Friday, June 19, 2009

Room for Change:The Nose Knows

Just as visual memories in grief continue to reflect onto our present daily lives, the sense of smell permeates our home and memories too. We can become so familiar with the aroma of our soap in the shower stall or the fragrance of our loved one's cologne that we no longer smell it. How often have you remembered a smell from your grandmother's house when you were little that wafted past you unexpectedly years later, only to be taken back there within seconds?

Aromas are powerful triggers for memories as well as helpful "friends". Aromatherapy in the home may be a welcome addition to your home during this transition through grief. Aromatherapy may be as simple as burning a scented candle or plugging in a diffuser into your electrical wall socket or even adding cinnamon to the top of coffee in the morning. It may be opening the windows to the scent of the afternoon breeze and the smell of freshly cut grass or even your sheets out drying on a sunny day.
Aromatherapy could be placing cedar chips in your closet of winter clothes or placing a pine needle sachet in your sweater drawer. All of these may evoke subtle cognitive changes , mostly pleasurable, yet unique to each of us. There is no exact formula in what is pleasurable from one person to another.

Some people believe that certain aromas trigger specific physical responses or mental responses. There are few studies to support such claims. One,however,in the International Journal of Neuroscience, compared use of aromatherapy in assessing EEG activity, alertness and mood. Two groups were given three minutes of aromatherapy. The lavender group showed increased beta power, suggesting increased drowsiness and less depressed mode, while reporting feeling more relaxed.The rosemary group, showed decreased alpha and beta power, suggesting more alertness. They were also faster, but not more accurate at completing math computations after the aromatherapy session.

What does that mean for you? Probably not much unless you want to reap the benefits of better calculation time! It may however help you to reflect upon what aromas make you feel more enlivened. What aromas seems to stimulate your desire to eat? What aromas remind you of a peaceful place where your mind may want to wander? What aromas just smell good to you?

Adding new fragrances to our favorite ones will not help us to forget our well forged memories but they can help us to form new pleasant ones to add to our collection. Memories of our loved ones are packaged with care. Adding additional pleasant aromas is the perfect topping in helping us move forward through grief. What scents bring you pleasure?

International Journal of Neuroscience,Volume 96, Issue 3&4 December 1998,pages 217-224
Authors affiliations: University of Miami School of Medicine, Duke University Medical School and Aroma Therapy Associates

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