The limbic system gathers information from the environment through sensory information. As you’ve experienced firsthand many times, your senses can alter your emotional state rapidly. For example, a pleasurable meal can make you feel comforted, and very loud noises can make you feel anxious.
Ever wonder why certain smells conjure up memories and even physical feelings so vividly? Our sense of smell is unique compared to our other senses (such as taste, sight and hearing) because it bypasses parts of the brain that other types of sensory information often cannot. Because of this, smells can often cause immediate and strong emotional reactions based on memories. Smells can bring us back to past events within milliseconds, making us feel a certain way based on past events, whether we realize why we’re suddenly feeling that way or not.
Essential oils, for example, can have dramatic effects on limbic function and how you feel. This is true because the strong fragrances they hold, which are found inside volatile molecules that can make their way into your bloodstream, travel directly through the blood/brain barrier very quickly.
- As you’ll recall, the hippocampus is involved in olfaction (smelling). How so exactly? Aromatic molecules contained within essential oils interact with sensors in your nasal cavity, lungs, pores and more. Research shows that the olfactory bulb projects information into the ventral part of the hippocampus, and the hippocampus sends axons to the main olfactory bulb, (including the anterior olfactory nucleus and the primary olfactory cortex). This is how memories and smells become tied together.
- Once engaged, sensors emit strong emotional signals based on smells starting from your limbic system (hippocampus) and spreading throughout the rest of your body to places like your heart and digestive tract.
- Because essential oils can impact memory, balance hormone levels and overall support healthy limbic system functions, much new scientific evidence shows that inhaling essential oils may be one of the fastest ways to create physiological or psychological benefits. These include decreasing anxiety, anger or even fatigue.
More information about aromatherapy can be found on this link