Have you ever walked past a certain aroma and instantly experienced a flashback to your childhood? This happens because smells that enter your body have a direct link to your memory center.
When you hear, touch or taste something, that information passes through the thalamus, the part of the brain that relays sensory information, before reaching its correlated part of the brain. As such, you’re aware of the sense before you’re aware of the memory or emotion it corresponds to.
Smells, however, bypass the thalamus and head straight to the olfactory bulb, which is directly connected to the hippocampus (which is responsible for your memory) and the amygdala (where you process your emotions). Because odors are first routed through these regions before reaching the thalamus, they’re more closely linked to memory. This explains why aromatherapy can have a profound effect on our emotional, physical and mental state.
In fact, this study finds that certain scents that evoke positive autobiographical memories may be able to also lift the mood and reduce stress. There are scores of other studies that show scents affect things like memory, concentration, sustained attention and cognitive function to improve productivity.
To help you work, here are the most powerful aromatherapies to boost your performance in the workplace.
This herb, which is commonly used in the kitchen, has a positive effect on memory. It also increases alertness in individuals exposed to the odor — the perfect combination to help you prepare for a brainstorm.
Vetiver (a type of fragrant grass) contains components that increase oxygenation of the cells in the brain. ADHD participants who inhaled it regularly experienced improved brain patterns and decreased symptoms, suggesting it may aid in concentration.
It’s well known that ingesting coffee can promotes wakefulness, but its scent can also increase alertness. In fact, students who smelled coffee performed better on analytical reasoning tasks. The smell had a similar effect to if they had ingested the coffee.
The tangy scent of lemon arouses the senses and improves cognitive function. In one study, it also caused participants to make 54 percent fewer errors when typing. Use lemon to help you power through that long proposal!
The smell of jasmine has a stimulatory effect on the nervous system. It’s used to re-energize and promote a sense of well-being and a positive mood. Sniff it during a break for an instant refresher.
Bright, light citrus aromas are helpful for staying awake and alert. In one study, exposure to the scent increased physical activity and shortened response time in participants. Take a whiff before an important afternoon meeting to power up.
Researchers find that the scent of cinnamon improves performance on tasks that require heightened attention. It also increases motor response speed and improves memory. All of these are highly useful in the workplace.
When given a whiff of peppermint essential oil, subjects of one study showed improved sustained attention, allowing them to concentrate on demanding tasks for longer. It also enhances the accuracy of memory and increases alertness.
The sharp, aromatic smell of ginger fights fatigue and eases pain. It’s the perfect combination to help you power through a deadline or write complex code.
In one Japanese study, walking through a pine forest reduced stressed for those involved. Pine is also used to elevate the mood since it has an antidepressant effect. The scent can increase alertness and help clear the head to allow focus for the task at hand.
Helpful for winding down after a long day, lemongrass eases anxiety and reduces stress. Using it allows the brain to relax and prepare for the next day.
Sweet-smelling lavender improves concentration by recharging the brain during rest time. This allows you to return to work more revived than you would be otherwise.
Using aromatherapy as a productivity hack is not one of the most common ways to increase efficiency, but it’s definitely effective. The best part is that these scents are so accessible. Simply sniff some essential oils, create your own mist or wear your favorite perfume that includes the scent.