Olfactory Sensations (Smell) and Stress Reduction

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Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Olfactory sensations refer to our sense of smell. The sense of smell is directly interwoven into our sense of taste. The importance of smell and taste is represented in our spoken language:

1. “What a rotten person he is.
2. “That is a stinky idea.”
3. “He seems honest but I smell a rat.”
4. “I love the aroma of coffee.”


All of us have many visual and emotional associations to certain smells and aromas. When I smell chlorine I immediately think of swimming in a pool and that evokes childhood summer time memories. It is common to have a hungry reaction to the smell of baking bread or to the fragrance of a newly baked loaf. The smell of a freshly cut lawn makes me really good and can change my mood from irritable to happy. Let’s not forget the wonderful smell of food cooking on the stove and even the aromas connected to certain foods such steak or fish. It makes me  think of home, warmth, comfort. The list goes on and, perhaps, you can think of your own favorite olfactory sensations and the memories and images that are evoked.

There is a strong association between our sense of smell and sex and passion. Men and women use perfumes and colognes in an effort to attract the opposite sex. Remember the movie, “The Scent of a Woman.” In other words, we associate sense with desire.

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The sense of smell can and should be used to reduce tension and stress. That is why there is a relaxing, stress reducing type of spa treatment called aroma therapy, much like massage therapy, but using pleasant scents to arrive at the same goal.

Here are a few scents that can be used for a number of purposes:

1. Peppermint to help feel more active and energetic.
2. Jasmine to aid sleep.
3. Lavender, one of my favorites, to induce relaxation.
4. Vanilla to help with weight loss.

These happy sensations and visualizations have been used to reduce anxiety and depression as well as stress. What is especially nice is that using pleasant odors and visualizations costs no money at all. Think of it as free therapy.

Much of this information is taken from a recent article in Psychology Today magazine and can be found at:

In using the sense of smell to reduce stress remember to combine it with pleasant visualizations. As stated above, the smell of chlorine reminds me of swimming. Each person has their own set of associations that come in the form of pictures and memories. I love the sense of smell that happens near the ocean, that aroma of salt water makes me picture waves hitting the beach, something I find very relaxing.

What are your pleasant associations between certain of your favorite fragrances and happy mental pictures? By the way, this can and should include tastes. The word “sweet” is both olfactory and taste at the same time.

Your comments and questions are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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