This article is part of Healthyish at Home, our expert-sourced guide to making our living spaces feel great. 

Incense isn’t just essential for clearing the air of last night’s salmon. “Especially if we’re not leaving home much, you can create different emotional and psychological environments by using scent,” says neuroscientist Rachel Herz, Ph.D., author of Scent of Desire and researcher on the psychological science of smell.

Smell and emotional memory have a fundamental neurological link, making it possible (but not guaranteed) to change your mood with a whiff of freshly baked cookies. But there’s a catch: Our brains quickly acclimate to scents—15 minutes, max—so a single candle will only go so far.

“My recommendation is to have a bunch of different scents to create emotional atmospheres and transport yourself somewhere else,” Herz says. When stocking your scent library, consider personal significance. Scents linked to memory, like a flower you grew up smelling or a perfume worn on a special vacation, are especially emotionally potent.

If you’re starting fresh, Herz recommends practicing some form of mindfulness technique to cultivate a positive mental state while focusing on the scent. “If you take a novel scent that you don’t have an association to and smell it in the context of ‘I’m in lockdown,’ it could take on a negative meaning,” says Herz. “It’s a cautionary tale for not using the same scent too much, but rather having a collection.”

Need some inspiration? These are the candles, incense, and sprays in our scent pantry:

I light one of these quince candles when I’m trying to get out of a design rut—or after my roommate exercises in the living room. Unlike most scents, it doesn’t trigger my migraines, and one lit candle fills a large space faster than my fancy routers spread Wi-Fi. –Christa Guerra, art director.

Photograph by Laura Murray

Seda France Japanese Quince Candle$35 at Coming Soon

I use Studio Cue’s deodorizing and antimicrobial Hiba Wood Atmosphere Mist to freshen up bed linens and anywhere else my dog has decided to lounge. Hiba is a type of cypress tree closely related to the hinoki wood of Commes des Garçons fame, and it smells like you’re walking through a Japanese forest. MacKenzie Chung Fegan, commerce writer

Photograph by Laura Murray

Hiba Wood Pillow Spray$18 at East Fork

I tend to switch between breu resin and palo santo incense from Incausa, which partners with Indigenous artisans in the Amazon basin to sustainably hand-harvest materials. These days it’s a nightly ritual to provide some calm while still working from home. Andy Baraghani, senior food editor

Photograph by Laura Murray

Incausa Breu Resin Incense Blends$19 at Incausa

Fig and vetiver promotes a good creative flow, landing somewhere between warm desert evening and aspirational design atelier. When it’s burnt out, the ceramic vessel reincarnates as a planter, complete with a drainage hole at the bottom. –Miriam Ross, associate art director

Photograph by Laura Murray

Paddywax Wild Fig + Vetiver Form Candle$32 at Paddywax

Unlike floral or even most woodsy sprays, this one has a distinctly exuberant and crisp smell: fresh linen, lemons, and paper with a sharp burst of wintry pine. I use the atmosphere mist in my bedroom and kitchen, especially in the morning. We could all use a renewing and soothing pine-needle scent to start our quarantine work days. Allie Wist, visuals editor

Photograph by Laura Murray

Hinoki Atmosphere Mist$46 at Te Plus Te

I’m loyal to Shoyeido’s tea leaves incense. The scent is light and green and clean with a touch of sandalwood, but it doesn’t remind me of falling asleep in church or being seduced by a cult leader. I have a different set of incense for that. –Alex Beggs, senior staff writer

Photograph by Laura Murray

Shoyeido Tea Leaves Incense$6 at Amazon

My current favorite nighttime routine is to burn this hand-poured soy candle for half an hour or so as I read before bed. The earthy and grounding aroma of cedar, jasmine, and fig reminds me to take a few big deep breaths before lights out. –Christina Chaey, associate editor

Photograph by Laura Murray

Rikumo Five Elements Earth Candle$40 at Rikumo

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