Thursday, May 22, 2008

Smell is Swell

Science Daily reports that an international team of scientists believe a new class of depression and anxiety drugs might be right under our noses.

For thousands of years, burning incense has been touted as being good for the mind, body and soul. Now, biologists have learned that IT TRULY IS good for our mind! The burning of incense has been shown to be psychoactive - stimulating specific areas of the brain to alleviate anxiety or depression.

I burn incense often. Blue Champa and Lavender are my favorites. And I do find that when I use them, my mood lifts. Or I become calmer. So perhaps there's more to it than the uplifting smell of it all. Maybe it helps to shift my brain chemistry.

Do you use scents in your daily life?


Marj aka Thriver said...

Yes! Good stuff! I can't even begin to articulate how healing, calming....etc., etc. This type of thing has been for me. I, too, am especially fond and impressed with the effects of lavender! I try to grow it, but it's not quite hardy enough for the zone I live in.

Anonymous said...

I used to burn incense when I was younger, now my kids think I am a hippie if I burn it now. Anyway, unfortunatly incense does not relieve my depression or anxiety. Don't know why though, maybe it is my choice of smells?

OHN said...

Incense reminds me of church when I was little so the smell doesn't make me think happy thoughts, BUT, I love candles. I have found that the ones that make me feel the best are associated with food smells, vanilla, ginger, baked apple etc.

Muser said...

The scent of incense relaxes my spirit, but the smoke can trigger my asthma, causing bronchial-sounding coughing fits... so I often have to resort to strongly-scented candles as a compensatory scent agent. Incense is better, though, and I'm still working towards finding that perfect balance...! It's also true that some scents energize and some scents relax. I like to burn peach scent when doing work as it both calms and peps. Vanilla, lavender, and sandelwood are all great to relax by. I've read research (not sure where, so can't find links) that suggests chocolate is a good perk scent too, and if you have the scent around in incense or candle form you may find less cravings to actually EAT the stuff!

Wait... eating less chocolate... not sure that's a good thing...!

Guilty Secret said...

I haven't for a long time but I think I will start to use them more now!

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the same is true of burning oils?
I use scents for my PTSD most days - I carry lavender essence everywhere, and precious chandan is my fav. incense.

They really help me to refocus - it's the close association to memory but it's more than just that as this finding suggests. Nice to see science backing up holistic practices.

Deb said...

Dear Marj,
Lavender always boosts my spirit and calms me. I have tried to grow it also. Couldn't.

Dear Queen,
Candles and incense don't rid me completely of my depression though. They are like a pick me up - its effects are slight but noticeable.

Dear OHN,
I don't like church incense either for the same reason. I stay away from frankincesne, etc. I like food scents too. And floral-y ones.

Dear Muser,
Ah, yes, I didn't think about the smoke from the incense. Soy candles can be less harmful for you. I actaully heard that about chocoalte too. I have a chocoalte candle I light every now and again. But it always makes me want to eat chocolate!

Dear Guilty,
Suround yourself with aromatherapy, my friend!

Dear Catatonic Kid,
Yes. Same for scented oils. Though the smoke vapors hit the nasal passageways differently, oils and perfumes can have a positive effect too. I know many who carry oils of patouchli and lavender. Peppermint for migraines and stress. I'm a big believer in holisitic approaches!!!

Winrob said...

I am a big fan of vanilla candles. They are so calming for me. During the dark days of winter (SAD) I burn candles all the time.
They definitely help me and my moods.

MYSTI said...

Wow, what a wonderful find! I have an incense burner but never use it, i need to pull it out! Thank you for sharing!

Barbara(aka Layla) said...

I read this recently too and was amazed by it! Incense tends to give me a headache...but maybe I should try a lighter fragrance. I use lavender spray on my pillows at night and I love light fresh scents.

Big Brother said...

Smell isn't just about incense, without smell, you lose most of your sense of taste, So next time you are eating a delicious meal, remember that without your nose, it would probably taste like cardboard. ;o)

ellesu said...

I'm addicted to my lamp Berger. I wish the oil wasn't so expensive. I've just started experimenting with sage to *smudge* my house. Strong smelling stuff -- but not in a bad way, just different for me. I try and keep basil or rosemary growing outside. I actually don't cook with it that much but I love to mash the basil leaves or run my fingers over the rosemary branches. Smells so good.

Kahless said...

Sometimes to hide the smell of cigarette smoke!!

CrackerLilo said...


I know I adjust my perfumes and candles based on mood, and it also affects the flavors I cook with. I used to love lavender lots in my early twenties, but I sort of burned myself out on it. Maybe it'll enter my life again.

Foia said...

Hello Dr...Just found your page. I like what you've got going on here. I am a mental health survivor and keep up the good work..


Scott said...

Interesting. I've never smelled incense except when neighbors are burning it in the futile attempt to cover up the smell of weed in their apartments. But if it actually does something, maybe I'll go pick some up at the local head shop!

therapydoc said...

I totally believe in the aroma therapy concept, so this is along those same lines, right?

I'll suggest it.

Anonymous said...

Hey Dr. Deb,

I haven't been around in a while, and was wondering if I could add you to my blogroll please.


about jenji said...

Well, I suppose that makes sense that incense can lift your spirit and help anxiety, as various aromas can often induce anxiety for those of who have allergies.

Allergies, sensitivities, call them what you will, but know that by this time of year I have usually bought enough Advil Allergy/Sinus to open my very own meth lab.

I went to see “The Visitor” last Saturday and had a woman sit down in front of me—Madame BigHair—who had brought not only the waft of freshly buttered popcorn into the theater, but also the offensive assault of thick fume, in what can only be described as Jean Nate Body Splash: The Resurrection. This assault immediately forced my throat into a state of anaphylaxis and my olfactometer to spike far into the red.

Frankly, I feel that most fragrant bug juice should be outlawed, particularly those of the Jean Nate strain. While it’s not that I oppose the freedom to titivate oneself with fragrance; it’s just that I would appreciate a slightly less liberal application so that I might spare my remaining chemoreceptors any further damage. I’m just sayin’, easy on the bug juice, umkay?

But I digress.

Although I’m extraordinarily sensitive to most sensation and stimuli, I can sometimes tolerate certain incense and indeed find many relaxing, while others I find a bit less tolerable. What I find truly offensive is those who think that incense is a cleansing and healing experience for all, while it's not, as it can in fact cause those with sensitivities great distress.

However, I find that smell of certain foods can often lift my spirit.

Great post, Deb.


STAG said...

So this study is suggesting that reaction to smelly waters is not always a "learned" response, but might actually be a subtle drug reaction! Cool. I will have to look further into that!

I personally have a few "learned response" reactions to odors, aside from the not unreasonable panic brought on by the smell of smoke in the bedroom, I have a positive response to burnt jet fuel and bleach-burnt rubber of the race track.

Odors are more powerful than generally considered though of course most odors are not benign...most opera houses are "perfume free zones", and the school I was in last week was a "body shot and cologne free zone" as well. Guess those "axe" commercials really worked on the pre-teens!

A good friend of mine is quite sensitive to some smells he associates with his time in the war zone...again, a learned response which combined with his ptsd can result in quite spectacular behavior.

Deb said...

Dear Winrob,
I burn candles throughout the winter to offset my SAD too. Vanilla is a common one for me as well.

Dear Mysti,
Give it a whirl!

Dear Barbara,
I have a sensitive nose so I need to have light fragrances as well.

Dear BB,
I totally agree with what you are saying! Nothing is worse than having a cold and also having a reservation for a wonderful dinner!

Dear Ellesu,
I've read about smudging. Havne't tried it. Sage is a powerful scent for me. I need it is very light amounts. I love BAsil and Rosemary like you do :)

Dear Kahless,
I have never been one that likes the smell of tobacco. But yes, it can hide the scent!

Dear Crackerlilo,
I enjoy an array of fragrances too when it comes to perfumes. I go toward lighter ones and try not to put too much on. I really wear the fragrnace for me. For my mood.

Dear Foia,
Hey, hi!

Dear Scott,
You made me lol.

Dear Therapydoc,
If someone is open to such things it could be a pick me up enhancer.

Dear Hope,
For sure. Will blogroll you!

Dear Jenji,
I have sat behind that woman too. I think some people don't have as acute a sense of smell like you and I. It does offend, and sometimes I can get ill. One time I had to leave a friend's house because her perfume gave me a migraine. And foods lifting one's spirit, let's not even go there. I could write a book about that ;)

Dear Stag,
Smell is our "oldest" sense and it can serve us well - and not well. As you mention, many PTSD can be heightened by scents. And learned behaviors as well, as you say. I think certain smells can have beneficial effects. That is if they are not associated with trauma or bad/anxiety producing things.

dragonflyfilly said...

hi Deb,
when i worked at a transition house for women with mental disorders, when i was on the overnight shift, i would grate a couple of fresh lemons, and put the lemon rind on the counter with all the breakfast stuff. i had read somewhere that the smell of citrus elevates the mood. The clients loved it...

i love lavender too, unfortunately it tends to give me migraines if i use it to help me sleep but Marj akathriver, i just bought myself a lavender plant to grow on my balcony - i just could not resist it...
queen - try lemon or orange rind, or essential citric oils...

yeah, vanilla and ginger are also too of my most favourite

AND did you know deb, that some rearch has shown that if one wear a grapefruit frangrance people who are near you will think you are five years really, i'm not kidding!!! check it out!

cheers for now,

TaraDharma said...

I love lavendar incense...and rose as well. I'll even light it in my back yard if I'm out there and let the breeze carry it away.

I visit Tassajara Zen Center once a year, and I love all the incense burning at little altars everywhere. I love to light the stick, place it in the sand, bow, and give thanks.

Clueless said...

Unfortunately, I am extremely sensitive/allergic to any fragrances, scents, strong odors, etc... I does disrupt my daily life as I cannot be around anyone who has a strong or sometimes even light fragrance on even hair products. So, all of this would increase my anxiety and depression. And incense is a major trigger for me. So smell means get out quick or I'm gonna be sick...really.

However, smelling or ingesting real chocolate or coffee is soothing as is chewing gum or mints in peppermint or spearment or wintergreen.

Awake In Rochester said...

I wounder if they would let me burn incense where I work? I think everyone needs it there. ;o)

Denise said...

i find that vanilla scent calms me and helps me feel more relaxed so i use it in a body spray every day before work. Not strong just enough to get a whiff of it now and then during the day and it helps me to stay more calm through out the day and not be so anxious. with out it Im a basket case before i get home in the evening and I really think that its calming affect helps more than just a psychological crutch I do believe that vanilla at least for me does something that no other scent does for me.

Susan Blackburn said...

Thank you for sharing this. I had no idea! What a great reason to burn incense more often and possibly experiment with which scent is the most relaxing!

Gary R. Schor said...

Vanilla scented candles for me :)