Effective Stress Management With Aromatherapy
Stress is part of normal life for everyone today, and there seems no escape from it. Bizarrely, research has shown that some stress is actually beneficial because we all need a certain amount of stress to stimulate us and add excitement to our lives. On the other hand, too much stress can have a seriously damaging effect on our physical and emotional well being if it continues for too long.
According to the American Psychological Association, stress is at the root of a wide range of illnesses, many of them serious or even life-threatening. Although combating its effects through effective stress management can improve your health, tackling stress at the earliest sign is by far the best way to avoid illness.
What is stress?
Stress is the body’s normal reaction to a stimulus that frightens or excites, and a response to this stimulus is triggered in the brain which produces chemical and physical changes throughout the body. During times of intense stress, adrenalin and cortisol hormones are pumped around our body in large quantities to enable us to either to fight off the danger, or run away from it. The heart beats faster, breathing quickens, our muscles tense, and our senses go on red alert. This is what is known as the ‘fight or flight’ reflex.
Unfortunately, most of the problems that we face in modern life do not require this type of response, and because we can’t fight or run away, these hormones remain in our system doing what they were designed to do.
Blood vessels nearest the skin constrict in order to reduce bleeding if we were to be injured, our blood sugar level soars to speed up reaction time and boost our energy levels, and our heartbeat races rapidly. Meanwhile, the digestive and reproductive systems go onto standby, growth hormones are switched off, and the immune system’s response is much slower.
The effects of stress
The result is that we spend the next hour or so in a state of physical tension with an overworked heart, rapid breathing, upset tummy, headache, backache or sweating, – all due to unnecessary amounts of adrenalin and cortisol still circulating in our system. A sudden and obvious cause of stress creates what is known as acute stress. Sometimes, before we have completely recovered from one stressful situation another problem arises, and the fight or flight response kicks in all over again. If this pattern repeats often enough it can lead to chronic stress.
The effects of such long-term stress can be varied and extremely serious leading to depression, digestive disorders, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diabetes and asthma, chronic muscle pains, insomnia, high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes and even cancer. The overworked circulatory system or unresponsive digestive, reproductive and immune system can also lead to hardening of arteries, and the onset or worsening of rheumatoid arthritis, eczema, psoriasis, acne, and lung disorders.
Chronic stress also causes frequent bouts of illnesses such as colds or viral infections, backache, irregular heartbeat, irritability, mood swings, difficulty concentrating, memory lapses, loss of appetite or even binge eating. Most worryingly, backache, irritable bowel syndrome or headaches are often the result of stress and are not actually symptoms of a direct physical illness. Therefore no amount of pill-popping is really going to provide a long term solution since it only masks the symptoms and fails to address the real root of the problem.
How aromatherapy helps combat stress
Aromatherapy massage can be particularly effective in combating stress because you get both the calming, relaxing therapeutic properties of the essential oils, plus the health benefits that massage brings. The therapeutic action of the essential oils in combination with the revitalizing effects of massage (plus some relaxing music) makes an unbeatable combination for fighting stress.
Certain essential oils have the ability to block the neural connections that trigger the unnecessary increase in adrenalin and cortisol when we’re under stress.
Other essential oils stimulate the release of various neurochemicals and hormones such as serotonin that slow the heart rate, regulate blood pressure, and stimulate the immune system, thereby reversing the effect of stress. Therefore, the correct essential oils can ease both the acute and chronic stages of stress.
And don’t worry, if you are unable to have a massage simply use your essential oils in a nice warm bath! Choose your oils from those listed in the sidebar and put a few drops in the bath, turn on some relaxing music, and feel the stress and tension simply melt away as you soak in the tub.
If you prefer, you can always vaporize your essential oils in a traditional burner or one of the new electronic atomizer models that don’t use heat.
Whichever way you choose to employ your essential oils, the minute molecules of essential oils are absorbed into the bloodstream via the lungs, sending a signal directly to the limbic system in the brain which regulates hormones and controls emotions and memory.
The hypothalamus and pituitary gland are then stimulated to produce neurochemicals such as serotonin plus the hormones that balance and regulate various systems within the body, such as the endocrine, immune, and nervous system. To fully understand how all this works, see our article about the Limbic System.
Aromatherapy is without doubt one of the very best natural treatments for stress because it assists the body’s natural ability to balance, regulate, heal and maintain itself holistically, rather than just treating the symptom or disease.
However, don’t forget to look for the root cause of your stress and put a plan into action to deal with it directly, since prevention is infinitely better than cure.
Copyright © Quinessence Aromatherapy Ltd 2015. Written by Sue Charles