The Power Of Aroma Can Beat Stress
Aromas can have an incredibly powerful effect, and research has proven time and again, that when used correctly they can be used to soothe and heal the mind and body.
Whether from a plant or fruit, certain aromatic molecules possess pharmacological properties that can be used to help ease a range of ailments effectively, and without side effects.
Stress is a common problem that can be eased through the power of aroma, and essential oils of basil, lemon and grapefruit are just three sources known to reduce stressful feelings. Lavender essential oil is well known as a treatment for calming anxiety and panic attacks.
Researchers have now backed up claims about the power of certain aromas, and a study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry suggested that certain fragrances can alter gene activity and blood chemistry in ways that can reduce stress levels.
Scientists from Japan led by Akio Nakamura noted that people have used the aromas of certain plants for centuries to combat stress, inflammation and depression. Fragrances from plants are also known to help induce sleep. “Aromatherapy, the use of fragrant plant oils to improve mood and health, has become a popular form of alternative medicine today,” explained the researchers.
The study primarily investigated the effects of a chemical constituent found in many plants and essential oils known as linalool. “Linalool is one of the most widely used substances to soothe away emotional stress. Until now, however, linalool’s exact effects on the body have been a deep mystery,” the researchers reported.
To test the power of aromas, lab rats were exposed to stressful conditions while inhaling and not inhaling linalool. It was observed that the fragrance returned stress-elevated levels of neutrophils and lymphocytes in their blood back to normal levels. These blood cells are key players in the immune system and rise when stressed. It was discovered that more than 100 overdriven genes during stress tests were also seen to decrease in activity after the inhalation of linalool.
Essential oils containing linalool
Many essential oils contain linalool, and the amount found in them varies tremendously according to the species of the plant. Here are some effective stress-busting oils that contain linalool;-
- Linaloe wood – This essential oil contains around 85 percent linalool. Linaloe essential oil smells like rosewood which has been a threatened species for many years now, and has been discontinued by responsible aromatherapy suppliers. Place a few drops of linaloe wood essential oil in a diffuser to reap its stress-busting benefits. It blends well with many other oils too.
- Basil – Sweet basil contains up to 60% linalool and is another excellent essential oil for reducing stress. In particular sweet basil oil works as a cephalic helping to clear the head whilst reducing cortisol levels. This in turn lowers blood pressure and balances blood sugar. Alternatively, if you don’t want to use basil essential oil, wrap basil leaves up in a cloth and tie with string to create a scent pod.
- Lavender – Vaporizing some lavender essential oil in a diffuser, or relaxing in a lavender bath can help to lower stress levels at the end of a hard day. According to the University of Maryland Medical Centre, aromatherapy treatments with lavender can slow the activity of the nervous system, improve sleep quality, promote relaxation, and lift mood. However, if you chose to use lavender incense sticks, be aware that most do not contain the true lavender oil required to receive the therapeutic benefits.
Uplifting citrus aromas
There are many essential oils that can help with stress that do not contain linalool, and these work by energizing and uplifting the emotions. All citrus essential oils can be helpful in this way, and here are a couple of examples;-
- Lemon – This is a popular essential oil due to an enlivening effect that never fails to revive and refresh. Blended with tea tree and diluted in a carrier oil for massage, lemon oil can also help to increase white blood cells, which boosts the immune system. A depressed immune system is a common symptom of stress. Remember citrus oils can be irritating to sensitive skins, so use no more than 3 drop to 10mls of carrier when massaging.
- Grapefruit – When we think of grapefruit we don’t always think of its aroma. However, the uplifting fragrance of this fruit is one of the best natural pick-me-ups. Grapefruit essential oil helps reduce the sadness associated with depression, with a fresh aroma that delivers an effective energizing and rejuvenating effect. Put 4 or 5 drops in a diffuser to fill a room with this wonderful fragrance that combats stress.
Aromas are at their most powerful when used as part of a relaxation technique such as meditation, yoga , pilates, massage, or aromatherapy. Margo Marrone explains in her book ‘The Organic Pharmacy’ that breathing is key to relaxing. She recommends lying comfortably on the floor face up, closing your eyes and breathing deeply and steadily. From here tense the muscles in your feet, hold for a few seconds and release. Repeat this process gradually working up the body, from your thighs to your shoulders.
While you’re doing this create a relaxing calming atmosphere by diffusing your favourite essential oils for combating stress. Alternatively, a relaxing and soothing bath can help by adding 6 to 8 drops of essential oil (4 or 5 drops if they are citrus oils). Slip into the tub, close your eyes and think about the day. When you encounter a memory that bothers you, imagine its negativity flowing into the water. Once you’re ready to get out of the bath, pull the plug and visualize your stress washing away.
Copyright © Quinessence Aromatherapy Ltd 2014. Written by Geoff Lyth
Research source: ‘Stress Repression in Restrained Rats by (R)-(–)-Linalool Inhalation and Gene Expression Profiling of Their Whole Blood Cells’ by Akio Nakamura, et al., Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, June 24, 2009.