Why Familiar Scents Trigger Memories

Have you ever walked through a store, or any public place, when suddenly you smell something familiar? Maybe you haven’t smelled that particular scent in years, but your memory begins its process, as the smell triggered a past experience or even a person… but either way, it’s a memory. My daughters have expressed to me that “I” have a scent, which is most likely the perfume I often wear. It is a scent (perfume) I absolutely love, though I enjoy a variety of perfume scents, which include Patchouli. There are many different smells found in candles, oils and potpourris today, and most of us choose familiar scents we find soothing, not to mention pleasurable as it usually reminds us of good things.

So why is it that smelling scents remind us of someone or some particular experience? It’s because of a nerve (the olfactory), which carries this information near the amygdala; a part of the brain connected to our personal experiences and emotions. This nerve is also located near the hippocampus, another part which helps us in the associative learning process. Together they cause a ‘condition response’ which is an acquired response controlled by a stimulus. So when we are in the midst of smelling something familiar, our brains (nervous system) are quickly linking the smell with a memory. During the developing stages of our youth, our sensory system is at a prime, so this should explain why nostalgia (memories) is prevalent when we age; though few very unique scents may still form a new link as we grow older, because we never had experienced it in our past. Our noses enjoy sniffing out nostalgia, as we love to reminisce about days gone by; it was a much simpler time. Knowing that the olfactory has a very strong input into the amygdala, it’s the reason it evokes good memories and is very powerful.

My mother told me she loves the smell of burning leaves, as it triggers childhood memories of playing in leaves with her sister. Smelling things reminds us of our emotions, relating to a particular time in our lives. When I smell Christmas trees, it reminds me of childhood Christmas’s… along with loved ones now past. These are good memories and cherished as well.

For those of you that have stress in your life, Aromatherapy is used to help reduce anxiety. It uses soothing, yet powerful scents, in order to trigger real physical and emotional responses, leaving you less stressed of course. When you walk into a spa, normally you can feel the ambience through odors that include lavender and, or, orange oils. It’s very common for places that do surgical procedures to use these scents as well, as it promotes a more relaxed atmosphere.

If you feel you are missing out on some of your memories due to insufficient smelling abilities, you may have a deficiency in zinc. Zinc is required to produce enzymes which are used for tasting and smelling; sometimes as we age…these things diminish and most likely is caused by some types of deficiencies. You can be tested by your doctors if your sense of smell has been weakened. You can also practice smelling scents, using coffee beans, cut grass and many other things such as food. I will always smell my produce before I purchase it. You might think it’s a bit goofy, but I was once told that if I cannot smell the basket of strawberries (or any other fruit), then it’s not as fresh as it should be. I use this technique every single time, and it has worked for me. Anyhow…whatever your preference may be, take a walk in the past through smelling, there’s nothing like it, except memories by which we remember through pictures.

Make your week count.

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