Aromatic Resilience Series: Stress, Scent, and the Brain

olfaction, aromatics, brain

Through human evolution, we as a species have evolved with quite an adept intelligent complex system to adapt to our environment. Think of our nervous system as our electrical operating system, it is wired to constantly bring the body back into balance or what is known as homeostasis. Particularly when both the mind and body are navigating external stressors from life experiences that may trigger anxiety, overwhelm, fear, exhaustion, shut down, negative thoughts, and this list can go on. 

If you are like me, then you might find fascination in understanding how the body responds to stress, and to know solutions and resources to shift into states of calm, ease, wholeness and ultimately happiness. In this resilience series, I am going to highlight different facets of our stress response system and discuss how the role of aromatics, ritual, and embodiment practices are helpful to supporting the resilience of an integrated mind and body system. 

One pathway of resilience begins with the journey of olfaction and its correspondence to the brain. Olfaction by definition is the action and capacity of smelling. We understand the influence of scent to have immediate effects on memory, elicit an emotion or mood. A familiar scent may trigger a memory from past experience and immediately evoke an emotion, feeling, and transport back to the moment of the original moment.  We may all have childhood memories of our caregivers baking fresh pies or cookies and as adults, the smell of those goods can take us back to that moment in time. 

Among our five innate senses of sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell, the sense of smell connects directly into a primal part of the limbic brain where emotion and memory recall takes place.  As our brain identifies an odor, the molecules of the odor or scent also travel to a part of our primal brain known as the limbic system located in the center of the brain. The limbic system is responsible for immediate and automatic reaction in relation to an odor. This structure of the limbic brain is known as the amygdala, the size of an almond, and located in the middle of the brain, is responsible for fielding and regulating emotions, such as fear or aggression or peace and happiness. It then communicates to the hippocampus, the storage center for memory, and cascades into other structures of the brain and the nervous system cuing for safety and regulation.

Aromatherapy is both an art and science of using scent and aromatics to influence positive states in the mind and body. The pleasantness of a variety of aromatics like essential oils is supportive for creating positive shifts for the mind and body. The next time feelings of anxiety, fear and stress arise in the mind and body, try the simple practice of connecting the inhalation breath, using scent, and visualizing it into the center of the brain and the amygdala. 

Calming the Amygdala breath practice:  

  1. Find a comfortable position either seated or lying down. 
  2. Reach for your favorite Root and Resin product, a fresh herb or essential oil that brings calm to your senses. 
  3. Think of a statement or mantra like  “I am safe, I am whole, I am ok” 
  4. Take a breath in with your scent, eyes open or closed, repeat your mantra “I am safe, I am whole, I am ok”, and as you do, visualize the scent molecules travel up your nostril to the upper part of your nose, absorbing into the front of the brain and dropping down the middle of the brain, and find the almond shape that is the amygdala, and see scent molecules coating and enveloping the entire amygdala. 
  5. Inhale, repeat mantra, exhale, see and imagine the scent molecules bathing, enveloping the amygdala with warmth and surrounding in light.
  6. Repeat as long as you like, until you feel a shift in your being. 

If you have found this helpful, and would like more ways to support your wellbeing, I offer consultations and in addition can work with you on crafting your own personalized synergy scent blend. DM me at for more information.