We have all heard how valuable essential oils can be in helping influence emotional states, I know many of us have experienced it personally. But for me it’s helpful to understand a little more about how essential oils influence emotions from a scientific perspective. I’m going to keep this really simple, but hopefully give you a little more information so that you can understand the process better.
One of the ways that essential oils influence emotions is through the limbic system. Just the other day I wrote about the limbic system because that is also the system that Annie Hopper’s Dynamic Neural Retraining System works to balance (you can read that one here). The limbic system is so crucial to our entire being – it plays a huge role in regulating our emotional states through its involvement in intercellular communication affecting how a person responds to sensory stimuli, how one forms memories around those stimuli, and the resulting emotions that ensue. It also regulates mental functions such as learning, motivation, forming and storing memories, and information processing. Finally, because of its close interplay with other body systems, it plays a role in hormone regulation, autonomic functions such as blood pressure and breathing, sensory perception and motor function.
This is why the limbic system has such influence throughout the body. Take, for example, hormone balance. The hypothalamus is a part of the limbic system. The hypothalamus sends signals to the pituitary, which then sends signals to other organs and glands such as the thyroid, adrenals and ovaries/testes, telling them to produce more or less of a certain hormone.
Ok, so we’re starting to see the far-reaching influence of the limbic system. So how does that relate to scents and essential oils?
The olfactory cortex, which is the central hub of our sense of smell – is part of the limbic system too. Imagine that! The olfactory cortex is vital for the processing and perception of odor, so when we take in certain scents, they’re being processed by the same part of the brain that regulates our emotions.
The question then becomes, what regulates which emotions each particular scent will stir up? That depends largely on the chemistry of the oil. Certain constituents will be more sedating, while others are more uplifting. Some work more on regulating the stress response, meaning our “fight or flight” response, helping to put us parasympathetic state, which is needed to facilitate healing in the body, and gives us that vital feeling of relaxation.
There’s a great book called Emotions and Essential Oils that contains great detail on the properties of individual oils and how they impact our emotions. I love that one as a reference guide.
Here we can see how closely related our sense of smell is with the part of our brain that regulates our emotional states. This is why smells can invoke such powerful memories and emotions – even sometimes many years later.
So when you use your essential oils aromatically, know that you are invoking a powerful physiological response that can help your emotional health and the emotional health of everyone around you!