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Health & Wellness

The Science of Senses: How Sounds and Scents Can Boost Your Mood

The quickest way to create a happy home environment is right under your nose.
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girl following a coffee smell illustration

2020 may not have been the best year, but now that it’s behind us, we at D Home are ready to turn things around. In our January/February issue, we’re sharing tried-and-true ways to introduce more joy to your home and your life.

For example, are you someone who lights a candle or turns up the volume on a favorite song to feel better? Turns out, there’s actually a science behind that. One of the fastest ways to improve your mood is through your senses. We asked Carrollton-based clinical neuroscientist Dr. David Rosenthal, DC, MSc, FIBFN-CND to explain how our senses impact how we feel.

How do our senses impact or dictate our mood? We live our world through the five basic senses of taste, touch, sight, sound, and smell. These receptors feed into all of the networks of how we feel, think, move, see, and communicate. Any type of receptor input has the ability to change our perceptions of our physical, intellectual, emotional, and social world. We know through research that the color red turns on our hunger response. This is why you will see many restaurants with red themes and accents. It’s the reason why real estate agents put chocolate chip cookies in the oven while you’re looking for your next home—it connects you to your past sense of comfort and what it’s like to feel at home.

How do sound and music impact mood? Are there certain types of sounds or notes that are more likely to make us happy? Music is one of the most highly researched topics in medicine. Music primes our brains for the things we are going to do. When athletes are preparing for matches, they typically use music that boosts them up—so they will use music with major chords. Major chords are the ones that make you feel happy and typically create a sense of being grounded, open, and content. Minor chords typically make us feel sad, depressed, or aggressive. We appear to use sound to manage our moods, just like some people take anti-depressants to prevent sadness. Change your music, you may change how you feel. When you want to be happy, play the songs with major chords.

What about scents? Are certain types more likely to make us happy? The sense of smell arises from cranial nerve one, called the olfactory nerve. The left nostril stimulates the left brain and the right nostril stimulates the right brain. The left brain tends to have a relationship to the sympathetic nervous system and correlates to the gas pedal in a car. The left brain helps us express ourselves. Odors like strawberry, lemon, and orange are effective in the left nostril. The left brain is the detail brain. In the right brain, odors like peppermint, coffee, and frankincense are effective. The right nostril appears to activate the right brain and correlates to the brake pedal in the car. The right brain is more the feeling, understanding, and listening side of the brain. It’s the big picture brain.

One of the most significant factors of smell is that it isn’t processed by the thalamus. All other senses, like balance, movement, touch, and temperature, are all regulated by the brain’s “thalamic weigh station,” which decides what is important for survival. Smell has direct access to the most important areas of the brain so we can go towards things that bring us joy and happiness (like honeysuckle) and push us away from things like skunks and car exhaust.

What are some of the quickest sense-based ways to boost your mood? What about the longest-lasting ways? Play the songs from your developmental years.  Research indicates that the years of 12-26 are most significant at priming our brains for the music that stays with us. This is why when I help people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, the first thing I do is identify the music and odors from their childhood. It appears to help them connect their past to their present.

To activate more long-term benefits, also referred to as long-term potentiation (LTP), grow fruit trees in your backyard, and keep them in moveable planters so you can bring them in during the wintertime. On my patio, I grow banana trees, lemon trees, rosemary, oregano, and my favorite of all–basil. The banana trees stay outside–everything else can be moved inside.

Looking for a new signature scent or home fragrance? We can help. Check out our interview with Dallas’ perfume aficionado, Shasa Mitcham, or shop the bestselling blends from local candlemakers.

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