Mental Health Awareness Week 2021
Never has there been a time when it was more important to talk openly about mental health than now. This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, and it is an opportunity for us all to think about our own mental health, be open to ways to improve it, and support the people around us to improve theirs as well.
The link between mental health and scent is one that has long fascinated me: perhaps not surprising for someone whose business (and passion) revolves around fragrance! It’s something that I have featured on the blog in some way or other many times (see the Fragrance and Mental Health category) and while I appreciate that scent alone is not a magic cure for low mood or anxiety, I do believe that it can be a really useful part of our mental health toolkit, alongside things like mindfulness, exercise, music, talking, and rest.
Why fragrance helps our mental health
There is science behind this. It’s all to do with the limbic system in the brain. The limbic system comprises a set of structures that scientists believe play a major role in controlling mood, memory, behaviour, and emotion. This part of the brain has barely changed since the very first mammals and is therefore regarded as a primitive function.
It is the limbic system that processes our sense of smell. While smell has always been used to help us detect danger (eg the presence of fire or gas, when food is off, or even injury such as an infection) it is also directly linked to memory and emotion. Most people are drawn to fragrances that trigger a happy memory, such as the smell of the sea reminding them of childhood holidays or the scent of baking that reminds them of visiting Grandma’s house.
Loss of smell and depression
To demonstrate the power of scent as a mood booster, we should look at the other side of it: the psychological impact of loss of smell. Anosmia is a medical condition where sufferers lose their sense of smell completely and many describe feelings of isolation from the world around them and a ‘blunting of emotion’. Losing smell can even result in the loss of sentimental pathways to memories. Research has even shown that scent loss can be an early symptom of Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease and this could exacerbate the loss of connection to memories.
Similarly, a distorted sense of smell – a condition called parosmia – where things smell very differently to how they should, often in an unpleasant way, can be equally distressing. This can be an ongoing symptom of covid-19 which can also be detrimental to mental health.
Use everything in your toolkit
Looking after our mental health requires effort and attention and is something we all need to actively work at. The tools we use will be different for each of us, but it just seems to me like fragrance is an easy win: something we can all access and use, whether that be wearing our favourite perfume every day (and not just for ‘special occasions’), baking some bread (even if it’s just a part baked baguette from the supermarket!), or using room fragrance to fill the space with something mood enhancing. Scents thought to lift spirits include vanilla, jasmine, lemon, lavender, and bergamot.
I felt this was an important subject to talk about during Mental Health Awareness Week and I don’t want to diminish the value of it by using it to try to sell wax bars so I’m not going to link to any products here, but you know that you can contact me if you’d like any help with this and you can find these scents on the website, if you would like to.
All I would say is, be kind to yourself, use whatever tools work for you, and reach out to family and friends as often as you can, because you never know when someone is going through something you’re not aware of.