In the harems, Sandalwood and Rose were prized for enhancing sexual desire and the essential oils of Vetiver, Patchouli, Ylang Ylang, Jasmine, Ginger, and Clary Sage have all been used for this purpose. Many ancient peoples, such as the Romans, became very skilled at utilizing certain fragrant plants for evoking specific mental states. Aromatherapy lore reports highly selective effects for specific essential oils; for example, Frankincense and Cypress have been said to aid in dispelling grief, while Ylang Ylang and Juniper are claimed to aid in coping with guilt.

Today, we continue to be aware of the impact of aromas on moods and other aspects of our states of mind, such as alertness, sexual drive, and aggressiveness. Retailers have even attempted to “cash in” on our innate responsiveness to scents by impregnating the air in their stores with fragrances which they believe will stimulate shoppers to make purchases. Their efforts often go awry, however, because those attempting to utilize aromas in this way frequently fail to distinguish between the beneficial effects of natural plant aromas and the deleterious effects of synthetic fragrances, which cause headaches and other unpleasant symptoms in many people.

Modern research supports our intuitive recognition of the impact of aromas on mood and other mental states. Different essential oils have been shown to produce consistently different brain wave patterns on EEG, even when experimental subjects have reported little perceived difference between the odors and have not noticed changes in mood or alertness. Findings such as these suggest that aromas can have subliminal, or unconscious, effects on our mental states and it is precisely this subliminal effect that aromatherapists hope to capitalize upon when they suggest diffusing specific essential oils into environments where people are likely to feel anxious or agitated. In her book, The Fragrant Mind, Valerie Ann Worwood, a well known aromatherapist, suggests diffusing essential oils such as Lavender in prisons and holding cells to help keep inmates calm and less aggressive. She suggests that in addition to having specific relaxing and calming effects, some essential oils may help to bring out the more positive aspects of peoples’ personalities and attitudes.

Aromas may also be utilized in a conscious, intentional way to effect mood and mental states. Citrus oils, for example, are described by aromatherapists as being uplifting, gently stimulating, and conducive to alertness and concentration, while the essential oils of Lavender, Clary Sage, and Roman Chamomile are described as relaxing and soothing. With this knowledge, you might choose to diffuse a small amount ( 3 or 4 drops) of Grapefruit oil in your work space in order to support your efforts on an important project, or, you might similarly use essential oil of Clary Sage when you want to relax and feel comforted after a stressful event.

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4:51AM PST on Jan 6, 2012

thank you I love aromatherapy!!

9:21PM PDT on Oct 12, 2011

I do an inhalation most mornings while my morning tea is steeping

When I was living with a relative who was going through addiction and mental health issues I would always have healing essential oils throughout the house. They got better and I do believe essential oils played a role in it

10:47AM PDT on Sep 13, 2011

Love this! I usually have a lemon in my office which I smell when I get stressed out or hit the afternoon slump. It really works!

5:48AM PDT on Sep 2, 2011

Excellent article, I swear by the power of essentials oils !

2:59AM PDT on Aug 29, 2011


8:19PM PDT on Aug 28, 2011

If you have kids in school, make sure the teacher isn't using Glade Plug Ins, any Scentsy products, or other fake smelly things. Most of the schools in our district got new carpet, paint, and other floor coverings this summer. There was also some asbestos removal. Some of this is probably in the vents. So if your kid is coming home with a sore throat, is tired, or hyped up, you can probably be sure it is from the chemical soup. Speaking of soup, guess what's in their lunches - nothing too nutritious I'll bet.

6:04PM PDT on Aug 28, 2011


11:06PM PDT on Aug 19, 2011


3:10PM PDT on Aug 17, 2011

Will try anything for my permanent back pain.would love to know more. thank you

7:56AM PDT on Aug 16, 2011

I don't think I could get out of bed without citrus oils in my morning shower. I plug up the tub so it won't drain, add 3 to 4 drops each of lemon, orange, and grapefruit oils and as soon as the hot water starts to run the whole room smells heavenly and I start to wake up.

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All listed are valid reasons but I love #9 Thank you for sharing it


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