How To Trick Your Brain With Candles (Because Scent Really Can Change Your Mood)

Have you ever noticed how a pleasant smell can make your mood change? Whether it's the calming smell of lavender, the coziness of cinnamon, or the buzzing energy of coffee beans, some scents can truly change the atmosphere of the room you're in. Smell is a powerful sense. You can be transported to a certain time in your life just by smelling your favorite candle. Because the brain associates certain smells with memories and emotions, you can use this to your advantage. When you're feeling down, something as simple as lighting a candle can help lift you up. Here's how you can add candles to your self-care routine

But first, a quick reminder about candle safety. The National Candle Association recommends lighting candles for no longer than four hours. Lighting them for too long can cause the wick to become unstable and produce smoke, which is potentially harmful to inhale for long periods of time. Follow the instructions on the candle's label to know how long you can safely burn it.

Choose scents associated with positive memories

Candles don't just make a room smell nice — they tap into feelings and memories. Say you had a parent who always made pancakes growing up. Now, whenever you smell pancakes, you get a warm wave of nostalgia, remembering those days when you ate pancakes together. When you smell something, the scent activates the brain's amygdala and hippocampus, where emotion and memory are processed, per The Harvard Gazette. Your brain can recall how a smell made you feel, even when you haven't smelled it in a while. 

You can activate this ability any time when you have candles around the house. Think of a smell that reminds you of a happy memory. Having it in a candle form allows you to tap into those positive emotions whenever you want. This can be especially helpful during the winter months when many are inside and managing seasonal depression. It might help to surround yourself with scents that remind you of warmer months, like floral and citrus scents. Or you can embrace the cozy winter scents that will keep you feeling warm and cozy, like pine, mahogany, or chocolate.

It's possible to associate certain smells with negative experiences as well. Maybe you're a barista who's surrounded by coffee every day. You might not want a coffee candle to remind you of a stressful workday. Instead, you might want a candle that smells like the cherry blossom trees you pass by when you take the relaxing walk home. 

Discover your favorite essential oils

Candles are often made from the scents of essential oils, many of which have been proven to reduce stress and improve your mood. Lemon, chamomile, lavender, cedarwood, and bergamot are some of the most common scents used in aromatherapy, according to WebMD. Investing in candles with these scents can certainly help you enter a better headspace when you're feeling low or stressed out. 

Lavender, in particular, has endless wellness benefits, including calming and stress-relieving qualities. A 2020 study published in "Diversity and Equality in Health and Care" found that when paired with deep breathing techniques, lavender aromatherapy helped to reduce the anxiety of patients who had an upcoming surgery. When you're feeling particularly tense, lighting a lavender candle may be able to give you a moment of relief. Additionally, a study published in "Phytotherapy Research" examined the effects of the essential oil clary sage on the stress levels in women going through menopause. Researchers found that the women's cortisol levels reduced when smelling the scent. 

If you're unsure of which direction to take in your next search for candles, consider looking for scents inspired by essential oils. 

Seek out unique candle names

Candle marketing has gotten more creative in the past few years, with lots of brands selling candles with unique scents and names. Sure, you could play it safe and go for standard-smelling candles like floral, citrus, or vanilla, or you can get super specific. Chances are, if there's a scent you enjoy, it can be — or has been — made into a candle, such as fresh laundry or even dill pickles

The brand Anecdote Candles tells a story with each candle it makes, giving them specific names that capture specific feelings. On the label of the candle named "Comfort Zone," it reads: "smells like the joy of missing out./coffee and cedarwood." It's not just describing a scent, it's describing a feeling. The brand has more humorous candles as well, like its "Quarter-Life Crisis" candle which "smells like all panic and no disco./grapefruit and mint." 

The Homesick brand sells candles inspired by different states, cities, and countries. The New York City candle, with top notes of bergamot, lemon, and grapefruit, is described to smell like "spring days in Central Park, fine department stores, and concrete." And don't worry, it doesn't capture the smell of the subway. Candles like these paint a picture in your mind and send you to your happy place, wherever that may be for you.