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Aromas hit the nose and go directly to the most primitive parts of the brain, affecting our emotions and nervous system before our higher cortex is even aware of them. Familiar smells such as morning coffee, pumpkin pie baking, grandmother’s lavender-scented pillowcases – these are all comforting and reassuring. Retail stores use aroma to entice shoppers to feel comfortable and shop longer. Harsh smells of hospital disinfectants can conjure up fear. The perfume industry invests millions of dollars designing new combinations of alluring fragrances.

Many massage therapists include essential oils in their massage lotions to combine the benefits of aromatherapy and massage. Hospitals, hospices, and clinics around the world are starting to use aromas to help patients feel more relaxed, cheerful, and at ease. The essential oils of lavender, clary sage, neroli, and chamomile are relaxing, reducing agitation and stress and promoting calm. The plant oils from citrus, pine, eucalyptus, cedar, and mint promote lateness, focus, and a feeling of being refreshed.

Be aware as you shop for home cleaning products, laundry cleaning products, soaps, personal hygiene products, and air fresheners that some of these products contain natural fragrances from the essential oils of plants, while others are based on new-to-nature chemical imposters that can trigger nasty reactions.

For people who are extremely sensitive to chemical odors, chemical smells trigger headaches, depression, anxiety, mood swings, irritability, fatigue, and a variety of other unpleasant symptoms. The medical name for this is multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS); people with MCS can experience full-blown panic attacks, confusion, or deep depression when confronted with chemicals to which they are sensitive.

Whenever possible, use natural cleaners such as vinegar and baking soda, citrus oils, geranium, rose, or lavender. Be careful with essential oils of plants; even though they are natural, they are strong and some people develop skin irritation if the pure, undiluted oils are applied directly to the skin.

Kathi J. Kemper, MD, MPH, FAAP
Last Updated
Mental Health, Naturally: The Family Guide to Holistic Care for a Healthy Mind and Body (Copyright © 2010 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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