Stressed? Burnt out? Need to relax? Your sense of smell can help you, more than you realise

Our sense of smell is perhaps the most undervalued of the five senses, even though it is, by far, our most sophisticated sense. 

It is a "startling superpower", according to the New York Times. A mysterious yet elegant neurological process that colours our lives and shapes our experiences, each and every day.⁠

In fact, nothing has a stronger and more immediate effect on your state of mind than scent. ⁠

That’s because unlike other senses, the olfactory system has a direct connection to the limbic system, the oldest area of the human brain, where emotions and memories are formed.

It's why a particular scent can profoundly affect your mood and behaviour, evoking powerful emotions and memories, a phenomenon known as The Proust Effect.   

Appellation's diagram showing how scent/smell is the only sense to pass directly to your brain's limbic system which is responsible for memories, emotional responses, stress response and biological rhythms, such as the ultradian rhythm

How does scent affect the brain?

While it's clear that odors impact us on an emotional level, a growing body of evidence shows that certain essential oils affect brain biochemistry

Essential oils are made up of volatile aromatic molecules. Simply by inhalation, they are transmitted to the brain via the olfactory nerve, where under the radar of our consciousness, they trigger neural activity. In conventional medicine, this effect is known as pyschopharmacology.

You’re not just smelling a beautiful scent. Your brain is releasing “feel-good” neurochemicals like dopamine, which is linked to pleasure and motivation, and serotonin, which stablises mood.

Electroencephalograms (EEGs) tests have also shown that essential oils alter brain wave activity.

Lavender and sandalwood, for example, stimulate theta and delta waves, which are associated with a more relaxed state, while rosemary or citruses elevate beta waves, linked with alertness and focus.

Aromachology is the use of aroma to influence mood and emotion

You've heard of aromatherapy, but at Appellation we are guided by aromachology, using scent to stimulate or soothe the senses and enhance emotional wellbeing.

Our formulations are informed by the chemistry of essential oils and their impact on the brain.

For example, in The Focus Series, a series of blends designed for vitality and energy, we formulated with 1.8 cineole and eugenol, found in eucalyptus, basil and rosemary.

These naturally occurring chemicals have been extensively studied, and are known to enhance cognitive function, sharpen memory, and improve mental clarity.

In The Calm Series a series of blends to soothe away evening tension, we formulated with linalool and linalyl acetate, found in lavender, ylang-ylang and bergamot.

These constituents stimulate the release of dopamine and serotonin, which turn down the dial on your body's fight-or-flight response, slowing the heart and the breath, and calming the body and mind.     

Respect your rhythm

Both The Focus Series and The Calm Series are designed to use at certain times of the day.

That's because timing is everything. 

For decades, scientists have studied the circadian rhythm, a naturally recurring biological cycle that governs everything from sleep and mood to hormones and metabolism.

We know that at night, our bodies cycle through different stages of sleep at 90-minute intervals. What is less known is that our bodies follow similar intervals during the day.

In our waking hours, we shift between a state of heightened alertness to a state of fatigue every 90 to 120 minutes. These natural biological patterns are known as ultradian rhythms – your body's predefined, rest-activity cycle. 

Appellation's chart showing the peaks & troughs of our body's natural ultradian healing response

You might recognise your ultradian rhythm by the peaks and slumps in energy experienced throughout the day. That feeling of ‘hitting the wall’ – particularly in the afternoon – or the fatigue or brain fog that occurs after an extended period of focus. 

Ignoring these physical cues to rest takes a toll on mental fitness. 

As well as deteriorating cognitive function, not taking a break also triggers the release of adrenalin, noradrenalin and cortisol, which can over time lead to inflammation, chronic stress, anxiety and burnout.

As we discover more about our biological need for rest, it becomes clear that self-renewal and downtime, whether it’s getting some fresh air, taking a walk, or allowing your mind to restore – whether that's through meditation, breath-work, aromatherapy or yoga nidra, for example – is essential for wellbeing and all that it encompasses: less anxiety, heightened productivity, energy and immunity, a sense of calm or focus – the list goes on.

A natural intervention

With the World Health Organisation defining stress as “the health epidemic of the 21st century”, it’s never been as important to prioritise self-care.

Aromachology is a natural and effective intervention to modern-day malaise. A tool to leverage to enhance the quality of our lives. A simple, low-cost way to feel better, naturally.

Less stressed out, overwhelmed and fatigued. More calm, balanced and restored. Put simply, a better version of you. 

View our Essential Oil range | View our Ultrasonic Diffusers


We study robust scientific journals when developing every formula. Our library is open to all.