Reducing Test Anxiety with Pleasant Aromas

images-1 imagesAside from providing focused content instruction and practice in my test preparation program, I offer stress-reducing techniques to my students.  While diligent practice remains the key component to success, the emotional outlook that they carry with them on test day can affect their performance.  The more confident and relaxed test takers feel, the better they will perform.

Deep breathing exercises can help a student to re-route the blood flow from the limbic system (the brain’s emotional center) to the pre-frontal cortex (the locus for logic). Moreover, some research studies have indicated that pleasant smells that evoke positive associations can also take the edge off anxiety. The website, provides the following explanation: “When any scent is inhaled, the odor molecules travel up the nose where they are trapped by olfactory membranes that are protected by the lining inside the nose. Each odor molecule fits like a little puzzle piece into specific receptor cell sites that line a membrane, known as the olfactory epithelium.” These molecules then travel to the that emotional center and may reduce the feeling of stress.

The Mayo clinic has been at the forefront of understanding the effects of aromatherapy.  A 2013 Mayo Clinic e-newsletter contained an article by Sheryl Ness, RN, which stated: “Scents can have a powerful effect on the mind, influence your mood and lower anxiety.  Aromatherapy usually involves the use of essential oils extracted from plants. However, other pleasant smells associated with fond memories can have a positive effect on mood and perspective.”  Some studies on aromatherapy indicate that it helps to lower anxiety and stress levels.  These fragrances can come from the actual herb, a tea, or an essential oil. provided a summary of some essential oils and their benefits:

  • Orange reduces anxiety. “A study found that people who sniffed it before a stressful test were able to stay calm under pressure.”
  • Lavender enhances relaxation.
  • Rosemary can provide mental stimulation
  • Cinnamon can enhance focus.

However, Dr. Brent Bauer, M.D., director of the Complementary and Integrative Medicine program at the Mayo Clinic provides a warning about the overuse of essential oils. ”Whatever is powerful enough to exert a beneficial effect in the body is powerful enough to exert a negative effect. . . Never breathe in essential oils for more than one hour at a time. Always follow the instructions on the bottle, and if you are taking any medications or suffer from a chronic health condition, ask your doctor before you start practicing aromatherapy. Just as with any other medicine, essential oils must be used correctly to yield huge health rewards.”

Perhaps a simple alternative would be chewing on a few peppermint leaves or eating an orange right before a test.





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