Aromatherapy/Essential Oils for Stress
Stress is the state of mind, often accompanied by physical symptoms, that occurs in response to a change the body experiences. It is a normal element of human life and can be caused by any number of events, such as an argument with a friend, overwhelming responsibility at work, or the death of a loved one. Over long periods of time, stress can result in serious health problems. Aromatherapy and essential oils can be used as alternatives to allopathic medicine to treat stress while avoiding the side effects that commonly occur with prescription drugs.
Which Essential Oils Are Used To Treat Stress?
Practitioners recommend a number of essential oils for the treatment of stress. Each oil is thought to have some property useful in the treatment of stress.
Some of the most common oils used for this purpose include:
- Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia or Lavandula officinalis), one of the most widely used of all essential oils, useful in treating stress because of its tendency to soothe and calm the nerves; relieve tension; and lessen depression, panic, nervous exhaustion, and other conditions resulting from and accompanying stress
- Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus), used for its tendency to soothe and calm the body
- Peppermint (Mentha piperita), used to relieve a variety of conditions associated with stress, such as apathy, mental depression, overstimulation of the nervous system, and fatigue
- Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), widely recommended because of its sedative properties that help a person relax, escape from the pressures that cause stress, and produce a calming of the nervous system
- Cedarwood (Juniperus virginiana), used because of its antispasmodic (reduction in smooth muscle contractions), sedative (tending to relax the body), and tonic (providing energy to the body) properties
Many times, essential oils are used by themselves to treat stress. In other cases, mixtures of oils appear to be more effective in treating the condition. One combination that has been recommended consists of a mixture of four parts geranium oil (Pelargonium odorantissimum), two parts bergamot oil (Citrus aurantium var. bergamia), two parts ylang-ylang oil (Cananga odorata var. genuina), one part frankincense oil (Boswellia carteri), and one part cedarwood oil (Juniperus virginiana). These ingredients are mixed with a body massage oil and used as a skin massage.
Using Aromatherapy to Treat Stress
Essential oils can be rubbed on the skin, added to bath water, or inhaled. Each of these approaches is effective in the treatment of stress. To apply an essential oil to the skin, first dilute the essential oil using a carrier oil such as sunflower oil or vegetable oil. (A carrier oil is an oil that mixes with the essential oil to dilute it and make it safer to rub on the skin.) The proper ratio for mixing these is about 10 drops of essential oil to 25 milliliters of carrier oil, which can then be applied directly to the skin. The ratio of essential oil to carrier oil should be reduced depending on the age of the patient for safety. A few drops of an essential oil can also be added to a warm bath, and the oil's aroma can be inhaled while the warm water soothes the body. A simpler option is to put a few drops of an essential oil on a clean cloth and inhale the fumes released by the oil.
What Is Aromatherapy?
Thousands of years before modern medicine developed, healers used herbs and other natural materials in a variety of ways to treat diseases and injuries. One method involved the heating of plant materials to produce fumes that were thought to be effective in treating disorders. Historical records suggest that the use of plant materials for treating disease and injury was common in early Chinese and Egyptian civilizations and even among the more advanced early physicians of classical Greece (around 300 B.C.E.). For example, Hippocrates, often considered the father of modern medicine, is known to have used aromatherapy baths and massages with essential oils in the treatment of patients.
What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are used in aromatherapy because they contain the natural fragrances and healing properties of plant extracts. Essential oils are organic compounds obtained from the flowers, leaves, stems, and other plant parts. These oils are responsible for the distinctive odor of each plant.
What Is Stress?
When the body is confronted with any kind of change, simple or complex, it makes adjustments to deal with that change. These adjustments may include an increase in blood pressure and heart rate, changes in the way food is digested, diminished mental function, and changes in hormone levels in the blood. In most cases, these responses to stress are short-lived and disappear as the body adjusts to the stressful situation. Sometimes, though, symptoms of stress persevere and become an ongoing problem. Characteristics of long-term stress include chronic headaches, weight loss, anxiety disorders, insomnia, mood swings, cardiovascular disorders (such as heart attacks and stroke), and diseases of the digestive system such as irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn's disease.
Antidepressant medications commonly prescribed for symptoms of stress can have harmful or unpleasant side effects. Aromatherapy is an alternative to allopathic medicine that many people choose to treat stress while avoiding the side effects of prescription drugs.
Davis, Patricia. Aromatherapy A-Z: The Most Comprehensive Guide to Aromatherapy Ever Published, revised edition. London: Vermilion, 2005.
Essential Oils Desk Reference, 4th ed. Orem, Utah: Essential Science Publishing, 2007.
Wenzel, Anne Ramstetter, and Jeralynn Burke, "Managing Stress With Aromatherapy."