Enjoying Sensory Experiences

April 18, 2022

Dr. Lonnie Zeltzer, MD
July 28, 2022 / 5 mins read

Recently, I was in my garden noticing the aroma of the flowers on our fruit trees and roses. I closed my eyes and just enjoyed focusing on the smell. I noticed that it relaxed my whole body and made me feel good.

That old adage “stop and smell the roses” has a bearing on stress. If you are a parent of a child who has behavior problems, feels stressed, and/or has pain, anxiety, depression, ADHD, eating problems, etc., there is increased research on aromatherapy for pain and anxiety.

We take the neurobiology of smell for granted, but we can learn to use it to our advantage. Part of the trick is finding out what smells make you feel good. Getting those scents as essential oils can help you go to sleep when you put some of the oil on a cotton ball and place it under your pillow at night.

DIY Aromatherapy

We all have smells that bring us back to good memories from our childhood, like certain foods that are cooked at holiday times. It can be helpful to learn what aromas make you feel good -- or are associated with fond memories -- and increase your time with them. Sometimes just smelling outdoor smells, like flowers, can feel refreshing and relaxing.

I suggest trying a few experiments:

  • Take 15 minutes each day to just walk outside and breathe in the scents. Notice what you smell when your attention is focused on aromas.
  • Go in your kitchen and smell spices to see which ones bring back good memories or just make you feel good.
  • Get one particular essential oil and sleep with it near you on a tissue or cotton ball, and then reflect on your sleep the next morning.

References – Aromatherapy and the Neurobiology of Smell

I include some science behind aromatherapy and the neurobiology of smell for interested readers:


Aroma-triggered pain relief.

Lewis DD, Tan C.

Nat Biomed Eng. 2018 Feb;2(2):58-59. doi: 10.1038/s41551-018-0197-y.

PMID: 31015622 No abstract available.


Clinical Aromatherapy.

Farrar AJ, Farrar FC.

Nurs Clin North Am. 2020 Dec;55(4):489-504. doi: 10.1016/j.cnur.2020.06.015. Epub 2020 Sep 28.

PMID: 33131627 Free PMC article. Review.


Aromatherapy and Essential Oils: A Map of the Evidence.

Freeman M, Ayers C, Peterson C, Kansagara D.

Washington (DC): Department of Veterans Affairs (US); 2019 Sep.

PMID: 31851445 Free Books & Documents. Review.



[No authors listed]

2022 Feb 20. Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed) [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Library of Medicine (US); 2006–.

PMID: 30000925 Free Books & Documents. Review.


Effects of aromatherapy on dysmenorrhea: A systematic review and meta-analysis.

Song JA, Lee MK, Min E, Kim ME, Fike G, Hur MH.

Int J Nurs Stud. 2018 Aug;84:1-11. doi: 10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2018.01.016. Epub 2018 Feb 2.

PMID: 29729556 Review.


Aromatherapy for Managing Pain in Primary Dysmenorrhea: A Systematic Review of Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trials.

Lee MS, Lee HW, Khalil M, Lim HS, Lim HJ.

J Clin Med. 2018 Nov 10;7(11):434. doi: 10.3390/jcm7110434.

PMID: 30423839 Free PMC article. Review.


The Effectiveness of Aromatherapy in Reducing Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.

Lakhan SE, Sheafer H, Tepper D.

Pain Res Treat. 2016;2016:8158693. doi: 10.1155/2016/8158693. Epub 2016 Dec 14.

PMID: 28070420 Free PMC article.


Review of aromatherapy essential oils and their mechanism of action against migraines.

Yuan R, Zhang D, Yang J, Wu Z, Luo C, Han L, Yang F, Lin J, Yang M.

J Ethnopharmacol. 2021 Jan 30;265:113326. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2020.113326. Epub 2020 Aug 30.

PMID: 32877718 Review.


Effect of aromatherapy on sleep quality of adults and elderly people: A systematic literature review and meta-analysis.

Her J, Cho MK.

Complement Ther Med. 2021 Aug;60:102739. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2021.102739. Epub 2021 Jun 21.

PMID: 34166869


Comparing the Effects of Massage Therapy and Aromatherapy on Knee Pain, Morning Stiffness, Daily Life Function, and Quality of Life in Patients with Knee Osteoarthritis.

Hasanpour-Dehkordi A, Kabiri F, Dris F.

Complement Med Res. 2021;28(4):292-299. doi: 10.1159/000510239. Epub 2021 Jan 28.

PMID: 33508848 Clinical Trial. English.


Aroma Acupoint Therapy for Symptom Management with Adolescent Patients: Early Experiences from School-Based Health Centers.

Fischer AM, Holmes P, Bahar YZ, Vacca S, Goldberg S, Gold MA.

Med Acupunct. 2020 Oct 1;32(5):287-292. doi: 10.1089/acu.2020.1447. Epub 2020 Oct 19.

PMID: 33101573 Free PMC article.


Essential Oils and Their Constituents Targeting the GABAergic System and Sodium Channels as Treatment of Neurological Diseases.

Wang ZJ, Heinbockel T.

Molecules. 2018 May 2;23(5):1061. doi: 10.3390/molecules23051061.

PMID: 29724056 Free PMC article. Review.

The Neurobiology of Smell and Taste

The part of the brain associated with the sense of smell is closely linked to the part of the brain associated with the sense of taste – with people who had COVID and temporarily lost their sense of taste, it is likely that they also lost part of their sense of smell.

Here are references on the neurobiology of smell and taste for the ambitious reader:


Smelling in multiple dimensions.

Agapakis CM, Tolaas S.

Curr Opin Chem Biol. 2012 Dec;16(5-6):569-75. doi: 10.1016/j.cbpa.2012.10.035. Epub 2012 Nov 21.

PMID: 23176975 Review.


Smell-Based Memory Training: Evidence of Olfactory Learning and Transfer to the Visual Domain.

Olofsson JK, Ekström I, Lindström J, Syrjänen E, Stigsdotter-Neely A, Nyberg L, Jonsson S, Larsson M.

Chem Senses. 2020 Oct 9;45(7):593-600. doi: 10.1093/chemse/bjaa049.

PMID: 32645143 Free PMC article.


Odor-taste mixtures.

Hornung DE, Enns MP.

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1987;510:86-90. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.1987.tb43471.x.

PMID: 3324882 Review.


Understanding smell--the olfactory stimulus problem.

Auffarth B.

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2013 Sep;37(8):1667-79. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2013.06.009. Epub 2013 Jun 25.

PMID: 23806440 Review.


Structure-Function Relationships of Olfactory and Taste Receptors.

Behrens M, Briand L, de March CA, Matsunami H, Yamashita A, Meyerhof W, Weyand S.

Chem Senses. 2018 Feb 2;43(2):81-87. doi: 10.1093/chemse/bjx083.

PMID: 29342245 Free PMC article. Review.


Olfactory learning.

Davis RL.

Neuron. 2004 Sep 30;44(1):31-48. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2004.09.008.

PMID: 15450158 Review.