It's not just superstition that essential oils can help reduce your stress level. Scientific studies have shown that oils such as lavender can create a relaxed state in your body that can combat anxiety and help you achieve that glowing state of wellness to which we all aspire.
We'd all love to look like we just meandered back from a week at a spa - beatific, mellow, and free from cares. It shows in your face when you feel like this. To arrive at this state even in the midst of everyday stress takes a little help, namely aromatherapy.
Lavender has been used traditionally for relaxation for centuries. Lavandula Angustifolia is the species of plant that you will most commonly see associated with aromatherapy. The essential oil of L. Angustifolia has been found to contain at least 30 different chemical constituents. (1) This is just a sample of why essential oils are a much more sophisticated and complex aroma material than synthetic fragrances, which are only composed of 1 or just a few chemicals.
Two of the most prominent chemical consituents of L. Angustifolia are linalyl acetate and linalool. These are both responsible for the sedative effects of the oil. Following topical application of the essential oil these consituents can be detected in the blood within 5 minutes, peak at 19 minutes, and are passed through the body within 90 minutes. Traces can even be detected in the breath following massage. (2) This means that the activity of this essential oil is very mobile through the body, and can be taken in through inhalation as well as touch. This mobility of essential oils through skin was the inspiration for our own Stress Relief Serum, which contains a host of calming and anti-inflammatory oils.
The multitude of other aroma chemicals found in L. Angustifolia and other species of Lavender have antispasmodic, anesthetic, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antifungal effects. Mice who have inhaled L. Angustifolia showed a marked decrease in caffeine induced hyperactivity.(3) In humans the effects of lavender are often tempered by the individuals psychological memories, cultural upbringing, and thoughts about the scent of lavender, but there have still been marked benefits. Some studies have shown that demented patients with sleep and behavior disturbances can be helped by aromatherapy treatment with Lavender. See this article for more on that. Lavender has also been shown to maintain work performance levels in those with afternoon fatigue. View the study abstract. Math computation skills have also been improved in study groups exposed to Lavender.(4)
I have personally experienced the benefits of Lavender as a calming aid when caring for my child. When Tru was about 10 months old she got one of her first fevers. The day afterward her little body must have been feeling really rotton - the fever had broken, but she was as cranky and ornery as we have ever seen her. The screaming went on for hours and she was inconsolable. There was no respite until I put a pot of water on the stove and dripped a generous amount of some of my best lavender in. I was needing it as much as she was by that point. We stood near the stove as the vapors began to rise. Within 10 minutes Tru's screaming had ceased. It didn't resume for the rest of the night. All I can say is that I loved essential oils before this incident, but this sealed the deal on my love affair with natural scent.
By applying essential oils to your regular work and home environment you can reap a number of benefits. Here are some great ways to use Lavender.
1. Diffuse the oils. This can be as simple as a pot of water on the stove (stainless preferrably) or an electric diffuser that would work constantly in your home. For the stovetop version just drip 10 to 20 drops in a small amount of water and heat gently. Make sure not to have the pot run dry.
2. Use a mist. I don't mean your average Walmart air freshener either - despite the "aromatherapy" marketing claims they make these are completely lacking in real essential oils. Look for something from your local natural food market. Don't accept anything that says "Fragrance" or "Parfum" in the ingredients section, these mean synthetics. Look for a label that specifies essential oils.
3. Make a compress. Apply 5 drops of Lavender essential oil onto a damp cool or warm cloth and apply to your neck or forehead.
4. If you don't have any sensitivities to Lavender this is one of the few oils that can also be applied "neat" or full strength to small areas. Keep clear of your eyes. Or you can dilute in a base oil such as jojoba or even olive oil that you may have hanging around your house. 5 to 10% dilution would be appropriate for pulse point and limited application. For all-over application 2% is an acceptable level.
Should you wish to purchase straight essential oils a lovely retail line is Oshadhi . I have smelled their Lavender, and know many natural health professionals that hold their products in high regard. Make sure you choose a variety of Lavender that is not the "commercial grade" or 40/42 variety. A high altitude, or "fine" variety will be best, as these exhibit the highest concentrations of relaxing components.
Reducing your stress level will benefit your level of wellness, and aromatherapy is one of the best ways to do this. Not only will applications of Lavender help you create a beneficial mental state, but the antibacterial properties can help deter the growth and spread of unwanted pathogens in your home. At the very least your home will smell amazing, so what do you have to lose except your stress?
(please note that information provided here is not intended to diagnose or treat any illness and we encourage you to seek advice from your physician or other healthcare professional)
1. Chu, C. and Kemper, K. Lavender. Longwood Herbal Task Force 2001; 52. Chu, C. and Kemper, K. Lavender. Longwood Herbal Task Force 2001; 63. Chu, C. and Kemper, K. Lavender. Longwood Herbal Task Force 2001;10
4. Chu, C. and Kemper, K. Lavender. Longwood Herbal Task Force 2001; 14