Have you ever wondered why you have a favourite smell, a favourite song, or a favourite meal? Is it just down to how pleasant they are, sending messages to the brain to secrete the right chemicals to cause happiness or does it go deeper than that?
Think of your favourite smell… now think about why it is your favourite smell. For me, it’s the smell of frying onions coming from an outdoor catering van. I don’t need to see the van, the smell takes my mind back to the seven-year-old me, entering a huge fairground, excited at exploring the games, the rides, the flashing lights, the chips with tomato sauce that was mainly vinegar.
It’s not that the smell takes my memory back to that moment, it’s that the smell now has an emotional attachment to that moment and can create the same feelings of excitement and joy I felt when I first smelled it.
This is a great example of classical conditioning. I bet your favourite smell takes your emotional response back to a moment when you felt happy, excited or calm. Your favourite song probably isn’t even that great a song, it just reminds you of someone special or a special moment in your life.
It’s been suggested that our favourite foods even had a connection to those we ate when we were growing up. Maybe these foods are the ones that our mother or father used to make because they trigger that innate sense of home comfort, feeling safe and taken care of. What has all this to do with the man and his aftershave?
Many people are either dismissive or skeptical of new treatments and that is understandable. They can be based on faith or suggestion (such as Reiki) rather than being rooted in scientific fact. Total SENSE Therapy, however, is rooted in all of the introduction to this post: classical conditioning. You may have heard of Pavlov and his dogs.
Each time he fed his dogs, he would ring a bell beforehand. Eventually, whenever the dogs heard the bell they would associate it with food. One day, Pavlov rang the bell but did not feed the dogs, yet they still produced saliva in readiness for it. There was no food, no smell of food, no sight of food. Their response to food was replaced by the sound of a bell. They were conditioned to act in a certain way based on something completely unconnected to their innate reflex.
This is how Total SENSE Therapy (TST) works. This is how one of my clients now has his anxiety and panic attacks under control. TST functions in a variety of ways but one of the most remarkably effective is the association of smells, flavours, textures, and sounds while having a sense of calm, comfort and safety. My client began by choosing ‘smell’ as his ‘base stimulant’.
With this, he bought an aftershave he had never smelled before since the only way you can establish an association of calmness with a smell is if you have no prior association to it. He then made a treatment space – a corner of his bedroom with a zero gravity chair, a sound system connected to his computer, and an aftershave-filled atomiser. He even got his girlfriend to load up the atomiser, making sure that there was no way for him to smell it until he was in the treatment space.
My client had a history of acute anxiety, in which he would feel intense stress in scenarios most of us would only consider as ordinary situations. If you suffer from either anxiety or panic attacks, then you would understand what it’s like. He had seen his GP who then referred him to a cognitive therapist.
While I certainly don’t want to judge on that specific therapy, he said there were no significant improvements. It helped him a little, but he still suffered panic attacks that he frequently had to leave his workplace for a time until he felt it was safe for him to return.
TST was his last resort after I explained its concept and how it could help. To his surprise, it proved to be effective. In the treatment space, he would play a YouTube video of the sound of the ocean, which would last about 20 minutes. He laid back in his chair during this time with his eyes closed and the atomiser spraying every few minutes to occupy the space with its fresh and sweet scent.
He did this for twenty minutes, every day for a week. He noted that even without ‘enacting’ the ‘portable sunshine’ part of the therapy, the twenty minutes a day he spent in the therapy space had already reduced the amount of anxiety attacks he was experiencing. On Day 8 he started the ‘portable sunshine’ part of the treatment, that is to take the smell with you throughout the day. He brought his atomiser to work.
He said that knowing it was there was enough to settle his mind; he stopped worrying about the anxiety attacks, which was often what would bring them on. Whenever he felt a little anxious, he would spray the atomiser. Pavlov’s theories on classical conditioning kicked in and took his mind back (like my smell of frying onions) to the calm, relaxing state in the therapy space back home. The anxiety faded and he felt happy, sometimes excited or amused.
He’s been using this for four weeks now and he’s confirmed it works every time. What I can tell you is that no matter how many times I smell those catering vans (usually in B&Q car park), I’m taken back to my childhood and we’re talking over 30 years ago. Imagine what would happen if I was to reinforce that emotional attachment like my client does by using his treatment space just once a week for twenty minutes.
If you want to know more about how you can turn smells, flavours, and even textures into Portable Sunshine, check out the website here.
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Author: Peter Nuttall
I’m a massage and manipulative therapist and Total SENSE Therapist. I created Total SENSE Therapy as a way of curing anxiety, panic attacks as well as using it for anger management, addiction, insomnia, mood elevation and alleviating physical manifestations of stress such as headaches and palpitations.