Stress, a Sense of Smell and Essential Oils

My rheumatoid arthritis (RA) journey includes the use of essential oils to help keep me well. In addition to having inflammation and pain, people with RA can be more susceptible to infections, colds, and viruses. Brain fog, nausea, and fatigue present other challenges. For symptoms such as sleeplessness, muscle tightness, and headache, I like to start with the gentlest treatments possible. Essential oils fit the bill. See Essential Oils for Rheumatoid Arthritis on HealthCentral.com to see how I use them.

That Vital Sense of Smell

I remember how unsettling it was when I lost my sense of smell when I had a bad cold. I have a very good “sniffer” and to suddenly lose that ability was quite a blow. It was as if a sudden gust had stolen away with all the everyday things that I took pleasure in smelling. Citrus-scented soap, my morning coffee, Headache Relief Serum, that bowl of Borscht - they had somehow all lost dimension. My pleasure in these things diminished along with my sense of smell.

In addition to bringing you pleasure, a sense of smell keeps you safe. How else would you know if you had a gas leak without that rotten egg smell. Your nose knows when food is off, often before it even reaches your lips.

The olfactory bulb connects to the amygdala and hippocampus, brain regions that are are tied to emotions and memory. That is why certain scents can instantly transport you to events and experiences from long ago.

The Stress Connection

Do you ever wonder why you start feeling panicky when you detect certain odours? For example, a particular cologne, burning rubber, or gymnasiums. Dig back through your history and uncover the memories clinging to that particular odour. The cologne the person with whom you had a negative experience always wore. The car accident that resulted in a fire. How you were made to feel in your high school physical education classes.

As quickly as a squall sweeps in, your sense of smell "remembers" that earlier negative experience. It's your early-warning signal that may or may no longer serve you. The amygdala remembers so you don't have to be constantly learning from each and every experience. It's like a danger-alerting shortcut. But times change, as do you. While some elements of that earlier situation may be the same, many other things may be different.

This is when stress techniques earn their stripes. Instead of launching into panic, pause, breathe and evaluate, especially if there is no imminent sense of danger. Is this the exact same situation? Are you able to exercise control? How is this different? Are you actually in danger? A series of mindful questions can help prevent collateral damage. Stress techniques put the brakes on the stress response.

"Scentsing" Something Positive

While it's true that certain scents and odours can trigger the stress response, it's equally true that they can refresh or restore you as surely as a cool breeze does on a hot summer's day.

For example, if you're selling your home, the realtor may advise you to do some baking prior to the open house. Spice cookies or cinnamon buns remind potential buyers of pleasant memories of earlier days.

Cleaning products that contain cedar, citrus or vanilla are also powerful stimulants that also elicit powerful memories.

Whenever I have a bad cold, which isn't too frequently, I want Vick's VapoRub. That was the mom-approved remedy whenever I had a cold. She would boil a pot of water, then add a dollop of menthol rub to the pot. I would then drape a towel over my head as I hung my head over the pot to breathe in that sinus-clearing scent. Fortunately, a diffuser containing eucalyptus, peppermint and/or rosemary essential oils is a much easier and safer way to open up those nasal passages. But the memory of care persists as sure as the contents of that cobalt blue jar.

I've since added other scents that bring about positive changes in my life. Click to see what they are on my HealthCentral.com slideshow: Essential Oils for Rheumatoid Arthritis.

With Gratitude

To Ocean Sole Africa, the company that turns washed-ashore flip-flops into art, like my little blue elephant.

If you ever get a chance, watch David Suzuki's The Nature of Things, Science of the Senses: Taste and Smell, It's well worth your time.

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