On day 47 of my 366-day self-care challenge, I explored how to relax with aromatherapy.
A little over a year ago, I received a thoughtful gift from a friend (thanks Kimberly!) and it opened up a whole new world for me. Since then, lavender essential oil and shower tablets have become mainstays in my home.
I had always been a little skeptical that smell-goodies could really produce a physical response. Sure, flowers smell good and most people like them, but not necessarily because they have physical health benefits. But there is some evidence that aromatherapy has physiological merit.
Aromatherapy is a complementary and alternative therapy that has been defined as “the art and science of utilizing naturally extracted aromatic essences from plants to balance, harmonize and promote the health of body, mind and spirit.”
While aromatherapy research is scant, most of the studies have examined its use in healthcare settings, specifically as a means of reducing stress and anxiety during medical procedures. One such study showed that women who were exposed to orange essential oil during labor experienced less anxiety than those who weren’t. And another study suggested that lavender essential oil may have a small to moderate benefit on sleep. Most of the studies were very small, which makes it difficult to apply their results in a broad sense, but some caregivers see aromatherapy as an inexpensive treatment for patients who feel that it’s effective.
For the most part, there are very few risks associated with essential oils (when used according to product instructions), but like any botanical, they can produce allergic reactions in some people.
Regardless of the scientific evidence supporting their physical health benefits, I enjoy essential oils for their aromatic qualities alone. Aromatherapy is just one way to enhance relaxation; each of us must determine for ourselves which techniques and modalities work best.