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Aromatherapy and Emotions

Any odor may acquire the ability to elicit a memory of a specific event, and the feelings associated with that event, if the odor was present during the person’s original experience. This can have positive or negative consequences. One of my former aromatherapy instructors, Jane Buckle, author of the book Clinical Aromatherapy in Nursing (Arnold Press, London), reports that because essential oil of Lavender was used as a disinfectant in morgues and on injury wards in England during WWII, the smell of this oil can elicit very painful memories and feelings of grief in some British people. This example illustrates very well why a person’s individual experience with an aroma must be considered before one tries to utilize it for beneficial purposes. However, by taking individual experience into account, very effective use can be made of the strong associations that are formed between memories and aromas. Students can utilize this association in a very practical way by diffusing a small amount of any personally pleasing, uplifting essential oil into the room while they study and then later inhaling a little bit of the same aroma from a bottle while taking their test. There is a good chance that recall will be stimulated, at least to some extent, by inhaling the same aroma that was used while studying. Don’t assume that you can study less, however!

The bond between odor and memory also provides a potential tool in psychotherapeutic settings, where practitioners may be able to facilitate recall of events by presenting aromas that were linked with those events. In addition, therapists may utilize classical conditioning techniques to “pair” specific odors with desirable mental states (such as “relaxation”) so that the odor may later be used to elicit the state. It is even possible that some complex physiological reactions could be classically conditioned by pairing specific odors with the administration of certain drugs by a physician.

There are many ways to enjoy the subtle effects of aromas at home. First, use only aromatic substances that are completely natural, as synthetic fragrances do not have the beneficial actions of natural ones and can cause headaches, palpitations, and other unpleasant symptoms. Consider your personal experiences and try to determine from these experiences which odors may have beneficial associations and which may have been associated with distressing events. For personal use at home, stick with aromas that have pleasing associations and effects. Fresh or dried herbs, flowers, or even some foods (such as apple pie) may be placed about the home so that their scents disperse into the air. In the spring and summer, a trip to the garden can provide a magical aromatic experience that is enhanced by the sight and feel of the plants and the sounds of chirping birds, rustling foliage and flowing water. Weeding and working for thirty minutes in a patch of basil, lavender, mint, or other aromatic plant is a wonderful way to relax and lift the spirits. Or, plant something fragrant next to a window. Plants that release their fragrance at night, such as nicotiana, are wonderful planted outside a bedroom window.

Essential oils offer perhaps the most convenient and powerful way to experience the beneficial effects of aromas. Essential oils are highly concentrated, fragrant plant extracts that are obtained by distillation or cold pressing of plant material. Essential oils can be utilized by diffusing them into the air, applying them diluted in a massage oil, or by adding a few drops to a warm bath. Because essential oils are so concentrated, only a very small amount is needed – usually just one to four drops depending on the method of use. The practice of using essential oils, and other aromatic plant substances, is known as Aromatherapy. Many good reference books on Aromatherapy and essential oils are now available and should be consulted for guidelines on proper use.

This information is provided for educational interest and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease.
Copyright © 2010 Joie Power, Ph.D. / The Aromatherapy School  |  All Rights Reserved
This article, “Aromatherapy and Emotions” was originally published in: World Health News – Vol. 2, No. 2, Spring 1998, Atlanta, GA.

9 Aromatherapy Essentials

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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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