Some of you may know that I am a Certified Aromatherapist who uses essential oils almost on a daily basis and offers Aromatherapy Consultations.
I am therefore starting a series on how to use aromatherapy essential oils to manage stress.
I will focus on lavender essential oil since this series is targeting the novices who have never used essential oils. If you would like to know about other essential oils used to manage stress read Aromatherapy for Stress Management.
I will attempt to answer some of the questions people ask when they are told to use aromatherapy essential oils for stress management:
What is Aromatherapy?Aromatherapy is using essential oils for their healing properties.
These essential oils are natural substances which are obtained from plants. For example lavender essential oil is extracted from the flowers while peppermint essential oil is obtained from the leaves.
Does Aromatherapy Work?
My AnswerBuy a bottle of lavender essential oil and place it on your bedside table. The next time you have very stressful day at work, lie in bed, open the bottle and inhale the aroma several times and you will answer the question for yourself.
The Scientific AnswersA study which compared high school students who inhaled essential oils with those who did not, found that stress levels were lower in those who inhaled the essential oils. These student wore a necklace from which they inhaled the essential oils and the conclusion of this study was that aromatherapy inhalation was an effective stress management method. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19571632)
Another study examined the effects of an aromatherapy program on elderly adults and found that it reduced stress, depression, anxiety and pain. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25114901)
Another study examined the effects of lavender essential oil on adults found that they felt more relaxed and performed math computations faster and more accurately though they also had increased drowsiness. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10069621)
(Personal note: I do not recommend inhaling lavender for the sole purpose of doing math computations. You can inhale it if you are very stressed and you need to calm down and focus on the maths. If you are not stressed and you need a mentally stimulating essential oil, I recommend peppermint essential oil)
Another study examined healthy volunteers who inhaled lavender essential oil for 5 minutes found that it decreased their stress levels and the amount of pain they felt when needles were inserted in their bodies. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21854199)
Another study evaluated the effects of lavender essential oil and clary sage essential oil on work stress in nurses working in an ICU found that they reduced their perception of stress. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18317288)
Another study compared very young infants who were given a bath with lavender bath oil with those who were not. This study found that mothers in the lavender group were more relaxed and they smiled and touched their babies more often as they bathed them. Their babies also looked at them longer, cried less and spent more time in deep sleep after their baths. The levels of a stress hormone known as cortisol in the mothers and babies of the lavender group were also reduced. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18053656)
I hope I have therefore convinced you that aromatherapy essential oils can be used to manage stress in persons of all age groups.
How Exactly Does Aromatherapy Work?When you inhale the aroma of an essential oil, the molecules enter your nose and travel through the olfactory nerve to a part of your brain known as the limbic system.
This limbic system contains cells that deal with emotions, memory, satiety, the sexual response and other aspects of life.
The limbic system then sends messages to the hypothalamus and pituitary which are parts of the brain involved in secreting hormones that regulate different functions of the body.
Therefore by inhaling an essential oil with a certain chemical composition, you can help your body release compounds with the effects you desire.
Who Should Avoid Lavender Essential Oil?Though essential oils are natural substances they must be used with caution because they can cause bad, unwanted effects on the body since they are powerful enough to cause their good, wanted effects.
Persons who should not use/avoid lavender essential oils include the following:
1. Pregnant women should avoid lavender essential oil especially during the first 3 months.
I'd like to add that lavender essential oil is used in pregnancy in some situations, but if you are experimenting with essential oils at home by yourself and you are pregnant, do not use it. It is better to be safe than sorry.
2. Breastfeeding women should avoid lavender essential oil.
3. Young boys should avoid lavender essential oil since a study linked shampoos and lotions with lavender and tea tree essential oils to breast development in boys who had not reached puberty.
This was attributed to the fact that these two essential oils have estrogenic and antiandrogenic properties. This means that they have effects which are similar to those of the female hormone estrogen in the body as well as effects which are contrary to those of male hormones known as androgens. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17267908)
I'd also like to add that lavender essential oil is used a lot on children as is attested by the study on its effects on young bathing infants, but I recommend using it "not repeatedly".
4. Women with risk factors for cancers which need estrogen should not use lavender essential oil because of its estrogen-like effects. These include some cancers of the breast, uterus and ovaries.
I'd like to note that many patients with cancer use lavender essential oil but I strong advise my clients NOT TO USE IT if they have risk factors for breast cancer, ovary cancer and uterine cancer because once those cancer cells begin multiplying uncontrollably it is very hard to stop them. Once again it is better to be safe than sorry.
5. Women with hormone dependent conditions like uterine fibroids and ovarian cysts should also avoid using lavender essential oil for the same reasons.
6. Persons with hypotension or low blood pressure should avoid lavender essential oil.
7. Persons with diabetes should avoid lavender essential oil.
8. Persons taking sleep medications should avoid using lavender essential oil because of its sedative or sleep-inducing properties.
9. Persons taking anxiety medications to reduce anxiety like diazepam should also avoid using lavender essential oil.
10. Person scheduled to have surgery within 2 weeks you should also avoid using lavender essential because of its sedative effects.
If you do not fall in any of the above named categories, you should also follow these additional measures when using lavender essential oil:
You may read of some exceptions to this rule but these are only be followed if you are under the direct supervision of an aromatherapist.
So if you are experimenting with aromatherapy at home, never apply undiluted essential oils to your skin since they can cause severe reactions.
2. Always do a patch test
Add 3 drops of lavender essential oil to a teaspoon of olive oil and apply the mixture to the inside of your elbow. Bandage the area and wait for 1 to 2 days to see if you will react to it by developing rashes or itchiness. If you react to it, do not use it.
3. Use lavender essential oil and not lavender fragrance.
Lavender fragrance is a very common scent that is used in many things from foods to room fresheners.
However the fragrance is a manmade molecule which does not have the healing benefits of the natural essential oil.
So how can you tell the difference?Aromatherapy essential oils are always sold in dark bottles since light and heat reduce their effectiveness while fragrance oils can be sold in clear bottles.
The labels on lavender essential oil bottles usually say " lavender essential oil" while those on fragrance bottles often just say "lavender".
This is not a foolproof way of differentiating the natural essential oils from the synthetic fragrance oils and I suggest sticking to one brand of reputable essential oils and just buying from them.
I have used the Julia Lawless brand for more than 10 years and I have no complaints todate (Feb 2016).
(Please note I am not being paid for this article I am just sharing my honest opinion and experience.)
If you cannot find Julia Lawless Essential Oils where you live, you can check online marketplaces for essential oils with many positive reviews before purchasing your own.
Stress Management Massage Oil RecipeIf you only want to make one aromatherapy product to manage stress, I recommend the following stress management massage oil
Ingredients36 drops lavender essential oil
3 ounces (90 ml) jojoba liquid wax
This mixture makes a massage oil with a 2% concentration that can be used by adults on the body.
To make a massage oil for using on the face in adults, and to use on elderly adults and children (on those infrequent occasions) mix 18 drops of lavender essential oil with 3 ounces (90 ml) jojoba liquid wax.
InstructionsMix the lavender and jojoba in a dark bottle and apply on the body when you need to feel relaxed.
Why Jojoba?Jojoba is actually a liquid wax but it is classified as a carrier oil because it carries the essential oil into the skin.
There are many carrier oils used in aromatherapy like sweet almond oil, grapeseed oil, apricot kernel oil, avocado oil, olive oil, sunflower oil and both fractionated and virgin coconut oil and I use them in different combinations to make different products for my clients. To learn about their different properties read Carrier Oils Guide.
However I use jojoba to make my stress management massage oil because of the following reasons:
1. Jojoba penetrates the skin easily because its chemical composition is similar to that of the oil produced by the skin known as sebum.
2. Jojoba does not leave an oily film on the skin.
3. Jojoba is does not clog the skin pores.
4. Jojoba can be used on all skin types.
5. Jojoba has natural sunscreens.
6. Jojoba contains vitamins, minerals and fatty acids which nourish the skin.
7. Jojoba has anti-inflammatory properties.
8. Jojoba can be used on its own without being diluted with other carrier oils.
9. Jojoba has an almost indefinite shelf life.
10. Jojoba does not stain the skin or clothing.
As a result of these properties of jojoba of lavender essential oil, the stress management massage oil you make with them can be used for:
1. Whole body massages
2. Scalp massages
3. Face massages
4. Back massages
5. Hand and foot massages