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The Science of Aromatherapy: How to Use Essential Oils for Emotional Wellbeing

Have you ever smelled something while walking down the street, and then be instantly taken back to a memory, a place, or a situation? That response comes from each of our olfactory nervous systems. Of all the five human senses, smell is the most direct way to access our mood, memory, emotions, and even physiology. That is why aromatherapy is so powerful. While it may seem like you are just simply smelling something, it’s actually a direct way to impact your mood and, therefore, your health at any given moment. Deliberate use of essential oils can radically transform your perspective and interrupt negative emotions or stress, which we know is the leading cause of illness. Aromatherapy isn’t just a fad or trend. Scientific research into essential oils supports their use in natural healthcare, and is ushering in a new age. In another ten years, essential oils will be more prevalent in popular culture, similarly to how yoga was a budding industry in the 1980s and 1990s, and is now offered in every gym.

Whether you are feeling overwhelmed, need to be energized and motivated, or need calming and peaceful feelings throughout your day, essential oils can be extremely helpful in managing mood. We will discuss the science and theory behind how it works. You will learn how to use a few oils that will empower you with natural healthcare solutions.

What are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are extracted from the roots, bark, seeds, leaves, and flowers of plants. They are natural compounds found within plants, and are highly concentrated making them extremely potent. Therefore one drop is all you need to achieve a therapeutic effect!

Each essential oil has its own unique chemical makeup, which determines what it is useful for. For example, some chemical elements make an essential oil like Lemon useful for cleaning, while others make an oil like Helichrysum beneficial for the skin. When it comes to aromatherapy, essential oils can be used to create specific emotional responses depending on their chemical makeup.

The Science of Emotional Aromatherapy

When an essential oil is inhaled, it travels through the nose and processed by the olfactory nervous system, the part of the brain that is responsible for controlling our sense of smell. From there, the aromatic pathway connects to the limbic system–an area of the brain which includes such structures as the amygdala, hippocampus, thalamus, hypothalamus, basal ganglia, and cingulate gyrus.

The limbic system is where memories and emotions are stored and processed. As the aroma travels through aromatic pathways, memories are triggered, initiating an emotional response.

The limbic system also controls the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for regulating involuntary bodily functions like blood pressure, breathing, heartbeat, and digestive processes. That’s why certain essential oils, like Pepper, increase adrenaline levels while other essential oils, like Rose, decrease plasma adrenaline levels.

Based on the unique chemical profile of each essential oil, we know that each oil will stimulate a specific emotional response. However, because no two people are the same and each individual has unique triggers and memories, responses to specific essential oils can be extremely personalized. For example, the scent of Lavender, which is an oil known for its calming effects, could be desirable to one person and repulsive to another.

Managing Emotions with Essential Oils

Essential oils can basically be categorized into one of two categories for aromatherapy use—uplifting and calming. Calming essential oils mostly consist of floral, tree, herb, and grass oils due to their chemical makeup. Uplifting essential oils are usually in the citrus, spice, or mint family since these plants produce oils with invigorating, uplifting, and energizing aromas.

4 Basic Oils

Here are four basic oils that you can start using right away to balance the mood at home, at work, at school, or while on the go:

  • Lavender – calming and relaxing; reduces anxious feelings, calms strong emotions, and eases tension
  • Frankincense – renewing and soothing; encourages tranquility, reduces mental distraction, focuses the mind
  • Peppermint – energizing; stimulates and awakens the nerves and the brain, enhancing concentration and study; quickly alleviates mental fatigue and provides an energy boost
  • Bergamot – uplifting, soothing, harmonizing; creates a peaceful environment when stress levels or tension is high

How to Use Essential Oils Aromatically

Aromatic use of essential oils allows you to enjoy their scent while experiencing benefits like purified air and emotional balance. Here are a few basic ways to use oils aromatically:

  • Use an essential oil diffuser. I prefer the ultrasonic ones, which emit a fine mist like humidifiers.
  • Place one drop in your hand, rub your hands together, cup over your mouth and nose, and take a deep breath. Since the oils are potent, one drop is all you need! Caution with Peppermint oil, which you don’t want to place near the eyes since it is caustic and will cause irritation.
  • Place a drop in lotion or a carrier oil and apply to the body. For example, Frankincense essential oil is great for promoting meditation and focus while also being extremely beneficial to the skin — it promotes skin healing, and is highly recommended for blemishes, scars, and fine lines. Lavender is also another great oil for the skin, and can be used to immediately soothe boo-boos, rashes, and burns. Fractionated coconut oil is a great carrier oil because it stays liquid at room temperature and is unscented, so you enjoy the aroma of the essential oil.

This is just a quick intro to aromatherapy. If you would like to learn more about using essential oils, please join our mailing list to learn about upcoming workshops or contact us today for a consultation!

Annie Caton-Wong

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