Using the scent of a loved one or scent of a loved place to provide feelings of calm.


When there is a new puppy in the house, a common strategy is to put a cloth of the owners near the puppy, so that the puppy can smell it and feel safe. It is also common with human babies to use the scent of mum or breast milk to keep the baby feeling safe. This blog is about exploring using this strategy with older children and adults also.

The first step in using scent, is to identify the scent that reminds them of the loved one. For parents of children, a useful strategy can be for you to sleep with several handkerchiefs, or an old t-shirt. Then give your child that item to sleep with. This may be useful to try with younger children with separation anxiety on going to school.

Adults with anxiety sometimes use the handkerchief technique as well to use the scent of their partner to calm them when they are out. Other clients use scents that remind them of the individual instead. This could include:

  • deodorant
  • perfume or cologne
  • hair shampoo or conditioner
  • hand cream
  • particular soap
  • laundry detergent
  • particular foods (eg cumin, lemons, garlic )
  • garden plants eg tea tree, roses.

Once the scent is identified, then put the scent into a small bottle, zip lock bag or onto a handkerchief. Smell the item when feeling anxious or needing to feel safe.

For some individuals, there is a preference to identify the scents of a safe place or happy location. I have known clients who have used:

  • sand to remind them of the ocean
  • books to remind them of the library
  • gum nuts to remind them of the bush.

The scents of a loved one or loved place have a very quick association with memory and with the social safety system. Using a scent can turn off the 'flight and fight' system or danger part of the brain. Feeling safe can really help us to relax and then be able to go about our daily lives.

" By increasing smell input such as by smelling the perfume of a loved one, we can activate an immediate pathway to the limbic system. Smell is the only sense that does not travel through the brain stem first, and it has  a strong and fast connection to positive or negative memories.

" Sensory Modulation Resource Manual" (2018) O'Sulllivan, J. & Fitzgibbon, C


"Aroma's work their therapeutic magic by evoking a learned association in the smeller"

The scent of desire: discovering our enigmatic sense of smell)

(2007), Herz, R. S.