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Aromatherapy for Stress: Research and Techniques

How Can Aromatherapy Help Relieve Stress?

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Updated May 14, 2011

Aromatherapy for Stress: Research and Techniques

Aromatherapy works for stress relief in many ways.

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Aromatherapy has gained quite a bit of attention in recent years. Aromatherapy products, once somewhat exotic, have now sprung up on the shelves of even grocery store aisles. Aromatherapy candles, bath products, essential oils and other products are now widely available and have been touted as effective in soothing babies, relieving stress and promoting healthy living. But does aromatherapy live up to the claims?

Aromatherapy Research

Relatively little research is available on aromatherapy. While more studies are being done, it's not as ‘proven’ as some other stress relievers. However, while further studies are needed, many studies have already shown aromatherapy’s benefits. Of the research that has been done to date, here are some of the findings:
  • Preliminary research shows that aromatherapy can alter brain waves and behavior.
  • Aromatherapy can reduce the perception of stress, increase contentment, and decrease levels of cortisol, the “stress hormone.”
  • Lavendaer aromatherapy has indeed been shown to reduce crying in infants and promote sleep in infants and adults.
  • Different aromatherapy scents bring different effects in people. (See this article for aromatherapy benefits of various scents.)
  • One study showed that aromatherapy massage can have some beneficial effects on anxiety and depression.
  • Massage with aromatherapy provides stronger and more continuous relief from fatigue -- especially mental fatigue -- than massage alone.

Aromatherapy As a Stress Relief Tool

While aromatherapy isn’t the magic ‘cure-all’ that it’s sometimes made out to be, it does appear to have proven effects as a stress reliever. Aromatherapy is a nice tool for stress relief because it has few (if any) known side effects, can be used passively (you can fill the room with scent while you attend to other activities, relieving stress in the process), and can be easily combined with other stress relievers (like massage or meditation, for example), for increased stress relief. Aromatherapy products are also widely available, making aromatherapy a convenient option.

How To Use Aromatherapy for Stress Relief

Aromatherapy can be convenient, especially for busy people who need something quick. Here are some ideas for aromatherapy use:
  • Candles
    Get some aromatherapy candles and let them burn. (The candles, like incense, can also be used to create a more soothing atmosphere, or as a focal point for meditation. However, they may be more practical because they don’t give of as much smoke.) Be sure that you get quality candles that give off a scent that’s potent enough to be smelled around the room.

  • Diffusers
    Aromatherapy diffusers take essential oils and spread them through the air. This can be with the help of a candle or with batteries if you want to avoid the fire. This is another convenient method of creating a soothing atmosphere.

  • Body Products
    I like aromatherapy body products because they create a scent that follows you, but can’t necessarily be smelled by others (unless they’re very close, in which case they probably won’t mind). You can rub aromatherapy lotion all over your skin, or dab a few drops of skin-safe essential oils on pulse points and enjoy the scent for hours.

  • Aromatherapy Massage
    Aromatherapy combined with massage carried greater benefits than either strategy by itself. If you’re lucky enough to have someone who will trade aromatherapy massages with you, this can be a wonderful and cheap strategy for stress relief. If not, paying for a massage from a professional can be worth the money!

  • Aromatherapy Meditation
    Aromatherapy can enhance the relaxation benefits of meditation, providing a focal point (as with incense meditation), and offering the passive stress relief benefits of aromatherapy. Even a five-minute meditation can bring benefits. (Try the Aromatherapy Incense Mediation or the Aromatherapy Bath Mediation.)

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Sources:

Field T, Field T, Cullen C, Largie S, Diego M, Schanberg S, Kuhn C. Lavender bath oil reduces stress and crying and enhances sleep in very young infants. Early Human Development. June 2008.

Goel N, Kim H, Lao RP. An olfactory stimulus modifies nighttime sleep in young men and women. Chronobiology International, 2005.

Lis-Balchin M. Essential oils and 'aromatherapy': their modern role in healing. Journal of the Royal Society of Health, April, 1998.

Moss M, Hewitt S, Moss L, Wesnes K. Modulation of cognitive performance and mood by aromas of peppermint and ylang-ylang. International Journal of Neuroscience, January 2008.

Pemberton E, Turpin PG. The effect of essential oils on work-related stress in intensive care unit nurses. Holistic Nursing Practice, March-April 2008.

Perry N, Perry E. Aromatherapy in the management of psychiatric disorders: clinical and neuropharmacological perspectives. CNS Drugs, 2006.

Takeda H, Tsujita J, Kaya M, Takemura M, Oku Y. Differences between the physiologic and psychologic effects of aromatherapy body treatment. Journal of Alternative Complementary Medicine, July 2008.

Wilkinson SM, Love SB, Westcombe AM, Gambles MA, Burgess CC, Cargill A, Young T, Maher EJ, Ramirez AJ. Effectiveness of aromatherapy massage in the management of anxiety and depression in patients with cancer: a multicenter randomized controlled trial. Journal of Clinical Oncology, February 2007.

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