by Susan Andrews, PhD
Using Aromatherapy to Reduce Stress
Among the countless ways to reduce stress, Aromatherapy has been growing in appreciation as a viable and easy to use method. Aromatherapy has been around for approximately 6,000 years. The history of aromatherapy is believed to have begun with the burning of fragrant woods, leaves, needles, and tree gums in ancient times. Some oils were used by the ancient Chinese, Indians, Egyptians, Greeks in cosmetics and in perfumes. The Oracle of Delphi is supposed to have entered a semiconscious state from the aroma of gases coming up from a fissure in the rock under the Temple of Apollo. No one is quite sure what the aroma was composed of, but information provided today in Delphi states that leaves were burned. There is now evidence that the gases were actually toxic hydrocarbon and the Oracle often died. The practice of aromatherapy today is much less toxic and as we learn more about different essential oils that are now extracted from the roots, leaves, and blossoms of certain plants and trees, we find that aromatherapy can be used as a complementary or alternative therapy for stress, anxiety and pain. Aromatherapy is often used in connection with massage therapy, yoga and meditation. The exciting thing is that research is now revealing that smelling certain aromas sends signals to your brain that can affect your moods, emotions, and even physical health. Some scents or oils rubbed into the skin can boost your immune system and ease anxiety. There are receptors in the olfactory bulb that connect with the limbic system and the amygdala. Topical application of certain oils has an antibacterial and even antiinflammatory effect of the body. The research that I have reviewed seems to miss an important connection to certain memories. Many a smell is associated with old memories, some wonderfully relaxing and even comforting. Some may even have the ability to alarm or stress a person due to a connection to a past negative incident.
Where are those neural connections are stored?
Cynthia Deng in Yale Scientific (November 2011) explains, “When you smell lemon oil, some molecules dissolve in the mucus lining of the olfactory epithelium on the roof of the nasal cavity. There, the molecules stimulate olfactory receptors. Olfactory sensory neurons carry the signals from the receptors to the olfactory bulb, which filters and begins processing the input signals of the lemon scent. Mitral cells then carry the output signals from the olfactory bulb to the olfactory cortex, which allows you to perceive and recognize the tangy scent of lemon. Interestingly, the mitral cells do not only lead to the olfactory cortex, they also carry the signals from the lemon scent to other areas in the brain’s limbic system. Some mitral cells connect directly to the amygdala, the brain structure involved in emotional learning and memory.”
“The researchers found that Sandalore, a synthetic sandalwood oil used in aromatherapy, perfumes, and skin care products all bound to the receptor, triggering cells to divide and migrate, processes characteristic of skin healing.” Sandalwood is also known to positively affect depression and anxiety. Lavender has positive benefits for many things, helps to induce sleep, headaches, skin burns and relieves stress. It is a main ingredient for mosquito repellents. Topical use is considered safe, but it is not recommended to be ingested.
It is important to learn how to use essential oils in aromatherapy. Books are published on this and there are ways to train in the safe use of oils. The National Association of Holistic Therapy is a good resource for finding aromatherapists that are properly trained or to find out how you can learn more about aromatherapy and include it in your practice or use it for yourself to reduce stress or any number of other benefits.