For me, that anxiety stems from my fear of travelling on the Underground. Most of the time I just feel on edge and a little trapped, diving into my phone to hurry up the journey and get the hell out of there. But, on three occasions, I have unwittingly stepped off the edge and fallen into a full-blown panic attack. Cold, adrenaline-pumped panic. The kind that tightens your lungs, strangles your throat and pushes your entire body’s blood supply to your temples so that all you can hear is your own thudding heartbeat. I feel terrified, as if horrifying danger is imminent and my imagination spirals into worst-case-scenario places. It is horrible. It is upsetting and embarrassing: crying uncontrollably in public is absolutely not in my normal life schedule.
So I avoid the Underground as much as possible (I commute on a moped now; gloriously flying down the streets entirely in control of my own destination destiny. It is so liberating it’s verging on meditative). But there are the occasional times where I absolutely have to take the tube, which is what happened last week.
So does a panic-futureproofing perfume even exist? We know that aromatherapy tangibly works to relax the nervous system as our brain’s olfactory receptors are connected to the limbic system that regulates emotional responses. From the data I researched, woody smells can have an emotionally and physically grounding effect, quite literally anchoring your mind and body back down to the forest floor, as if curled up at the base of a strong trunk like a tiny fawn snoozing in dappled sunbeams.
Yes, I’d quite like to be a fawn actually, resting on a soft mossy bed against the nutty, earthy, warm and smoky bark of a strong and majestic tree. So I picked a beautiful woody scent by Ostens called Impressions Cedarwood Heart – its main ingredient of cedarwood smells like the deep, damp, sweet and mouthwatering centre of a freshly-chopped tree trunk. When I inhale it, my insides go a bit funny. Anyone else had that before? Like when your first crush leaves his denim jacket at your house, you realise you’re all alone with it so you inhale his body, skin, hair while listening to his favourite song. That.
With the conversation around mental health louder than ever, I feel incredibly lucky that I’m not all-consumed by one. But that doesn’t mean I cruise through life unaffected: there are moments where my internal dial has been drawn into anxiety, like the 1 in 6 adults in the UK who currently experience some degree of mental health issues.
I’ve found a way to ease my symptoms through fragrance, and if you’re up for trying a new approach to curb those restless emotions then do read on.
I used perfume as simulated-medication once before: when I was pregnant I was so nauseous from morning sickness that any strong smell would set me off – ashtrays, dustbins, food, body odour. I would carry a tissue drenched in sharp lemony cologne that I’d breathe through to neutralise the stench, and it really worked. My sense of smell has a profound effect on my physical and emotional responses; it’s also my job (I write maniacally about perfume) and my hobby (I own over 100 bottles). Perhaps there could be a scent that could slice through my anxiety?
And this sensation of swept-away safety and nostalgic comfort was my anxiety antidote. I had decanted some of the perfume into a Travalo atomiser and, just before entering the tube station, sprayed my scarf and coat sleeves. The nerves were rising, but – and I genuinely mean this – when I breathed in through my scarf I felt like my brain physically lowered itself downwards, like when you catch a helium balloon to stop it from floating off. By repeatedly inhaling lungfuls of scent every few minutes, I was gently pulled back from irrational, elaborate and dystopian fantasies to a very calm and sensible space, which kept my imagination (and consecutively I assume, my heart-rate) from spinning out of control. Maybe I’d just convinced myself so damn hard this would work and tricked my mind into believing it. But is that so bad? It got me through each journey that week. With the added bonus of smelling absolutely incredible.
I’m sure Ostens’ plan wasn’t for this perfume to be such a profound aromatic therapy. But in these times of gender neutral, marketing-free, consumer-steered beauty products, using fragrance as emotional support seems completely acceptable – logical even.
Here are five nerve-smoothing scents that might catch your anxiety balloon before it floats away:
Sunny Side Up Eau de Parfum