Scent is very powerful and is often undervalued when it comes to improving your mood. Your senses serve a function: what you smell, hear, see, touch and taste can help you to interpret and make sense of what is going on around you in the world. Your senses send messages through receptor cells to your brain, using your nervous system to deliver that particular message and the association you have made with that message. For example, the smell of freshly baked scones reminds me of my mother. The association I make with her is the feeling of being loved – which triggers a positive emotion. Whereas, when I smell eggs, a cold shiver goes down my spine, because I really dislike the taste of eggs, and because of this association, I move away from this smell. So scents trigger mood because of associative learning – the way your brain ties things together due to past experiences.

There is a strong neurological basis for why odours trigger emotional connections. Before your mind can link an odour to a particular mood, it first needs to associate that odour with an event or experience. From a neurological perspective, scent influences your mood through the olfactory bulbs (the part of the brain responsible for receiving information about odours) that are linked to areas of the brain that deal with emotions and associative learning. This explains why you can literally smell your way to a better mood.

Bergamot is a fragrant citrus fruit from the tropical Citrus bergamia plant. Bergamot is common throughout the Mediterranean, and the fruit is the size of an orange, yet similar in color to a lime.

Like other citrus fruits, bergamot has a distinctive, heady fragrance and flavour. It is highly aromatic, and the essential oils are extracted from the rind. The fragrant oil is used to make perfumes, colognes, scented soaps, and of course, it gives Earl Grey tea its signature flavor and aroma. The flesh tastes the same way it smells: tart, acidic, highly fragrant, and spicy. Unlike sweet oranges, bergamot oranges are sour and not eaten fresh, despite the fact that the fruit is a good source of vitamin C, potassium, vitamins B1, B2, and A. In addition to being the star flavour of Earl Grey tea, the zest, and flesh of the bergamot fruit are used in Europe as a flavouring in cookies, marmalades, syrups, and cocktails.

Bergamot is widely used as a mood-boost solution. Research conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information indicates that bergamot aromatherapy can be an effective adjunct treatment to improve individuals’ mental health and well‐being.

Aromatherapy is an easy, inexpensive, and speedy way to lift your spirit, energize you, or calm your nerves. The chemicals in essential oils can interact with your body by being absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream or by stimulating areas of the brain through inhalation. When specialised nerve cells in the upper part of the nose detect smells, they send an impulse to the brain along the olfactory nerve to an area called the olfactory bulb. The olfactory bulb processes the impulse and delivers the information about the smell to other neighbouring areas of the brain. These areas are known as the limbic system. The limbic system is a set of brain structures that might play an essential role in controlling behaviour, emotions, memory, and mood.

Once you find a scent that works for whatever it is you are trying to improve, stick with it. Over time, you will deeply associate that smell with feeling calmer, more relaxed, and grounded. At some point, even thinking of the scent will trigger your parasympathetic nervous system.

Hey Happy suggests diffusing bergamot essential oil around your room or inhaling the scent straight from the bottle.

written by Derika de Villiers, Clinical Psychologist.