The Nose Knows Grief


This past weekend, SolaceClub co-sponsored a Yoga for Grief class which focused on aromatherapy. What that means is that we practiced yoga, talked about scents and the instructors sprayed or doled out the oil during practice. Did it magically make everyone’s grief go away or make them better yogis? No, but it may just have helped ease the physical and emotional reactions of those present.

Let’s talk nose for a moment.

The nose and the brain are buddies. They hang out and work together which is convenient since they are situated pretty close together on our bodies. The nose is part of the olfactory system. It informs the brain of very important things like if something smells rotten or dangerous. There is actually evidence out there to suggest that our nose helps us to “sniff out” compatible mating partners. The nose is also connected it to the limbic system, the part where memory and emotion are managed. This way, if the nose receives information about the environment, we can memorize it and avoid eating the same spoiled food that got us sick last time or avoid the part of the field that smells like the lion’s favorite place to prey.

The scent of memory.

In these modern times, we are less concerned about being attacked by a large mammal in the wild or having to eat food we find in the forest. However, our brains are still wired this way. To make matters more challenging, our emotions are much more complicated than those fight or flight days of survival. While walking along your normal path to work or school, the smell of baked goods might come across your nose. You might then be flooded with emotions and memories of a time in your childhood. If there is a particularly strong emotional reaction to this aroma, the more sensitive you might be to it.

Scent, and memory and grief, oh my!

If you put scent, emotions and loss together, chances are there will be a large reaction both in the brain and in the rest of the body. For example, some days smelling my deceased husband’s cologne can bring me to my knees from missing him. I remember times when he wore it like date nights, our wedding, or even just around the house. Obviously, this can have a long-lasting impact on my emotional state, so I proceed with caution when choosing to smell his cologne. However, when in public and I notice other people wearing the same cologne, I am understandably taken by surprise. That definitely requires that I pick up my coping skills out of my self-care system and use them.

But scent can be helpful, too!

As I sat in the pew awaiting everyone to take their seats before my husband’s funeral started, my sister-in-law came up to me and gave me a nasal inhaler. She instructed me to sniff it when I needed help with calming. I do not know what she put in there, but it worked. It may simply have been a distraction that allowed me to focus on the smell. She also gave me two bottles of essential oil blends: Courage and Bliss. I used the Courage one often during those times hoping the scent would provide what its name promised. Even now when I smell that bottle of oil, I think back to that difficult time and remark upon how far I have come in my grief.

Let’s sniff for some relief.

Not everyone has or had a helpful sister-in-law like I did. However, there are still ways you can still use the power of scent and aromatherapy to help with the rollercoaster of emotions involved in grief. There are scents known to be generally uplifting like lemon, bergamot, and grapefruit. People tend to use them when trying to evoke a positive and light feeling. Other oils such as lavender, vetiver and sandalwood are known for their relaxing properties. Consider trying out a few and see what response you have to the scent or blend. The goal is to find something that would be helpful for you and what you are needing.

**Words of warning**

There is much more to an oil that sniffing it. They can be used for massage, cooking, and infusing the air. Oils have been used for century for their practical and medicinal value. What this also means is that they can have an effect on certain medication if used together. y Those who are pregnant are encouraged to discuss using oils with their physician if they are thinking of incorporating them into their prenatal care. Some people are allergic to certain oils and can have severe reactions to them. Please do your research and proceed with caution in exploring the land of aromatherapy. You will be glad you did!

This information is not intended to be a substitute for medical or psychological advice. Please consult with your physician and your mental health practitioner if you have additional questions or concerns.


You don’t have to journey alone…

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