Danielle Sade B.Sc & CAHP
There are many studies that are being conducted that changing sensory perceptions can lead to how one experiences time. In this blog, I would like to briefly introduce the idea of how inhalation of certain essential oils can alter the perception of time.
Aromatherapy is a cost-effective natural therapy that has demonstrated through many studies that it has a calming, relaxing and uplifting effect. These attributes help to improve experiences hospital and clinical settings.
Being in hospitals or clinical settings can affect moods that can lead to anxiety, fear and if it is a long-term stay it can initiate depression, delirium and worsen situations such as dementia in the elderly. My assumptions are that time can be perceived as moving slower in patients needing to endure a clinical environment. “It is common knowledge that our perception of time changes and adapts to external influences and the tasks we are doing within in real time frames.” Time perception can be influenced by our senses such as visual, auditory, touch and smell. Time is perceived to be longer when there are states of discomforts such as pain, negative visuals or dissatisfying sounds as well as boredom.
Why does this happen?
We have an internal clock in the brain that works at a certain pace. A study by (Millet et al.) informs us that the rate of the brain's function increases in response to fear. When this happens it increases internal time units leading to slower time perception. Time is slower when an individual is feeling constraint, depression, frustration, that sometimes can be perceived as boredom. (Watt, J. 1991) "This may be the reason if you ever get stuck in an elevator for a second it seems like an eternity in real time." Or being in a stressful situation such as a hospital or clinic can influence real-time perception due to fear.!"
What caught my attention is that there was another study on perception of time that concluded: "Exposure of ambient aromas can lead to time was moving faster (Brand, G et al). Alongside with this Psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as; “Completely being involved focused concentrated and losing track of time!”. Flow is an experience; that you are beyond your body, having inner clarity and everything feels possible even though it is difficult! Flow can arise from taking time for creativity and goal setting.
My personal observation with this understanding is that I have found there are some essential oils that give you the feeling of a flow! The internal experience of inhaling the desired aroma, that can be facilitated with guided words, has the potential to lead one into the experience of subtle flow; When this feeling emerges the sense of time seems to disappear and evolves into a different reality. The olfactory experience captures the scent molecules and activates the hypothalamus which interprets and creates an internal experience in the mind, through memory and association!
An Aromatherapist Perspective!
Through my experience as an aromatherapist, I believe the sense of smell can play a significant role in how time perception is perceived while initiating a different state of mind; by taking action and moving beyond the obstacle of fear, depression, lack of focus and boredom. Hypothetically, may be able to shift the internal time clock?
"When an aroma is present, a moment can be defined as an exploration and discovery of thoughts and memories."
Introducing subtle aromas for short time intervals into the environment such as neroli, lavender, citrus can invite the feeling of flow, while when exposed to heavier molecular structures of scent, such as lemongrass, melissa, ylang-ylang they tend to be lethargic and cloying. The later may be helpful for sleep, however when one is need of coping and move through real time; it can sabotage the experience if one feels vulnerable.
This brings me to the point; Applying Aromatherapy, when an individual is going through stressful times, medical procedures or coping with time intervals that seem to stand still, such travelling or sitting in one spot – change perception of real time.
To conclude – Professional Aromatherapists have the skill of using essential oils that can potentially shift the way internal time is experienced, by introducing natural aromatics that can lead to comfort and improve a stressful experience! Professionals should start considering implementing this concept as part of an assessment tool; How the patient's perception of time is experienced. This will lead to understanding the individual’s experience of time during a phase, procedures and experience. Which will serve as vital evidence that essential oils have a positive effect when applied safely and strategically in the clinic and may improve the clinical environmental experience.
Brand, G., Thiabaud, F., & Dray, N. (2016). Influence of Ambient Odors on Time Perception in a Retrospective Paradigm. Perceptual And Motor Skills, 122(3), 799-811. doi: 10.1177/0031512516647716
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2018). Flow, the secret to happiness. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_on_flow?language=en
Joswiak, D., Joswiak, M., & Yao, T. (2015). Advancing Multinational Research in the Highest Mountain Regions. Eos, 96. doi: 10.1029/2015eo028167
Millot, J., Laurent, L., & Casini, L. (2016). The Influence of Odors on Time Perception. Frontiers In Psychology, 7. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00181
Mind and mood in hospital. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/servicesandsupport/mind-and-mood-in-hospital
WATT, J. (1991). EFFECT OF BOREDOM PRONENESS ON TIME PERCEPTION. Psychological Reports, 69(5), 323. doi: 10.2466/pr0.69.5.323-327