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According to an article in Annual Review of Psychology, “Emotional intelligence (EI) involves the ability to carry out accurate reasoning about emotions and the ability to use emotions and emotional knowledge to enhance thought.”
I just posted on the connection between EI and health outcomes and its impact on personal and professional relationships. Factors such as biology, social context, social development, personality traits, trauma, and maltreatment all affect one’s ability to process and regulate their emotions.
Recently, it has been found that a new and overlooked culprit may be another underlying influencer of emotional expression and regulation. Surprisingly, it is literally found right under our noses!
In a new study published in Scientific Reports, researchers sought to determine how various components of certain odors impact individuals with alexithymia, a condition of reduced emotional awareness and an inability to describe the feelings one experiences.
For the study, 62 healthy individuals with high (HA), medium (MA), and low (LA) levels of alexithymia were evaluated for their emotional responses to unpleasant smells, neutral scents, and clean air. All groups were tested for odor identification and odor perception threshold. Skin conductance response (SCR) and instantaneous heart rate (IHR) were evaluated with the odor rating task.
According to Science Daily:
An alexithymic individual has difficulty, to a greater or lesser degree, in relating to emotions. New research seeks to shed light on new aspects of the condition using olfactory tests. The results demonstrate that one of the characteristics of alexithymia is the altered physiological response to olfactory stimuli. The tests also showed that there are differences in reactions between subjects characterized by affective alexithymia and those with cognitive alexithymia, which compromises the ability to identify, express and distinguish emotions.
Could We Sniff Our Way to Better Emotional Regulation?
The sense of smell is an intricate part of our human functioning that has been shown to affect appetite and food preferences, assist with survival through the detection of danger, influence social relationships, and exhibit powerful effects on our feelings, memory, and physiological responses.
With one whiff, mood, discomfort, and nerves can all be effected simultaneously. Olfaction has a direct emotional link to the brain via the amygdala, a group of nuclei associated with the processing of pain and modulating the stress response. Many have experienced how a pleasant smell could help mitigate tension and have beneficial effects on the body.
Intriguingly, an individual’s association with certain scents are connected to specific remembrances and can create changes in biological responses, including altering breathing patterns and heart rate. Furthermore, the secondary metabolites and odorant molecules themselves have been shown to produce physiological changes in the body, independent of smell. This is due to the fact that odor receptors are located throughout our whole body!
I used this later understanding to “hack” my preparation for the board exams. During my studies, I diffused my favorite essential oil. On the day of the test, I brought it to inhale prior and during my bathroom breaks. The association of the smell was linked to a calm environment and memories of what I learned. The essential oils’ secondary metabolites acted as beneficial compounds in my cellular receptors and assisted my wellbeing in a variety of ways. The end result was an enhancement of memory and recall, calming my jitters, and better than a passing score on my licensing exam.
I have used essential oils to assist people in processing their emotions that were causing a negative cycling of unwanted behavior. Due to their ability to change our mood and regulate our physiology, I believe they are an underutilized clinical tool to help patients connect to others and support them with effective processing of feelings.
One of the most used essential oils in my practice is lavender. This is due to its ability to effect cognition, mood, and protect the brain.
Disclaimer: This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)