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Smell and the Brain: How Smell Triggers Memories and Emotions

The sense of smell is the strongest of the senses and the only one directly connected to our brain. The smell receptors in our nose communicate with the same areas of our brain that store our memories and process our emotions and learning.

Does the smell of coconut and lemongrass remind you of a holiday on a white sanded beach, cold drink in hand? How about the smell of gingerbread and cinnamon, does it make you think of mum’s Christmas cookies? And fresh pine, if you are from Europe like me, does it take you back to a white Christmas and a pile of presents under the Christmas tree?

Lime in the Coconut Wooden Wick Soy Candle
Closely linked with memory, smells can take us back in time.

How smell works: our limbic system.

Our nose contains millions of chemical receptors that detect odors. When we sniff, chemicals in the air are dissolved in mucus. Odor receptor neurons detect these odors and send the signals on to the olfactory bulbs. These signals are then sent along olfactory tracts to the olfactory cortex of our brain.

The olfactory cortex is vital for the processing and perception of odor. Located in the temporal lobe of our brain, which is involved in organizing sensory input, the olfactory cortex is also a component of the limbic system. This system is involved in the processing of our emotions, survival instincts, and memory formation.

The olfactory cortex has connections with other limbic system structures such as the amygdala, hippocampus, and hypothalamus. The amygdala is involved in forming emotional responses and memories, the hippocampus indexes and stores memories, and the hypothalamus regulates emotional responses. It is the limbic system that connects senses, such as odors, to our memories and emotions.

New York New York Wooden Wick soy Candle
It is the limbic system that connects senses, such as odors, to our memories and emotions.

Scent can greatly influence our brain activity and help improve our lives.

The connection between our sense of smell and emotions is unlike that of the other senses because the olfactory system nerves connect directly to brain structures of the limbic system. Because of this direct connection to our brain, smell is a powerful tool we can use to improve our lives.

By introducing scents that bring positive experiences to our everyday activities and contribute to our self care routines, we can make our days feel and smell at least a little bit better.

Scents that help us create the perfect atmosphere to unwind at the end of a long and busy day. Scents that help us glam up our household chores and make folding the washing feel like a day at the spa. Scents that add a little bit of zing to our morning routine to help us start the day right. Scents that help us stay focused and motivated and improve our productivity. Scents that take us on a trip around the world from the comfort of our lounge.

It’s that easy. Get some fresh flowers from your local florist, bake those cookies, light that candle!

Zing Wooden Wick Soy Candle
Smells can trigger both positive and negative emotions as they are associated with specific memories.

Want to learn more?

Feel free to get in touch, we would love to answer your questions. You can also follow us on Instagram @lumenandluxe, we would love to have you in our family.

Marina. x

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