When you’re travelling, or hosting people, or preparing for big events like Christmas or New Year’s, it can get stressful.
Click start to play today’s Spell It, where we discover how the power of our sense of smell can ‘amaze’ and relax us when we need to de-stress.
Whether you have access to the desert or a forest, or just replicating those scents at home, taking the time to breathe in Nature can have immense and calming benefits for our bodies.
According to a December 2023 report in the US-based psychology news website Psychology Today, scientists who studied the chemical content of plants in the Shinrin-yoku parks of Japan and Korea, and in the saguaro cactus forests of the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, US, found that despite the vast difference in topography, the regions’ plants shared hundreds of similar chemicals. While in the Southeast Asian countries, the source was fragrant oils from the Hinoki cypress tree, in the American desert, the scent emanated from creosote bushes and other desert plants.
The sensation of breathing in these smells is similar to the scent of incumbent rain. According to the Psychology Today report, plants release hundreds of chemical oils before, during, and after a spell of rain. While scientists are still trying to find out why this happens – perhaps to attract pollinators – there are several oils that are released in this time, that have been found to have benefits for human health: limonene, camphene, myrcene and pinene, which evoke the familiar fragrances of lemon, camphor, myrrh and pine.
These fragrances have been shown to improve moods, reduce anxiety and pain, lower blood pressure, and improve sleep. Since the nerve endings in the nose are the shortest direct pathway to the brain, when inhaled, these natural chemicals have an immediate calming effect. By inhaling deeply, you can engage your vagus nerve and trigger your relaxation response.
Some scents go further than relaxing the body – they have an impact on the immune system. Frankincense, for instance, was beloved by the ancient Romans for healing wounds and protecting against infection. Roman legionnaires were even known for carrying chunks of frankincense resin into battle. Recent studies have shown that it actually does help reduce inflammation, kill bacteria and fungi and affect immune cells.
So, give yourself opportunities to heal through the sense of smell. Even if you’re not able to step away to a nearby park, you could carve out your own little sanctuary via a herb garden in your balcony or backyard. A whiff of oregano, basil, rosemary, mint or thyme can have an instant calming effect.