grass, field, meadow

A scent of time and place

Today, as I was walking by the local park I was hit by the smell of freshly mown grass. Even at home, as I am writing these words, I can re-experience the scent that I can only describe as green and somewhat sweet.

I only recently realised how little attention I paid to maintaining, let alone developing, my sense of smell. Somewhere along the way, I started to pay less attention to it and to rely more heavily on sight. It turns out that smell is the only fully developed sense a foetus has, and it remains the most developed sense until around the age of ten, when sight takes over. And yet, our sense of smell is such a powerful way of connecting with memories.

It is not surprising that smells and memory are intertwined. The amygdala and the hippocampus, the regions in the brain that are responsible for emotions and memory respectively, have a direct connection to the nose (via the olfactory bulb). Having smelled the freshly cut grass, I was transported back some eighteen years to Margitsziget (Margaret Island, in Hungarian), walking among spring flowers, and enjoying the soft, warm sunlight.

This is a lovely example of how we can use our sense of smell to reconnect with positive memories, or to anchor ourselves in the present. Anxiety and stress lock us into worries and fears about past and future events. Breaking up that pattern by consciously surrounding ourselves with scents that remind us of something positive can be extremely helpful in managing stress and anxiety.