Aromatherapy Healing ~ Aromatherapy Techniques

In various subtle ways, you probably already use aromatherapy. When you make a tea made from a fragrant herb {such as peppermint or chamomile} or toss such herbs into your bath, you are extracting the herb’s essential oils into the water. Likewise, when you make recipes from this website that use fragrant herbs, you are using aromatherapy.

Because essential oils are so concentrated, the safest way to use them is to dilute them in a vegetable oil base and then rub them into the skin as you would a liniment. Essential oils are absorbed into the bloodstream because their tiny molecules pass through the skin. Compounds from lavender essential oil have been detected in the bloodstream only 20 minutes after a lavender massage oil was rubbed on the skin. {You can test this at home by rubbing a piece of cut garlic on the bottom of your foot. Its essential oils will travel through the sole of your foot and within 30 minutes you will taste garlic!}

Essential oils are especially effective when you apply them to the skin over an internal region where they are needed. For instance, a massage oil designed to ease a stomachache can be rubbed over the abdomen. I will provide a chart at the end of this series that details the best proportions to use in creating aromatherapy products.

The most effective way to use aromatherapy is to make the fragrance so subtle that it is barely perceivable. Blend several scents together, as a perfumer does. Use your nose as your guide, and do not be afraid to experiment. I know nurses and other health care professionals who dab scented oil on the backs of their hands before seeing patients.

The most refined way to fill a room with fragrance is by using an electric aromatic diffuser, a glass apparatus that pumps a consistent, light mist of unheated fragrance into the air. {If you decide to purchase one, be sure to get a model with a quiet pump.} A simpler alternative is to dab a few drops of essential oil on a light bulb or, for a more lasting effect, on one of the special ceramic or metal rings designed to be placed on a light bulb {these rings are available at stores that sell essential oils}. When you turn on the light, the heat causes the scent to fill the room.

A simmering potpourri cooker, heated with either electricity or a candle will also scent a room for hours. You do not even need the potpourri; you can simply put a little water in the cooker and add a drop or two of essential oil. Or you can heat a pan of water containing a few drops of essential oil on the stove, then turn off the heat and allow the scented steam to fill the air.

Of course, the oldest way to scent a room is with incense {if you do not mind the smoke it produces}. Potpourri, sleep pillows, and scented bed linens, clothes, and stationery offer ways to share aromatherapy with others through fragrant gifts. Aromatherapy can even improve some of your mundane household tasks. Try placing a cotton ball scented with a drop of essential oil in your vacuum cleaner bag.

A fragrant plant often contains less than 1 percent essential oil, but that small amount can be highly aromatic. The oil is extracted from the plant by methods such as distillation or pressing. Once extracted from the plant, these pure essential oils are highly concentrated and must be used with care. Do not use them straight; always dilute essential oils with a carrier oil, alcohol or water before putting them on your skin.

Relaxation Techniques: When Can They Be Used?

Everyone experiences stress in one form or another, but the way that it affects each person differs. Some people may need to reduce their stress, and relaxation techniques are one option for doing this.

In stressful episodes, the nervous system is forced into a “fight or flight” response. This response triggers the release of certain chemicals within the body, including adrenaline, norepinephrine, and acetylcholine.

During this release of chemicals, the body is immediately affected by many physical symptoms. These symptoms include an elevated heart rate, increased respiratory rate, blood vessel narrowing, and muscle tightening. The long-term presence of stress can weaken the body.

Using relaxation techniques to reduce the physical response to stress may aid in producing the “relaxation response.” During this period of deep relaxation, the body can experience the following:

  • A fall in heart and breathing rates
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Muscle relaxation
  • Improved energy and focus
  • Pain relief and healing

When are relaxation techniques used?

As everyone experiences stress differently and with varied symptoms, finding the relaxation method that works for the individual is important.

People should be sure to find what works for them so that they can stick to a relaxation program with ease. It is important to be able to add relaxation to a daily routine to keep stress levels under control.

Relaxation techniques can be used in a variety of stressful conditions such as:

A woman is meditating in a park.
Relaxation techniques can easily be made part of a daily routine.
  • Anxiety linked to illnesses or medical procedures
  • Insomnia
  • Labor pain
  • Nausea caused by chemotherapy
  • Jaw problems
  • Pain

There are certain conditions for which relaxation techniques may prove helpful. These conditions include:

  • Childbirth: Guided imagery, self-hypnosis, progressive muscle relaxation, and breathing techniques may help with reducing the pain experienced during labor.
  • Depression: Relaxation techniques have not been proven to be as helpful as behavioral cognitive therapy in treating depression. However, studies report that people with depression who use relaxation techniques experience more symptom relief compared with people receiving no treatment.
  • Heart disease: The use of relaxation techniques has proven to have short-term benefits in people with high blood pressure.
  • Insomnia: People with long-term insomnia may benefit from practicing relaxation techniques, coupled with proper sleep hygiene and other sleep-related strategies.
  • Nausea: For those undergoing cancer chemotherapy and using antinausea medications, some relaxation techniques like guided imagery and progressive muscle relaxation may offer symptom relief.

Anxiety and relaxation techniques

A reduction in anxiety related to health problems or medical procedures can be attributed to the use of relaxation techniques. However, researchers have yet to prove that people with generalized anxiety disorder benefit from the use of relaxation techniques.

Older adults with anxiety do benefit from relaxation techniques. Again, though, research shows that in this group, the long-term effects of anxiety reduction are best in those who receive cognitive behavioral therapy.

We spoke with Board Certified Art Therapist and Mental Health Counselor, Deb Smith, about the use of relaxation techniques in treating general anxiety disorder.

“For those suffering with general anxiety disorder, the use of relaxation techniques coupled with cognitive behavioral therapy may prove beneficial. At times, patients may require the use of anti-anxiety medications, which can be prescribed by psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, and general practice physicians.”

Deb Smith

Examples of relaxation techniques

There are a variety of relaxation techniques that can be used for certain medical problems or health issues. Examples include the following:

Two people are running in a gym.
Physical activities such as working out or sports can provide relaxation.
  • Autogenic training: This method of relaxation focuses on concentrating on physical body sensations, including warmth, heaviness, and relaxation throughout the whole body.
  • Biofeedback-assisted relaxation: Relaxation is taught by using electronic devices to provide body function measurements.
  • Deep breathing or breathing exercises: This method of relaxation focuses on deep, slow, even breaths that can be used alone or in combination with other techniques.
  • Guided imagery: Also referred to as visualization. Guided imagery focuses on replacing negative feelings with positive, pleasant images, touches, smells, tastes, and sounds.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation: This method of relaxation requires the ordered tensing and release of muscle groups. It may be used in combination with other methods of relaxation.
  • Self-hypnosis: During self-hypnosis, relaxation is enabled through a state of focused attention.
  • Rhythmic movement: Mindful physical activity, such as running, swimming, or dancing leads to a relaxation response by the person both engaging in their activity and being fully present at the moment.
  • Body scan meditation: This relaxation technique requires paying close attention to and focusing on the sensations felt in various parts of the body.
  • Mindful meditation: During mindful meditation, people are encouraged to be in the present, which can be achieved through daily activities such as meditating, eating, or walking.
  • Yoga and Tai Chi: While yoga uses a series of movements and poses, Tai Chi uses rhythmic, flowing body movements. Both are used as relaxation methods.
  • Massage therapy: Massage therapy, either through self-massage or with a massage therapist, can relieve stress, pain, and muscle tension.

Benefits of using relaxation techniques

Relaxation techniques offer many benefits, such as:

  • Lower heart rate, blood pressure, or breathing rate
  • Reduced stress hormones
  • Raised blood flow in major muscles
  • Relief of muscle tension and pain
  • Improved mood, concentration, and confidence
  • Reduced tiredness, anger, and frustration

Considerations for using relaxation techniques

For most healthy people, there are no risks involved with using relaxation techniques.

Increased anxiety, intrusive thoughts, or fear of losing control have been reported. Additional concerns include the possible worsening of symptoms linked with certain medical conditions such as epilepsy and certain psychiatric conditions.

People should speak with their healthcare provider before starting any program for relaxation, especially those with heart disease.

Helpful tips

Below are some helpful tips to aid in practicing relaxation techniques:

  • Schedule daily practice
  • Practice mindfulness with exercise
  • Avoid practicing relaxation techniques when tired
  • Don’t be discouraged during the process

Aromatherapy/Essential Oils for Anxiety

Anxiety refers to the mental and physical signs experienced in response to perceived danger. When events, people, or even our own thoughts threaten us, our bodies experience physiological and mental arousal that helps us cope with the threat. Some of the physical and mental symptoms of anxiety—such as nausea, rapid breathing, and heart rate, trembling, fear, dread, and worry—can be soothed using aromatherapy or essential oils.

Which Essential Oils Help Anxiety?

A number of essential oils are used individually or in blends to relieve anxiety. Several essential oils appear to have an effect on the neurotransmitters in the brain that play a role in anxiety. Sampling includes:

  • Bergamot: This essential oil is best at relieving stress and depression that can accompany anxiety.
  • Clary Sage: It alleviates the stress and exhaustion that often accompany anxiety.
  • Lavender: Commonly found in massage products, it has a calming effect on the mind as well as muscle tension that can accompany anxiety.
  • Patchouli: This oil also relieves stress and fatigue.
  • Roman chamomile: It is often used in an herbal tea, but is also commonly found in massage products due to its calming effect. Like lavender, it is helpful when anxiety is accompanied by insomnia. It also helps relieve nausea.

Other essential oils used to soothe anxiety include cedarwood, frankincense, geranium, mandarin, neroli, rose, sandalwood, and vetiver.

Using Aromatherapy/Essential Oils to Relieve Anxiety

Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils from plants for psychological and physical healing. Essential oils are concentrated extracts taken from the roots, leaves, or blossoms of plants. These oils, also called essences, can be used as inhalants, applied topically to the skin, and, in some cases, ingested to relieve symptoms of a variety of health conditions including anxiety.

Essential oils can be used in a number of ways. They can be added to massage oils or creams, or to carrier oil. A carrier oil is a cold-pressed vegetable oil derived from the fatty portion of a plant, usually from the seeds, kernels or nuts. Examples of carrier oils are olive oil, sweet almond oil, grapeseed oil, and apricot kernel oil. After an essential oil is mixed with a carrier oil, it can be applied directly to the skin or added to a bath. The hot water of a bath complements the relaxing effects of the essential oil, providing additional benefit to someone suffering from anxiety.

You can also inhale essential oils by the process of diffusion. To diffuse essential oils, you disperse them so that their aroma fills the area with natural fragrance. Many methods exist for diffusing oils into a room, such as sprinkling a few drops of essential oil on a tissue or adding drops of oil to a bowl of boiled water. Commercial products for diffusion include lamp rings, clay pots, candles, and electric diffusers.

How Do Aromatherapy and Essential Oils Work?

Essential oils are the pure essences of plants. They contain the plant’s own mix of active ingredients, which determines the healing properties of the oil. The naturally occurring chemicals found in essential oils work in synergy with one another. A synergistic essential oil blend, or one in which the healing properties of one oil complement the properties of another oil, is considered to be greater in total action than each oil used independently. Because essential oils are volatile substances, meaning they evaporate quickly, their molecules are easily inhaled. The oils provide triggers to our brain. These triggers affect our emotions and also provide physical benefits.

Is Aromatherapy Safe?

Essential oils are highly concentrated and can be harmful if not used carefully. By following the guidelines listed below, you should be able to safely use aromatherapy to treat anxiety.

  • Essential oils should never be used undiluted on the skin due to potential allergic reactions (there may be exceptions made by experienced aromatherapy users and practitioners). To test the oil, dilute only 1 drop of the essential oil with the carrier oil and apply the mixture on your skin, and cover with a bandage. Wait at least 24 hours to see whether irritation occurs.
  • Some essential oils, particularly those from the Citrus family, may cause skin sensitivity to sunlight. These oils include lemon, lime, bitter orange, grapefruit, and neroli, mandarin and bergamot listed above. Therefore, wait at least 5 hours after using them and before exposing your skin to ultraviolet sun rays, otherwise, your skin might redden and burn.
  • Some essential oils should be avoided during pregnancy or by those with asthma, epilepsy, or other health conditions. People with asthma and other respiratory conditions should avoid inhaling essential oils. Those with high blood pressure should avoid various essential oils, including sage, rosemary, eucalyptus, thyme, and rose, which is listed above to address anxiety.
  • When using essential oils, use the smallest amount of essential oil needed to soothe your senses and reduce anxiety. Only a few drops are needed for the oil to bring about a balance to body tissues and emotions.
  • Not all essential oils are suitable for aromatherapy. Wormwood, pennyroyal, onion, camphor, horseradish, wintergreen, rue, bitter almond and sassafras are some of the essential oils that should only be used by qualified aromatherapy practitioners due to their toxic effect if used excessively.
  • Keep essential oils away from children, and never let children use essential oils without adult supervision. Treat the oils with the same caution that you would use with medicine.
  • Essential oils should only be taken internally after receiving a detailed consultation and prescription from a trained aromatherapy practitioner.
  • Essential oils are flammable. They should never be stored near fire or an open flame, or burned in a diffuser without water. They maintain their therapeutic effect if kept out of direct sunlight in cool, dark places or in a refrigerator.

The U.S. government does not regulate the use of the word “aromatherapy” on product packaging, labeling or product advertising so any product can be marketed as a product suitable for aromatherapy. There are many products on the market that contain unnatural ingredients, including fragrance oils, which claim to be aromatherapeutic. It is important to look at the ingredient label when seeking true aromatherapy products.

Aromatherapy: The Sweet Smell of Pain Relief

Lavender essential oil has antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory chemicals; it can soothe the soul and alleviate pain.
Ever thought of using your nose to help ease your pain?
Volatiles in essential oils can easily enter your body via your olfactory system and adjust brain electrical activity to alter your perception of pain.
Clinical aromatherapists commonly use lavender, peppermint, chamomile, and damask rose for pain relief and relaxation.
A report from Nursing Clinics of North America says that massage with lavender relieves pain and enhances the effect of orthodox pain medication. Lavender and chamomile oils are gentle enough to be used with children and, in blends, have relieved children’s pain from HIV, encephalopathy-induced muscle spasm, and nerve pain. Both oils contain anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic chemicals, and exert sedative, calming action.
Rose essential oil contains pain-reducing eugenol, cinnamaldehyde, and geraniol; but the report’s author suggests it may also alter the perception of pain because it embodies the soothing aromas of the garden.