Our bodies are made to cope with mild and/or intermittent stress. However prolonged periods of stress can begin to have a detrimental effect on our physical health, as well as our mental wellbeing.
Developed by Hans Selye, the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) represents three stages we go through in relation to stress. The first stage recognises our initial fight or flight response and we usually recover fairly quickly. The second stage is the resistance stage where the body tries to maintain homeostasis but you may have reduced energy and defences. If stress levels remain high and continue over time your body’s ability to resist is lost and leads to burnout, adrenal fatigue and illness – this is the third phase know as the exhaustion stage.
Aromatherapy can provide easy, effective support during times of stress, not only helping us to relax and unwind but also providing immune support and helping to prevent disease. Some essential oils are also great for supporting the terrain, helping to strengthen a person’s ability to cope with stress and not move into the exhaustion stage as above.
How can essential oils help?
Inhalation of an essential oil (or any aroma for that matter) can have an instant and powerful effect on our mind and bodies. Essential oil vapours enter the nose where we have olfactory (smell) receptors, which transmit information to various parts of the brain. This can produce an effect on our emotions, behaviour and hormonal activity. Our brain also identifies smells we know; producing a positive or negative effect on a person dependent on the particular memory evoked. I believe the profound effect of inhaling aromatic compounds is extremely undervalued. And yet, it’s so simple!
Renowned aromatherapist Salvatore Battaglia, in his book The CompleteGuide to Aromatherapy says
“The direct effect that smell can have on the hypothalamus perhaps suggests why aromatherapy is considered one of the most valuable tools in the treatment of stress and anxiety related problems …”
Choosing essential oils
Our mental wellbeing can be very complex with many aspects contributing to how we feel from one day to the next. Choosing the appropriate essential oils will depend on many factors such as the cause of emotional imbalance, the psychological and physical symptoms experienced, other health issues, medications, personal taste and previous use of aromatherapy.
There are many causes of stress, including relationship issues, work tension, illness or grief. Often stress management is improved by exploring the real cause of the stress. Stress can result in feelings of anxiety or depression, or lead to physical symptoms such as muscular tension, insomnia or a churning gut. Aromatherapy is a holistic therapy and can help to enhance both our mental and physical well-being. A consultation with a qualified aromatherapist will enable the creation of personalised blends and treatments specific to your needs.
Unwind with Aromatherapy
Whilst I usually recommend inhalation of essential oils as the preferred method of application for emotional disorders, an aromatherapy massage can also have a powerful effect on reducing stress levels. Various studies have shown how essential oils (Lavender being the most studied) and massage can reduce stress hormones, increase feelings of wellbeing as well as decrease pain and discomfort. Many of my clients have reported how smelling the essential oil blend that was used in their massage treatment transported them back to that relaxed, blissful state.
Daily rituals can help support us through difficult times. “It’s not stress that kills us, it’s our reaction to it.” states Hans Selye. It can be really empowering to have simple measures at hand to help us deal with stress as it arises. Here are some suggestions for incorporating aromatherapy into your daily life
WHICH essential oils?
Choose from the following readily available essential oils to create daily rituals or provide support through stressful times:
Clarity & focus: rosemary, peppermint, grapefruit, lemon, sweet basil
I recommend: 1 drop rosemary + 3 drops lemon in the corner of shower recess in the morning
Happiness & joy: sweet orange, ylang ylang, grapefruit, clary sage
I recommend: 4 drops sweet orange + 1 drop clary sage + 1 drop ylang ylang in the vaporiser
Balance & harmony: geranium, bergamot, lavender
I recommend: 3 drops bergamot + 2 drops lavender + 1 drop geranium mixed into 10mls of oil or cream and apply to pulse points
Sedative & calming: lavender, mandarin, sandalwood, frankincense
I recommend: 2 drops lavender + 2 drops mandarin on a tissue and tuck under pillow
Support & strength: spruce, black pepper, ginger, cypress, lemon
I recommend: 2 drops lemon + 2 drops spruce + 1 drop black pepper mixed into 10mls of oil and massage around lower back, then inhale aroma from hands
For muscular tension & headaches: sweet marjoram, lavender, rosemary, peppermint
I recommend: 3 drops lavender + 2 drops sweet marjoram + 1 drop peppermint mixed into 10mls of oil and massage into areas of muscular tension
For an upset tummy: mandarin, sweet orange, petitgrain, roman chamomile, spearmint
I recommend: 2 drops mandarin + 2 drops sweet orange + 1 drop petitgrain mixed into 10mls of oil and massage around abdomen, then inhale aroma from hands
For insomnia & “monkey mind”: Atlas cedarwood, frankincense, sandalwood, patchouli, vetiver, as well as sedative oils mentioned above.
I recommend: 3 drops lavender + 2 drops frankincense + 1 drop sandalwood mixed into 10mls of oil or unscented shower gel and add to warm bath, immerse yourself and relax.
If aromatherapy and massage don’t gel with you, discover your special way to unwind and de-stress. Yoga, meditation, being outdoors, or even enjoying a simple pleasure such as cup of tea or a walk in the park. Studies have shown that having a pleasant experience can stimulate immunity for up to two days and spending time in nature has many positive effects on both our physical and psychological well-being.
I will never forget the words of a very wise man Dr Avni Sali, foundation head of the school of Integrative Medicine, who spoke at a conference I attended many years ago. He recounted how he would often give his patients a written prescription, not for pills but instructions to “eat quality dark chocolate”, “walk on the beach” or “see a funny movie”. Why? Simply to reduce their stress and therefore enhance their physical health!
We can all make our own prescription for reducing stress and enhancing our wellbeing, physically as well as mentally. I hope this information leads you to appreciate the power of essential oils and how incorporating aromatherapy into your every-day can provide support and comfort on the roller coaster of life.