When you’re searching for a sense of calm, you can find candles that promise the freshness of an Ocean Breeze or the warmth of Pumpkin Spice. Lotions and sprays, too, can rewind time with a single spritz of Sun-Ripened Raspberry. Ever misted Cucumber Melon while listening to “Genie in a Bottle” and not felt a ‘90s summer all over again?
Our sense of the world through what we see, hear, and feel is a creation of the brain. That’s why it’s no surprise that aromatherapy and music have the therapeutic power to improve cognitive function, mood, stress relief, and memory.
In 2018, amid a heart-wrenching divorce, my stress-impaired nervous system resulted in a diagnosis of “broken-heart” syndrome. It was heartbreak both literally and figuratively with no end in sight. Using a variety of tools, including music and aromatherapy, I was able to navigate through the physical and emotional manifestations I was experiencing at that time.
Now, nearly three years later, aromatherapy and music both still play crucial roles in maintaining my sense of physical and psychological calm. Here are the tools (and the brain science behind them) that can help you, too, find a sense of peace.
Aromatherapy: Smell Your Way to Better Brain Function
Emotions, motivation, fear, and pleasure are tied to your limbic system, and the odors we breathe powerfully affect these brain functions. Recent studies show the impact of scents, particularly those found in essential oils when active compounds are absorbed through airways and cross the blood-brain barrier.
Using high-quality essential oils, you can harness the benefits of various scents to improve brain function while increasing mood and motivation.
Lavender oil: As one of the most popular scents in aromatherapy, lavender is a common sleep aid and offers anti-anxiety benefits. A biological compound called linalool has acted as a sedative in studies involving animals.
Rosemary oil: Studies show that rosemary oil can increase concentration and recall. Brain function speed and accuracy also increased in proportion to the length of time that adults were exposed to the diffused oil.
Peppermint oil: In a British study, peppermint oil improved overall memory and exercise performance as a byproduct of increasing mood and motivation.
Lemon oil: In a 2014 study, lemon oil aromatherapy had an analgesic effect in the face of painful stimuli. The oil’s benefit may derive from its ability to help the brain re-interpret pain through its anti-anxiety effects.
Rose oil: Researchers suggest that rose oil may stimulate the release of endorphins in the brain and serve as an effective way to ease physical pain and depressive symptoms.
Music Therapy: Sound as Emotional Support
Aside from your ability to carry a tune, you likely have a catalog of songs that connect you to people, places, and phases of life both good and bad. Researchers have long used music as a healing tool to soothe pre-term infants in NICUs and ease physical pain for patients in palliative care.
However, music-therapy also extends to our common experiences — sad music can actually help heal a broken heart. We listen to music that matches our mood because it makes us feel understood, deeply.
A 2013 study shows that as social beings, we want to listen to music that reflects how we’ve been treated and who we want to be with. The ability to work through our emotions is often enabled by acknowledging them in music that reflects how we feel in a particular moment.
Whether you’re feeling angry, heartbroken, or hopeful, here are some playlists I compiled that nurtured me through some of my darkest and brightest days. May they spark connection and the emotional support you need right now.
- • Say Something | Pentatonix
- • Over You | Daughtry
- • Praying | Kesha
- • Head Above Water | Avril Lavigne
- • Wasting All These Tears | Cassadee Pope
- • Heartless | Kanye West
- • Take a Bow | Rihanna
- • Die From a Broken Heart | Maddie & Tae
- • Lose You to Love Me | Selena Gomez
- • Babe | Sugarland and Taylor Swift
- • It’s Time | Imagine Dragons
- • Beautiful | Bazzi and Camila Cabello
- • Sorry Not Sorry | Demi Lovato
- • Fight Song | Rachel Platten
- • I Look So Good (Without You) | Jessie James Decker
- • Fight Like a Girl | Kalie Shorr
- • Good as Hell | Lizzo
- • Brave | Sara Bareilles
- • A Little Bit Stronger | Sara Evans
- • Stronger | Kelly Clarkson
Moving On Melodies
- • Lonely Tonight | Blake Shelton and Ashley Monroe
- • I Don’t Know About You | Chris Lane
- • Try | Colbie Caillat
- • Ready to Love Again | Lady Antebellum
- • Say You Will | Kygo, Patrick Droney, and Petey Martin
- • First Time | Lifehouse
- • Only Hope | Switchfoot
- • Meant To Be | Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line
- • Scars | Alesso
- • What Ifs | Kane Brown and Lauren Alaina
- • You Say | Lauren Daigle
- • You Learn | Alanis Morisette
- • GIRL | Maren Morris
- • Skyscraper | Demi Lovato
- • Invincible | Kelly Clarkson
- • Look What God Gave Her | Thomas Rhett
- • Don’t Stop Believin’ | Journey
- • Who I Am | Jessica Andrews
- • She Sets the City On Fire | Gavin DeGraw
- • Fly | Maddie & Tae
Catching Feelings Playlist
- • Top Down | Brown & Gray
- • Love You Like That | Canaan Smith
- • Gonna Wanna Tonight | Chase Rice
- • Loving This Moment | Gamma Skies and Mia Niles
- • This Feeling | The Chainsmokers and Kelsea Ballerini
- • Fall in Love | Jessie James Decker
- • Slow Dance in a Parking Lot | Jordan Davis
- • Feels Like That | The Reklaws
- • Here Tonight | Brett Young
Songs for Soulmates
- • Nobody But You | Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani
- • Circles | Jana Kramer
- • For Her | Chris Lane
- • The Good Ones | Gabby Barrett
- • Stolen | Dashboard Confessional
- • Yours | Russell Dickerson
- • Prayed for You | Matt Stell
- • Bless the Broken Road | Rascal Flatts
- • From the Ground Up | Dan + Shay
- • Take Me to Heaven | Hunter Phelps