Highly Regarded Aromatherapy Oils For Stress Relief

Posted on Tuesday 28 December 2010

Scientific research backing the medicinal use of essential oils is being released almost daily. You’ll find these reports through sites such as “pubmed”, which compile all the latest biomedical research published in peer-reviewed journals. The total amount of data is largest in examination of antiseptic, antibacterial, and other physiological actions of oils, yet the body of research examining their “aroma-therapeutic” type effects is now of reasonable size. Some scientists have concluded that the psycho-emotional actions of aromatic oils are potent enough and consistent enough to warrant recommendation as “complementary therapies” as natural anxiolytics (anxiety-reducers) and/or anti-depressants.

The “big three” essential oils in terns of research performed on the psychological/emotional effects are lavender, bergamot and sandalwood. Each of these oils has been the subject of several controlled studies. The effects of each is distinct; at the same time, they’ve all shown statistically significant results in controlled studies relating to anxiety reduction. The point is that if one oil doesn’t work for you — you don’t like the aroma, or the actions weren’t precisely what you were looking for — don’t give up, as there are others worth trying.

Lavender essential oil was first recognized medicinally as a wound healer. It’s potent anti-inflammatory and regenerative action quickly healed the burn resulting from a laboratory accident, and prompted the first aroma-medicine book to be written. This same soothing action occurs for our minds and emotions — the sweet smell of lavender has been shown to reduce anxiety and improve sleep in a great many research studies.

Lavender has succeeded producing these effects when either inhaled or ingested. It’s interesting that studies involving its topical application have been inconclusive, but they’ve also had very small numbers of participants and very subjective evaluation criteria. Consider that researchers in Vienna, Austria recently published research that a slow-release pill of eighty milligrams (about two drops) of lavender essential oil, ingested daily for 10 weeks, had anti-stress results comparable to a well-known benzodiazepine drug “control”. And that controlled studies involving inhalation repeatedly have shown overall sedative effects. Anecdotally, many users have found it significantly improves their ability to get a good night’s sleep, when used either topically (a fer drops massaged into the feet is common) or aromatically. It’s more than likely lavender — if it is going to work for you — will work for you topically if that is your preferred route of administration.

Sandalwood has similar, but not precisely the same, actions as lavender. Sandalwood is an excellent stress reducer without being sedative. Lavender actually slows response time, where sandalwood does not. One study’s participants inhaling sandalwood reported feeling greater clarity and relaxation — being more grounded and centered. Yet another study showed inhaled sandalwood to improve the sleep/wake cycle, resulting in deeper, more effective rest. Also interesting, in this study ti was determined the action of sandalwood was due to its presence in the bloodstream, not from the awareness of the aroma itself — an indication that topical application should have the same effects.

Bergamot is the most popular “anti-depressant” anti-depressant essential oil, also an anxiety reducer, being employed as an aromatic rather than being ingested or topically applied. One study of adolescents wearing aromatherapy amulets showed a statistically significant reduction of stress and depression relative to controls. Bergamot is also known to reduce one’s perceived level of pain. Its inhalation is known to alter the plasticity of neurons involved in our stress response. This means the sensory input isn’t reinforced when inhaling this lovely bitter-sweet citrus aroma (imagine hearing a jackhammer just for a moment, or continually — it’s hearing it continually that leads to stress, and bergamot actually alters the brain such that this “stress reinforcement” occurs less). Finally, it is not a sedative or sleep enhancer, but rather a stimulant, though it may secondarily support better rest through a healthier psycho-emotional state.

If you’re seeking an oil for stress relief, it’s important to experiment a bit to find the oil that will best work for you. You can see lavender, sandalwood and bergamot all approach stress from a different place: lavender as a mild sedative, sandalwood being calming but not sedating, and bergamot being a mood-brightener. A quick inhalation of each oil will direct you — choose the oil (or oils) of which you like the aroma (as you just won’t use them if you don’t like them).

Use of the oils for stress reduction is very, very flexible. The first choice for using bergamot is in an aromatherapy diffuser of any type. Lavender as well, and topical application — a couple drops massaged onto the feet, for example — comes more into play. The ingestion of a couple of drops of lavender per day is safe, and may be effective for many people. Sandalwood is a lovely oil to wear as a natural perfume: a couple of drops massaged into the wrists will slowly release the aroma, and some of the oil will be absorbed by the body as well. The idea being that you should find the oil AND the method that works for you by experimenting with all the possibilities — the science says that one of these is highly likely to make life a little easier for you.

The Ananda Apothecary is a fully-stocked source of therapeutic grade essential oils, including organic rose and wildcrafted Indian sandalwood.

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