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Why Seasonal Scents Have a Magical Effect On Your Memory

Ahh… It’s time once again to recall an abundance of delightful, fragrant holiday memories.  How sweet it is! Take a minute and imagine the aroma of a tasty turkey roasting in the oven and fresh-baked pies cooling on the kitchen counter.

Depending on the culture you grew up in, your memories may better recall the nostalgic whiffs of steamed tamales and pungent pozole seasoned with peppers and garlic. Yum! Just thinking of the scents likely makes you want to advance the calendar to Christmas Eve so you can grab your fork.

Perhaps you grew up celebrating the stunning season of Hanukkah. If so, your memories are likely stirred when you recall the smells  of burning candles along with feasts of fried potato latkes and spicy-scented rugelach roll-ups. The culture we grew up in defines which scent triggers bring to mind our most cherished memories of times past.

As a Texas girl, I am immediately transported back to my West Texas roots whenever I catch the scent of (or even think of) cornbread dressing. (People above the Mason-Dixon line refer to this as “stuffing.”) Even to this day, that Southern dressing reigns supreme at every Thanksgiving and Christmas feast eaten at our house. Smelling and tasting that—along with yams smothered in marshmallows and pecans, swiftly carries me “back home.” If you listen carefully, you might even hear my speech slip back into a drawl whenever I wash these delectable foods down with sweet tea.

How eerie it is that aromas of favorite seasonal scents so magically transport us back to times long past.Why do scents ring such a memorable chord in our memory and emotions?

The sight of our old elementary school, the sound of a distant train whistle at night, the taste of Cracker Jacks, and the feel of the sticky popcorn on our fingers may spark our memory. But somehow it is our sense of smell that provide us with the most powerful emotional wallop.

The reason is due to the unique way smells get routed into two areas within our brains. When you smell something, the odor is immediately transported to an area of the  brain known as the hippocampus. The hippocampus is closely associated with memory and learning storage. At the same time, the scent is transported to a brain area known as the amygdale. It consists of two small masses of almond-shaped gray matter. The amygdale is known for processing emotional experiences in our brains.

But wait…there’s more.

There is another reason our sense of smell is so shrewd when it comes to recalling emotional memories. While the human body has merely two receptors for sight and only four for touch, it has approximately 350 scent receptors! Researchers proclaim that your amazing human nose can detect over one trillion different smells.

wolf in the snowAre you starting to get a new appreciation for your nose? While we humans tend to take our sense of smell for granted and think of ourselves as visual creatures, the majority of the animal kingdom relies on a keen sense of smell for survival.

Although we may not give our nose much respect, our sense of smell is designed to keep us safe, arouses various moods, and has great potential for enhancing our health.

Healthcare professionals are aware of the powerful impact of scents

Researchers today remind us that scents can be used to positively affect people’s behaviors, emotions, and health. One interesting study discovered that when men and women (ages 29 to 50) smelled fragrant flowers, their breathing slowed, and they became more relaxed. Perhaps the adage to “STOP AND SMELL THE ROSES” is based on pure science.

lavender sprigs, lavender essential oil, lavender blossoms in a bowlInnovative health systems have discovered that potent plant-based scents can play an important role in health and healing. As people look for natural, safe remedies for chronic pain reduction, tranquility, and improved sleep, essential oils such as ginger, jasmine, lavender, and spearmint are surging in popularity in medical centers. Aromatherapy is being used in many medical centers to relax people prior to surgery, to minimize child birth pain, and to reduce nausea.

 Four Tips to Keep Your Sense of Smell Uncorked 

Be forewarned that it is common for our sense of smell to degrade as the years go by. The production of new olfactory (smell) cells declines with age. If you don’t want to miss out on recalling memories because your sense of smell isn’t what it used to be, there are things you can do to help keep your nasal receptors engaged. Here are a few “scent therapy” suggestions to keep you…well, smelling good.

  1. Dwell on smells. Smelling powerful scents on a daily basis engages receptors in your nose, improving your sense of smell over time. Be aware of  the smell of food or your coffee before you gulp it down. Take in nature’s awesome smells when you take your walks.
  2. Get up and exercise. Research shows that the part of the brain that processes smell can be protected and boosted if you exercise as you grow older. Don’t wait! Lace up your sneakers or step into your dancing shoes right away. And good news…exercising even once a week can help reduce risks of losing your sense of smell..
  3. Talk to your doctor about nasal sprays. If your sense of smell is impaired by congestion or allergies, your doctor may be able to recommend nasal steroids. These can possibly clear your nostrils to help you breathe and enhance your sense of smell. Consider using saline sprays to clean your nose and blocked nerve receptors.
  1. Invest in a humidifier. A humidifier will increase the moisture level in the air. This will enhance the level of moisture in your nose. This will boost your sense of smell.

What Are Your Favorite Holiday Scents?

The winter holidays are a great time to power-up your sense of smell.  Which smells remind you most of joyful, nostalgic times? We all have our favorite nostalgic aromas. Do you enjoy eggnog, fudge, peppermint sticks, or fruitcake smells?

I invite you to share your favorite seasonal scents with the Fuel for Thought readers in the comments section. We will enjoy reliving special memories with you.


1 Comment
    Posted at 17:42h, 10 December Reply

    Aw, this blog brought back fond memories! I love the smell of cinnamon sticks and apple cider simmering on the stove top during Christmas.

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