Role of Aromatherapy in Stress Management
What is Stress?
Stress, now considered a normal part of life, can be a positive experience, creating a buzz of excitement, concentration, or increased energy; clarity of thought; the ability to ‘switch off’, self-esteem and confidence; rational thought; happiness and contentment.
More often however, the term is used to describe negative emotions or feelings of anxiety or tension in overwhelming situations. This negative stress occurs when there is a mismatch between the way we perceive both the demands placed upon us and our ability to cope with them. The difference between how we view the demands and how we think we can cope determines the level of stress we experience.
Signs and Indications
The effects of negative stress on the body can be:
- Physical – muscle tension, headaches, fatigue, heart attacks, ulcers
- Psychological – depression, loss of perspective, need for artificial stimulants/relaxants (e.g. cigarettes, coffee and alcohol)
- Behavioral – poor concentration, lethargy, aggression, self-abuse
- Emotional – lack of confidence and self-esteem, boredom and frustration, hysteria.
All body systems are affected by stress, although symptoms vary between individuals.
Left unmanaged negative stress will:
- Weaken the body’s defenses
- Slow body function
- Lead to serious physical, mental and emotional imbalances (as detailed above)
How Aromatherapy Can Help
The hypothalamus is the major control and integration centre of the automatic nervous system. It controls the sympathetic and parasympathetic divisions which activate the ‘fight or flight’ response and adrenaline production.
Aromatherapy has been described as ‘the use of pure essential oils to seek to influence, change or modify, mind, body or spirit; physiology or mood.
Studies have shown that aromatherapy can be helpful in stress management and prevention by directly affecting the limbic and autonomic nervous systems, although an individual’s response to aromatherapy will vary.
Essential Oils and How they are Applied
For the client to obtain maximum benefit from aromatherapy treatment for stress, both the essential oils and the method of applying must be chosen carefully.
Pure essential oils, derived from plants and flowers, can be prescribed holistically, to treat the individual’s many needs rather than specific symptoms. Aromatherapists generally accept that the beneficial effect of two or three blended oils is greater than one particular constituent of a blend. Aromatherapy takes into account the whole plant, a particular oil’s chemical constituents, and an individual’s need for successful results.
Commonly recommended oils for stress management include geranium oil for regulating hormonal imbalance; neroli, rose and jasmine oils which are effective in relieving stress exacerbated by emotional depression; and uplifting, stimulating citrus oils.
Methods of application:
Massage: Essential oils are usually applied by means of a full body massage. Studies involving lavender have shown that traces of linalool and linalyl acetate in the bloodstream reach peak levels after 20 minutes. Theses traces disappear after 90 minutes, but the psychological benefits linger for much longer.
Inhalation: The physiological effect is enhanced when aroma molecules are inhaled. On inhalation, a message is transmitted to the olfactory bulbs at the base of the brain and a network of cells helps to interpret and provide feedback on the aroma message.
Baths: The application of essential oils through a warm bath produces both physiological and psychological benefits.
Consulting an Aromatherapy Practitioner
Before treating a client the aromatherapist will take a thorough history including past medical history, current medication, lifestyle, diet, and mental and emotional state. GP referral or consultation may be required. Most initial consultations last an hour and a half, with an hour as a standard follow-up appointment length.
Since it works on various levels, aromatherapy is invaluable in treating stress-related imbalances, whether physically, mentally or emotionally driven. A holistic treatment is provided by a combination of:
- the pharmacological effect of the oils
- the therapist’s personal and ‘hands-on’ approach, and effective listening skills
- the physical and emotional benefits of massage
- influence of aromas in calming and soothing emotions.
Even when a client finds it difficult to relate to the different facets of his/her imbalance, the oils work to strengthen and tone – helping the body’s natural resources to heal itself. The oils’ ‘balancing’ properties – uplifting a depressed mind, calming an anxious one, soothing a stressed, tired nervous system – ensure a natural, gentle treatment.
These notes aim to raise awareness of the effectiveness of pure essential oils and their role in contributing to stress prevention and treatment. They are not designed to replace advice and treatment by a registered aromatherapy practitioner, stress management consultant or GP.
When considering aromatherapy treatment always consult a registered qualified aromatherapist. To locate an IFA therapist in your area, click here.
by Lisa Barnwell