Uses for Essential Oils: Stress Relief & Optimum Health
The uses for essential oils are seemingly never ending. From food packaging and preparation to medicine and mental wellness, there is a huge and growing body of research on how essential oils benefit human health.
For all of their other amazing properties, much of the research – and most of the marketing – related to essential oils has been about their potential ability to help people reduce stress and anxiety, mostly through aromatherapy, massage, or a combination of both.
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Essential oils – concentrated oils extracted from plants – are a pretty big conversation topic right now in just about every field that touches on human health and wellness. I admit I'm a bit of a skeptic (or at least I was) when it comes to essential oils. I like to base my health decisions based on real scientific research. So, my goal here is to bring to light information about the uses for essential oils that is evidence-based.
I teach others how to take a multi-pronged approach to mental and physical wellness. There's no great panacea that will cure anyone.
- Hypnotherapy is not enough.
- Essential oils are not enough.
- No one thing is ever enough.
It's always many different activities, new habits, techniques, products working together that help people improve their lives and achieve their goals.
I teach others how to use a variety of science-based wellness techniques for optimum physical and mental health. Aromatherapy happens to be one of the approaches I recommend:)
Uses for Essential Oils:
What are essential oils anyway?
Essential oils are highly concentrated extracts from plant matter. Essential oils have been around for use as perfumes for thousands of years because concentrated plant juices mean concentrated plant smell. That's also why it's used for aromatherapy today.
Concentrated plant juices also mean concentrated plant chemicals and nutrients. For these reasons essential oils are also increasingly being explored for their use in health and wellness.
Most essential oils are alcohols. When we hear "alcohol" many of us will jump to the kind that people drink, but the term actually refers to a molecular structure that has a wide variety of properties. That's why not all essential oils are consumable internally.
Other chemical terms used to describe essential oils are "esters" and "aromatics." Ester, like alcohol, just refers to a molecular structure.
The term aromatic - think "aroma" - has to do with molecular structure, as well. For our purposes, this just means that the chemical is easy to smell. The term "aroma" tends to have positive connotations, which shouldn't necessarily be carried over to the term "aromatic." Most essential oils have smells that many people enjoy. That doesn't mean everyone enjoys the smell of essential oils.
Essential oil molecules are often referred to as “volatile aromatic compounds.” These molecules are considered volatile because of how quickly they change from a liquid to a gas. Because they’re so volatile, the chemical compounds in essential oils can move quickly through the air until they come into contact with special sensors in the nose.
Most essential oils are extracted from the plant through distillation or expression, according to the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA).
Distillation involves using water and heat in a closed container to allow liquid to evaporate out of the plant. This vapor is then collected and condensed back into a liquid. While essential oils may seem like the hot new thing, they have been extracted this way for thousands of years.
Expression involves perforating the skin of a fruit, usually a citrus fruit, and extracting the juices before letting them separate into oils and water.
Not only fruits or fruit-bearing plants have essential oils, however. This creates a huge variety in essential oils. On a given plant, a fruit's skin, seeds, and leaves may all be put through different extraction methods to extract different essential oils. In the case of flowering plants, the petals, the bud, and the roots may all have their own essential oils and methods of extracting.
This is one of the many reasons that you should be careful of how you use essential oils. The essential oil may have completely different properties than you might think of when you hear the name of a familiar plant depending on how the oils were collected and from which part of the plant.
Each essential oil has its own
unique chemical makeup. The benefits of each essential oil are largely determined by
the kind of plant it comes from and the chemical properties
it contains. An oil might be cleansing, refreshing, or boosting
to the immune system—among any number of other
benefits—depending on its chemical profile and origin plant.
So why go through all of this trouble? That
depends on the essential oil. Some of the oldest known essential oils were used
as perfume – a fate not different from those of plants pressed for aromatherapy
today. Essential oils also contain a high concentration of beneficial
chemicals, especially antioxidants.
While antioxidants are most known for
preventing cancer or maintaining a youthful glow, they have other wide-ranging
applications including keeping away bacteria, viruses, and mold – which is why
essential oils are often used to flavor and preserve some foods.
Uses for Essential Oils:
Healing properties of essential oils
Essential oils have all of the healing properties that we associate with the plants that they come from – and some that we don’t. Depending on what plant the oil is drafted from, what part of what plant, and what method of extraction, essential oils can be antiviral, antimicrobial, rich in antioxidants, and/or soothing and relaxing properties for the mind and body.
While there are lots of resources our the for
all of the healing properties of essential oils, I'm most interested in the ability of some essential oils to reduce stress and anxiety.
Essential oils are primarily used
to reduce stress and anxiety through aromatherapy, massage, or a combination of
Until recently, it was thought that the uses for essential oils only helped people to relax
because the smells are enjoyable. As we've learned more about the way that our
sense of smell is related to our emotions, however, some researchers have
started to consider aromatherapy in a somewhat more sophisticated sense.
In 2013, researchers in China suggested that aromatherapy
helps to combat stress by activating serotonin pathways in the brain. Serotonin
carries out many important functions in the body, including changing the
diameter of blood vessels and regulating digestion. According to WebMD, many
scientists also believe that low serotonin levels can contribute to depression.
It is also worth mentioning that some
researchers think that positive results from experimenting with the uses for essential oils essential oils in massages
may be from the massage rather than from the essential oils, but essential oils
proponents aren't convinced. Furthermore, a 2009 study published in the Journal
of PeriAnesthesia Nursing found that treatment of participants with
lavender and ginger essential oils significantly decrease stress levels. Participants said that they regarded the treatment as favorable. The take away
is that whether you think essential oils, massage, or just good smells and the
placebo effect are making people feel better, essential oils tend to make
people feel better.
Uses for Essential Oils:
How to use essential oils
The most common uses for essential oils include aromatherapy, massage, and baths.
The most common way for essential oils to be used in aromatherapy is with a diffuser. Diffusers are widely available commercially and involve putting drops of an essential oil into a water reservoir. The water is then turned into a mist which is ejected into the air.
Diffusers are a good way to get into essential oils because they allow you to easily control the concentration of the essential oils.
The method of direct inhalation
can be achieved through a variety of ways, the most obvious being to simply
inhale nasally the vapors from the bottle directly. You can also soak a cotton ball and
place it near your bed, or in your purse. This can be particularly helpful to
pregnant women or any other person experiencing nausea when they inhale a
cotton ball soaked with peppermint oil or other anti-emetic essential oil.
Another method is steam inhalation, which
involves placing a few drops of oil in a bowl of steaming water, placing a
towel over your head and breathing in the vapors that way.
To relax your mind and body at bedtime, you
can place a few drops onto your blanket, and linens.
Diffusing through the air with natural
evaporation is a one of the simplest uses for essential oil by which you simply
place 10 – 15 drops of the chosen
oil in a bowl of hot water that has been salted with either Epsom salts or sea
salt, which help with the diffusion process throughout the night.
Other ways of achieving this method are by the
commercially made and produced terra cotta bowls that are designed specifically
for diffusing essential oils, or by soaking a cotton ball in the oil of your
choice and placing it by your bed overnight (this is probably better for the
very pungent or overpowering oils but is not quite as effective as the other
natural diffusion methods listed above).
Essential oils are also infused
into candles which gradually release the oils into the air as the candle burns.
Essential oil candles don't allow
you to control the concentration of the oils like misters do, and while they
don't require you to have essential oils on hand, they do obviously involve and
open flame which can be its own problem around children and pets. Some
companies do make essential oil wax melts, however, which may be better for
houses with small bodies.
Another one of the feel-good uses for essential oils is massage. Essential oils are often used for
massage by mixing them with carrier oils, such as fractionated coconut oil, jojoba, olive or almond oils
that are safe for topical use. The dilution of essential oils is very
important because undiluted essential oils can irritate the skin. Essential
oils can also be used topically by putting a few drops in a tub of bath water.
Some of the uses for essential oils are marketed for ingestion. The two main ways to take essential oils orally are diluted in a
glass of water or in a capsule, usually blended with other oils. Not all
essential oils are safe to be ingested, and dilution is even more important
when ingesting essential oils.
Some studies have also shown that some
chemicals found in essential oils can collect disproportionately in some
organs, especially organs of filtration like the kidneys, so talk to your
doctor before looking into ingesting essential oils in this way, especially if
you have had medical problems with your kidneys or liver.
Essential oil capsules aren't
widely available. It doesn't help that the Food and Drug Administration recently
issued letters of warning to several makers of essential oils for ingestion because
of possible toxicity cases. Still, essential oil ingestion can be done safely
with the right research and the right product. Most people who take essential
oils as capsules make their own capsules out of essential oils and empty gel
capsules that can be bought fairly easily. An upside of this process is that if
you take any other oils for your health, filling your own capsules can be a
good way to take in more of your daily oils at once.
Uses for Essential Oils:
Buyer beware...don't learn the hard way, like I did!
Please learn from my mistakes... When I first started reading about the benefits and uses for essential oils, especially for sleep, I decided to go out and get myself some lavender oil to sprinkle on my pillow.
So, I went to the pharmacy and found a bottle of lavender oil on sale for $5.
I was psyched!
I sprinkled a few drops on my pillow that night ready for a blissful night of rest. The smell was pleasant, but I found that it was still taking me a long time to fall asleep. That was my first experience with "essential oils." As you can imagine, I quickly gave up on using my lavender. Actually, I ended up putting that oil in my toilet to freshen up my bathroom.
Fast forward years later, I overheard a woman talking to friend about how essential oils were really helping her with pain. She went on to say that not all oils were created equal, though. You had to make sure that what you were getting was pure and not some cheap drug store kind!
Oh, boy! I realized I was that person who bought the cheap drug store oil that really had no therapeutic benefit.
Being the curious researcher that I am, I decided to go back to the drawing board and figure out where I could find what I call "Real Essential Oils." So, I found lavender that was pure and unadulterated and repeated my sleep experiment. That night, I was knocked out!
Scented candles, perfumes, lotions and potions are wonderful, and I definitely purchase these and enjoy them. However, if you're looking to gain the therapeutic benefits of essential oils, these items will not do the trick! You have to go for pure, unadulterated essential oils. Unfortunately, even a lot of the oils out there touted as pure essential oils are synthetically produced and/or adulterated.
Remember that essential oils do not substitute for professional medical advice and treatment, whether it's for you or your pet. If you are pregnant, taking medicine or under a doctor's care, please consult your physician.
The uses for essential oils are considered a Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM).
As I see it, the uses for essential oils is vast, but there is no magic bullet for anything! Healing emotionally and/or physically usually takes a multi-pronged approach. That's why I have found benefits in combining multiple modalities when it comes to helping others and myself. That's what I write about next...
Uses for Essential Oils:
How I use essential oils - I call it Hypno-Aromatherapy
As a mental health therapist, I've been practicing cognitive behavioral therapy in combination with hypnotherapy to help my clients work through emotional issues and achieve their goals. I have found the combination of these techniques to be very powerful for accelerated progress that actually feels good while you're doing it.
I've always known about the powerful association between smell and memory. For instance, if I asked you to recall the smell of a warm chocolate chip cookie, you'd have no trouble remembering the smell.
No one has to wrack their brain trying to remember how things smell. Do some aromas remind you of home? A rainy summer day? You get the idea.
So, as I started my own journey into the uses for essential oils, I decided to try an experiment. I invited my clients to try smelling a couple of drops of various essential oils in their hands before the session started. When the session ended, I gave the clients a sample of the essential oil that was used in the beginning so that they could smell it again on their own time.
1. People felt a self-reported increase in emotional well-being during the session.
2. Using the essential oil on their own time reminded them of the positive emotions from the session and gave them something tangible to help them turn on their relaxation response.
Keep in mind, this is my own little science experiment! I have only done this with a group of under 100 people. It would have to be duplicated by others. However, adding essential oils to hypnotherapy/talk therapy definitely helped all the particular people I was working with.
I have found essential oils to act as an "anchor" or reminder of the positive goals being worked on. The essential oils I used (known to evoke feel-good emotions and relaxation) seemed by their very nature to produce calming effects. My clients definitely looked forward to using their essential oils and so created very positive expectations and healthy new habits.
Personally, one of my favorite uses for essential oils is during meditation and self-hypnosis. I love using lavender every evening when I'm in the "zone." I have found that my practice has deepened since introducing essential oils in this way.
Would you like to try this Hypno-Aromatherapy technique yourself?
- Find a comfortable place to relax for about 30 minutes.
- Put a couple of drops of a relaxing essential oil (maybe lavender or frankincense) in the palm of you hand and breathe in a few deep breaths.
- Listen to one of my Mellow Moments audios with earbuds or headphones. Enjoy:)
Uses for Essential Oils:
Please reach out to me if you need help with essential oils, hypnotherapy, or anything else related to your self-care. I am happy to help in any way I can:)
Uses for Essential Oils and More Healthy Stuff for Your Body and Mind