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  • Writer's pictureamyk73

How Smells Make Us Feel Sick or Well

It never matters the cause that brought you there or time of day or night, every single emergency room has the same complex emotions and energy inside those sliding glass doors and all of them smell the same.

It’s like a chain restaurant that always has the same menu offerings and smells the same no matter which location you visit.

I remember the last time we had to take our son to the emergency room.  I remember the rush of getting him from school and racing to the emergency room, hearing him cry and seeing blood all over his little face. I remember how hard it was to find a parking space and how full the emergency room was when we walked in.  We circled that lot 2 or 3 times looking for a spot and me saying oh great we can’t even park, how are we going to get our son in there!

Guiltily, I remember thinking to myself too, how thankful I was he is not the child who is constantly getting hurt or sick where we have to come here often.

waiting room

Those feelings of concern, anxiety, sadness, grief, inpatient and being scared and uncertain easily fill the rafters of any hospital emergency waiting room. Those feelings are mixed with the high energy, quick responding nurses and doctors trying to prioritize the cases and help all those waiting. It is a perfect formula of difficulty and challenge in some of life’s most stressful situations.

The feelings we have in these situations can be amplified by the setting and place we are and what our senses consciously and unconsciously notice from what is around us.

Have you ever heard the saying, that a hospital is just a place that keeps the sick people sick?

We are surrounded by aromas and scents all the time. Some of these are pleasant and some  not so much. When we smell something, it can trigger experiences, reactions and memories.


These smells can also influences how we are physically and mentally feeling by either promoting improvement or triggering additional complexities. For instance, when we are ill, scents can influence our recovery process and how susceptible we become to co-occurring illnesses that complicate and delay our ability to heal.

The hospital smell is very distinct. It is the stark smell of disinfectant cleaners used to control germs, viruses, pathogens, and bacteria. That smell is literally everywhere and can play a part in how we feel while we are there.

Controlling germs, viruses and bacteria is very important, especially in a hospital but the products used to accomplish these tasks can impact our physical and mental health and healing processes. When we experience a negative reaction to a scent like that of over-powering perfume someone is wearing, going into a scented candle section of a store or the smells of a hospital, it can greatly influence our mood, responses, activity level, and even our physical healing process.

When we are in settings that remind us of being sick, hurt or not feeling our best, it can make us feel like we are getting sick or are not well – even when we’re not!  When we think of going to the emergency room for instance, we instantly start to feel dread, hesitation, maybe feeling worried or scared and have other reactions associated with being in these places before. These feelings can be further enhanced because of our sense of smell that associates these feelings with the smell of emergency rooms and hospitals. Hence why it can so much harder and longer to recuperate in a hospital than in your own home.

Changing the Scent Drivers

Dramatically changing the smells in settings like an emergency room can change how we feel emotionally and physically. Imagine going into an emergency room and it smells clean but also fresh, welcoming, warm and cheerful.

An emergency room smelling cheerful sounds weird, doesn’t it?

Think of what that change in scent could do to not only to the people working there but for those waiting!

When we associate smells that are happy or comforting we are able to be more calm, patient and hopeful. Our nurses and those helping in the emergency room feel more focused, helpful and patient and patients feel more relaxed and less anxious.

When we change the scent from one of disinfectant to one of a more comforting or uplifting scent our brains and senses are able to adjust those tension feelings with ones that can promote healing and improved mental well-being.

The Emergency Room at Vanderbilt University Hospital did a pilot to try changing the scent of their emergency room and what the effect would be on workers and patients. The results were incredible – check out this video:

When we alter the scent, even in a typical stressful setting, we are able to alter our reactions and whether we recognize it or not we also alter our emotions. With our bodies working harmoniously between our emotional and physical systems this can only work to improve our well-being and healing when we are in emergency rooms and hospitals.

While it may be weird to think of an emergency room as an uplifting or even cheerful place, it is totally possible! What a change in experience that would be to walk into an emergency room and have the energy be different than how we know it currently. The seriousness of the situation but with a different outlook and perspective that helps us focus on the healing!

I know from using these oils in my home to support our moods and energy it does make a difference so doing that on a larger scale in an emergency room would be incredible. What a difference it would be indeed.

Interested in more?

If you are interested in learning more please reach out! I’m happy to answer any questions and share additional information.

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