Sniff and smile the stress away

Life giving you lemons? Smell them! Sometimes the simplest things have powerful therapeutic effects.

I love the smell of real lemon oil, which brings a smile to my face. Peppermint and orange oil do the same. These edible natural and organic oils are the same real-food flavor extracts used in many of my recipes.

Smiling is a potent powerful emotion that can combat stress. Studies show that people who don’t smile may be five times more likely to develop anxiety or depression. The action of a smile is a physiological power-surge. Can one tiny muscle — the zygomaticus major — really have such an effect? Yes, with the help of the brain, as it’s the neuromuscular mechanism that can influence the autonomic nervous system to manage stress hormones.

In short, sniffing something pleasant can reduce stress; sniffing something offensive can increase stress.

Aroma remedies have been used for thousands of years, with their first descriptions in Chinese medicine. More recently, scientists have shown interesting responses from olfactory stimulation. Consider the wonderful smell of your morning coffee. Even before you taste it, before the caffeine is absorbed into your bloodstream and carried to the brain, the nose can instantly trigger a very similar response.

Like cold food, however, refrigerated coffee, oil or other fragrant items are not sensed as well when we smell them.

Unfortunately, hype has crept into this arena complete with specialized products and services. In addition, like other modern health and fitness approaches, cook book remedies prevail. However, our brains sense smells slightly different from each other, so there’s an important individuality factor.

Beware of synthetic, artificial fragrances. They have become very popular but are not meant to be consumed internally, which includes putting on the skin as well. Instead, smelling and smiling remedies are best when they are healthy edible items.

Logic should prevail, and for most people, simply including daily olfactory stimulation that triggers a smile is a particularly powerful therapy, just like eating healthy food or getting in an optimal workout.

In addition to the wonderful smell of coffee, the link between sniffing and smiling is something we experience often. Think about the aroma of a fine meal, chopping herbs, or the nose of a nice wine. Many olfactory sensations we encounter make us happy, and smiling is the non-verbal expression of that joy. But the effect goes beyond enjoyment. A smile can also affect how we think, behave and interact with others; it can even improve quality of life and longevity. 

Sometimes, when I smell orange oil, the smile extends into light laughter. Studies show that these combined effects can improve immune function, lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce cognitive dysfunction, and even control pain.

The key to getting the most benefits is to incorporate them into an already healthy lifestyle.

Our olfactory sense provides us with the notion that the nose knows (it’s actually the brain). In nature, we smell food first, to determine whether we want to eat it. Sniffing is something we do all the time, often without being aware we’re doing it, and even more than tasting as we use the nose in everyday life to sense the environment around us.

Avoiding of bad smells is important too. Even long before the use of aroma remedies, humans developed an intense olfactory mechanism to help prevent the consumption of bad food or water, and avoid other unhealthy encounters. Today, bad smells are everywhere, and most people have, unfortunately, grown accustomed to their presence. These chemical fake scents come from soap and shampoo, lotions, dryer and cleaning products, and others listed on food and non-food labels as fragrance. In total, they contribute significantly to the dangerous problem of indoor air pollution.

A problem that some people have, especially with aging, is the loss of smell. This is usually accompanied by reduced sense of taste, and both are indications of impaired health. From tobacco use, alcohol abuse, and sinus, nasal or dental problems, to metabolic and nutritional imbalance, poor or loss of smell and taste, is usually a red flag indicating the need to find and fix the cause.

During our journey through life it’s important to meet our basic needs for optimal health — real food, physical activity, and fun. Be sure to stop along the way to smell the flowers.

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