Stress will affect all of us at some stage in our lives, either physically and/or psychologically. In this article, I will start by sharing my understanding of stress, the importance of a healthy gut and some signs of stress that you should look out for in yourself. I will then share with you how aromatherapy can help to manage stress and some of my favourite essential oils for helping to reduce the stress response.
Put simply, stress often occurs when your body thinks it is under attack and gets into what is commonly referred to as “fight or flight” mode.
When this happens, we release various hormones and chemicals to prepare the body for physical action - these include adrenaline, cortisol, norepinephrine, etc. The release of these hormones together, with a rise in blood pressure and increased heart rate, basically prepares the body for the “escape”.
I often give the following analogy to consider.
If someone was running after you with a knife this would probably cause physiological and emotional stress! Your heart would start to race, blood pressure would rise, and adrenalin would be pumped into the bloodstream to enable you to get away from danger quickly.
Similarly, the body will go through pretty much the same physiological changes even if the stress does not appear to be as life-threatening. It may be something we have suppressed and not dealt with entirely, or it may be a chronic problem that lies beneath the surface of our existence most of the time. Examples of such stressors may include a failing or failed relationship, financial concerns, worrying about an outcome, etc.
Many people do not acknowledge how much stress they deal with over the course of a day, a month, or a lifetime. And unfortunately, stress leaves an ugly mark that can lead to many debilitating conditions and illnesses.
Importance of a Healthy Gut
Many people are shocked to learn that stress is one of the main reasons our digestive systems may not work efficiently and why repeated colds, flu and illness become all too readily familiar. If we do not have a healthy gut, we will have a compromised immune system as our immunity is dependant upon gut health.
Once again if we think of the analogy of someone chasing you with a knife...would you feel like having a bite to eat through this encounter? Absolutely not! This is the last thing our bodies are thinking about during a crisis.
The input of food and digestion is put on hold whilst the body goes into autopilot to get away from the stressful situation as quickly as possible.
The same thing happens to our digestion when we encounter stress and worries; if our digestion is compromised then we are unable to assimilate or absorb the nutrients we need to sustain health and wellbeing. This may ultimately lead to repeated infections, sickness and poor concentration.
Symptoms of Unhealthy Stress
Stress is a natural human response to pressure in our daily life and can be both positive and negative.
Positive stress is generally short-term and is considered necessary and healthy in certain situations - as it keeps us motivated and accountable for challenges in our daily lives. This type of stress is generally something we feel we can manage.
However, when stress levels exceed what we perceive as ‘managable’, certain situations it can be detrimental to both our physical and mental health.
As we are all unique individuals, our personal reactions to stress may differ. Below are a few potential indications that may demonstrate that you are experiencing unhealthy levels of stress.
You should look out for some these signs in yourself:
- Poor concentration and memory
- Insomnia (racing mind)
- Poor immunity
- Poor appetite or overindulging in food as comfort
- Headaches and neck tension
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Lack of motivation
- Feeling overwhelmed
As a naturopath, I have had many clients come through my clinic with genetic weaknesses or who are susceptible to certain ailments. In some cases, I have witnessed these genetic susceptibilities ignite when the stress response kicks in.
For example, if a person is prone to bowel disturbance, they may get bouts of diarrhoea, constipation or bloating. If someone suffers from tight muscles and neck tension, they may get tension headaches or cluster headaches. Likewise, if a person has breathing problems they may get asthma or similar problems when stressed...the list goes on!
Personally, I have encountered unhealthy levels of stress at various stages throughout my life. This has often resulted in me either breaking out in cold sores (physically) or having bouts of anxiety (emotionally) if I have allowed the stress to take hold.
Thankfully over the years of studying complementary therapies, I have discovered natural treatments and practices that work for me in effectively managing stress-related symptoms. These include, but are not limited to; deep breathing exercises, regular meditation practices, and of course, using essential oils.
Aromatherapy and Stress Management
Aromatherapy has increased in popularity over the last few years and we know that the use of essential oils can help reduce the stress response by decreasing cortisol levels, inducing sleep and relaxation, creating a peaceful environment and improving memory and concentration.
Essential oils penetrate the cellular membranes of the body and cross the blood-brain barrier to reach the limbic centre in the brain. This centre supports emotional behaviour, motivation and memory and by inhaling essential oils we can alter the state of our emotions quickly and effectively in a short space of time.
As a practitioner, I have used essential oils for many years and have helped thousands of people relieve stress with aromatherapy massage and foot reflexology. A few drops of essential oil into a chosen base oil will produce a massage oil that you can apply to your body to help both physically and emotionally.
Aromatherapy diffusers are another popular way of gaining the therapeutic and aromatic benefits of essential oils. They work by diffusing the oil into the atmosphere, allowing the active components within the oil to fill the room and create the ambience you are looking for in a safe and managed way.
Six Essential Oils for Relieving Stress
Essential oils can be used alone or in combination with one another to help with inducing calm and peace, and to help with reducing the stress response. Here are six of my go-to essential oils for stress management.
Lavender is well known for its calming effect on the body and mind. It is commonly used by many people to help lessen anxiety, improve sleep and generally create a calm, peaceful atmosphere.
I suggest that you use Lavender Essential Oil for anxiety by adding a couple of drops onto a tissue and inhale as needed if feeling overwhelmed. Likewise, if sleep is an issue for you, a couple of drops under the pillow at night may help quieten a racing mind and calm the soul.
2) Ylang Ylang
Ylang Ylang is one of my all-time personal favourite essential oils, as it helped me from a very young age when I was suffering from chronic panic attacks. Whenever I went out, I always took my little bottle of Ylang Ylang Essential Oil, and if I felt at all overwhelmed I would just open the bottle and breathe in. This almost always helped to settle the nerves and my racing heart.
Ylang Ylang has sedative qualities and therefore blends beautifully with Lavender to aid sleep. I suggest 2 drops of each in a diffuser to help with insomnia.
Frankincense has been used over the centuries for many reasons, including religious purposes and for its healing properties. Frankincense is a powerful oil and helps to reduce the stress response. It helps with anxiety but also helps alleviate depression.
Due to its anti-inflammatory effect, Frankincense can also help people with asthma or breathing congestion due to anxiety. Also good to aid in wound healing and immunity which as we know can be compromised if stressed.
Once again, this essential oil blends beautifully with Lavender. In fact, our Calming Blend, we have combined all of the above - Lavender, Ylang Ylang and Frankincense - with the balancing woody aroma of Cedarwood. A great pre-blended essential oil for relieving stress and helping sleep.
This is an Australian Native, commonly known as Lavender Tea Tree, that has the powerful benefits of both these popular essential oils.
Patchouli was a big hit in the 1960s and famous in the hippy era. It has a rich, and earthy grounding aroma. It is often popular for those who want to be taken out of their frenetic thoughts and head space to help relax without sending them to sleep. Patchouli Essential Oil is commonly blended with Frankincense to help in meditation and to soothe the soul.
Patchouli - along with Ylang Ylang, Sweet Orange, Lavender and Bergamot - is a key ingredient in our Stress Relief Essential Oil Blend for relieving symptoms of stress, tension, and anxiety caused by everyday challenges.
6) Rose Geranium
In my years of selling and using essential oils, this has been a definite favourite. I would say that 90% of people who smell this sweet, light aroma of Rose Geranium absolutely love it. It helps to quieten an anxious mind, help relieve depression and hormonal imbalances and uplift the spirit. This oil is lovely in a diffuser but also a favourite to wear as a perfume.
Used on its own or blended with any of the oils, Rose Geranium is an amazing essential oil to help with stress.
Although aromatherapy and essential oils are not a cure-all for chronic stress and anxiety, they can be used in conjunction with good wholesome living, positive mindful meditation, regular exercise and professional support to bring joy and harmony to your life.
"Chronic stress - Mayo Clinic." https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037. Accessed 5 Feb 2019.
"11 Signs and Symptoms of Too Much Stress - Healthline." 7 Jan. 2018, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/symptoms-of-stress. Accessed 5 Feb. 2019.
"Essential oils used in aromatherapy: A systemic review - ScienceDirect." https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2221169115001033. Accessed 10 Feb. 2019.
"Understanding the stress response - Harvard Health." 1 May. 2018, https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response. Accessed 5 Feb. 2019.