Stress is defined as a negative differential between a series of demands and our ability to cope with them. We all have our own comfort level in which we deal with stress. When stress levels become too much for the body-mind to cope with, the stress becomes “distress”, or stress excess. Chronic stress causes psycho-biological reactions which initially produce warning signs such as heart palpitations, insomnia, fatigue or mild depression.

The usual remedy is coffee, alcohol or tranquilizers. These “remedies” all have the ability to damage the system, and have no beneficial results. Synthetic tranquillizers create a sedative effect, but provide no emotional release. There may be also severe side effects from many of these drugs.

Stress is identified as a primary causative factor, or trigger in a variety of disorders, including cancer, heart disease and many other illnesses. Psycho-neuro-immunology is the study of the link between the mind, the immune system and the nervous system. Studies have shown how the immune system is negatively affected by stress. Once the immune system is weakened, we become susceptible to many infections and diseases.

Stress triggers the release of cortisol by the adrenal glands, which can lead to a depression of the immune system. The symptoms of stress are behavioral, mental and physical. These symptoms include depression, irritability, aggression, depressing thoughts, difficulty concentrating, feeling of being overloaded, headaches, indigestion, repeated minor ailments, odd aches and pains, palpitations and lethargy.

Aromatherapy is a thousand year old therapy, utilizing essential oils from plants, in the pursuit of wellbeing, spiritual, mental and physical. Essential oils can help an individual by intervening on both physical and mental levels and when combined with massage can reduce heart rate, as well as blood pressure.

Psycho-aromatherapy is a branch of aromatherapy that focuses on the psychological potential of essential oils and the psycho-therapeutic effects that these oils can have. The inhalation effects of the oils are absorbed easily and quickly through the sense of smell. Odor molecules enter the nostrils and are transmitted in the form of an electrical impulse to the olfactory bulb and then to the limbic system of the brain and also the hypothalamus.

The hypothalamus is the major control center of the autonomic nervous system. It controls the sympathetic and parasympathetic divisions which activate the “fight or flight” adrenaline production. As we inhale the essential oils, there is a direct link to the limbic system of the brain via the olfactory nerve. The limbic system is stimulated and this triggers the release of memories, feelings and emotions.

Odor stimuli in the brain also trigger the release of neuro-chemicals such as enkephalins, endorphins, seratonin and noradrenalin. Noradrenalin acts as a stimulant to help you keep awake. Endorphins reduce pain, stimulate sexual feelings, and produce a sense of well-being.

As we inhale essential oil of ylang ylang, encephalins are released and this produces a euphoric sensation and can help to reduce pain. Seratonin is released as we inhale essential oil of lavender and this helps to induce a state of relaxation and a feeling of well-being.

Studies have shown that the autonomic nervous system is effected by the inhalation of certain aromas, and our fight or flight mechanism aroused. The regulation of the autonomic nervous system brings about changes in the functioning of heartbeat, the depth of breathing, and the digestive processes. In a study on the effect of aroma inhalation on the stress responses of nursing students, it was concluded that the administration of aroma inhalation to nursing students decreased their physical symptoms of stress, lowered anxiety scores, and altered their perceived stress scores. The study concluded that aromatherapy via inhalation could be a very effective stress management method.

A study, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, found that the essential oils used in aromatherapy for stress relief may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. It has been found that with short-term exposure, the odors have a beneficial effect on heart rate and blood pressure.

Essential oils have an effect on the nervous system and can help to reduce anxiety and depression. There have been many studies showing how massage when combined with essential oils can help to reduce stress, reduce muscle tension, effect hypotension and balance the immune system.

Oils that are excellent for stress management include: neroli, rose and jasmine. Citrus oils such as bergamot, mandarin, and lemon uplift the spirits, and clary sage and geranium are excellent for balancing the hormones.
Try taking a bath with a blend of tangerine, lavender, valerian root and geranium before bed for a wonderful night’s sleep. When inhaled, a variety of oils – including lavender, melissa, peppermint, basil, roman chamomile, lemongrass and marjoram – can relieve headaches of different origins.

Many oils, including angelica, basil, cardamom, ginger, and peppermint, diffused in an aromatic diffuser will help to keep you alert. Feeling stressed ? Enjoy a massage blend of bergamot, lavender, melissa and sweet marjoram in a base of fractionated coconut oil and feel your spirits soar.

A Clinical Aromatherapy treatment with a custom blend of oils specific to the needs of the individual, lymph massage, reflexology and guided imagery is an excellent way to reduce stress.

Linda-Anne Kahn is an Internationally trained Beauty Therapist, certified Clinical Aromatherapist, Holistic Health Practitioner, and Lymphedema Therapist. She is the founder and owner of the Beauty Kliniek Aromatherapy Day Spa and Wellness Center in San Diego.