Stress is something that affects us on a daily basis. The body responds to stress in various ways — for example, by releasing cortisol, elevating blood pressure, and increasing heart rate. Long term elevated cortisol levels can wreak havoc on the body, resulting in sleep disturbance, weight gain, anxiety, high blood pressure, compromised immunity, inexplicable aches and pains, hormonal imbalance, menstrual irregularity, infertility, and changes in libido to name a few. That’s why it’s important to incorporate appropriate stress management tools into our lives. The foundation for a healthy lifestyle includes eating right, exercising, and resting appropriately. Aromatherapy is a simple stress management tool that everyone can easily add to their daily routine. Plus, it’s fun and enjoyable!
So what is aromatherapy? It’s the science or art of using aromatic plant medicine — in the form of essential oils from flowers, herbs, or trees — for therapeutic purposes. Don’t be fooled by its pleasing scent: essential oils don’t just smell nice, they have medicinal effects. Due to the intimate connection between the olfactory nervous system and the limbic system (that part of our brain which regulates the autonomic nervous system, memory, and emotions), aromatherapy can have a rapid and profound effect on our mood and our physiology.
In this article we’ll review 3 essential oils that have been shown to reduce stress.
You may recognize the scent of bergamot in Earl Grey tea. Bergamot essential oil is cold-pressed from the rind of a citrus fruit thought to be the hybrid of a bitter lemon with an Italian mandarin. A perennial favorite, bergamot is a powerful mood stabilizer. It has the ability to calm agitation, promote clarity, elevate the mood, and boost self esteem. Furthermore, bergamot blends well with many other essential oils, making it a staple for aromatherapy aficionados.
A study of elementary school teachers concluded that aromatherapy with bergamot essential oil may alleviate the symptoms of physical and psychological work stress as measured by the response of the autonomic nervous system, such as blood pressure and heart rate variability. In particular, natural bergamot essential oil was found to be more effective that synthetic bergamot essential oil.
Petitgrain essential oil is distilled from the leaves and twigs of the bitter orange tree (while Neroli essential oil is distilled from its flowers). Widely used in the perfume industry, petitgrain is relaxing and stabilising to the emotions.
A 2017 study found that inhaling petitgrain essential oil via the use of essential oil diffusers can improve workplace performance by increasing attentiveness and alertness, as well as reduce stress. From a physiological point of view, aromatherapy balances the autonomic nervous system via the chemical components of petitgrain oil, which are linalyl acetate, linalool, and myrcene. It has an overall balancing effect on the mind and emotions.
One of the most popular essential oils, Lavender is distilled from the purple flower of the same name. Lavender is a staple in every home and has wide applications from skin to stress to sleep. Its relaxing effects make it a popular oil for use in a variety of home, bath, and beauty products. Lavender is often used to calm agitation and soothe anxiety. Like bergamot, it blends well with other oils.
A study of pregnant women found that aromatherapy massage with lavender essential oil reduces stress and enhances immune function. The stress response was measured by salivary cortisol levels, and the immune response was measured by salivary immunoglobulin A levels.
We often use essential oils in our treatments. If you are interested, mention it to your practitioner next time you visit Naturna!
Chen PJ, Chou CC, Yang L et al. Effects of Aromatherapy Massage on Pregnant Women’s Stress and Immune Function: A Longitudinal, Prospective, Randomized Controlled Trial. J Altern Complement Med. 2017 Aug 7. doi: 10.1089/acm.2016.0426.
Huang L, Capdevila L. Aromatherapy Improves Work Performance Through Balancing the Autonomic Nervous System. J Altern Complement Med. 2017 Mar;23(3):214-221. doi: 10.1089/acm.2016.0061. Epub 2016 Oct 20. PubMed PMID: 27763785.
Shing-Hong Liu, Tzu-Hsin Lin, and Kang-Ming Chang, “The Physical Effects of Aromatherapy in Alleviating Work-Related Stress on Elementary School Teachers in Taiwan,” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2013, Article ID 853809, 7 pages, 2013. doi:10.1155/2013/853809