This blog post is the third installment of a four-part series examining how aromatherapy supports the health and well-being of body, mind, emotions, and spirit. In May, we explored aroma’s direct connection to the limbic system and how that effects emotion. In June, we explored how aromatherapy supports physical health. This month, we go back to the brain and explore aromatherapy and the mind.
First, I’ll discuss some of the research regarding aromatherapy’s ability to reduce symptoms of anxiety. Then, I’ll examine how aromatherapy can improve focus and productivity. A couple of the naturally occurring chemical components I chose are familiar from last month. There are a handful of components and essential oils that intrigue the scientific community the most, resulting in more extensive research. I find the results incredible, since these same components that support the immune system and reduce pain can also support the health of the mind! This is one of the reasons I find essential oils so amazing—none of them can be put into a box of being helpful for only one concern, they each have a wide range of therapeutic effects to support us holistically and naturally.
Calming the Mind
As I mentioned in May, one way to instill calm is to inhale an aroma you find enjoyable that may also be connected to a pleasant memory. However, there are also chemical components to consider in order to reduce anxiety such as citral and linalol. Studies show that citral reduces anxiety and tension triggered by stressful situations 1, 5 which may be due to its interaction with GABA receptors in a similar activity of some common anti-anxiety medications.4 Scientific studies illustrate that linalol decreases anxiety-like behavior, improves social interactions, decreases aggressive behavior, decreases heart rate, and lowers blood cortisol levels.2, 6-8, 13 The ability of linalol to reduce cortisol levels and heart rate are very beneficial to decreasing feelings of stress and anxiety. Cortisol is called a “stress hormone” because it is released in response to perceived threats. Normally, levels return to normal once the threat is over but when we feel anxious, it can remain elevated, perpetuating the stress response and feelings of anxiety.9
Lisa approached me because she was chronically stressed from work where her boss depended on her to complete more than her regular duties. She was often given tasks that were due within the hour, causing her hands to cramp from her frantic typing. I created a butter blend for her to massage into her sore hands that included the essential oils of Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and Neroli-Petitgrain (Citrus aurantium var. amara), both high in linalol, and Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus), high in citral. After using it for about a month, she reported that she reaches for the butter whenever there’s a stressful moment at work. She massages her hands and then inhales the aroma. She told me that it takes her mind out of the immediate stress response and helps her approach the next task from a more grounded and happier place.
Wake Up and Focus
After hours of working or studying, it can be hard to stay engaged with the present task. Often minds start to think about other items on the to do list or we hit an afternoon slump. It’s important to stretch your legs and get some fresh air, but how do you get things done when your break time is over? According to scientific research, using essential oils high in 1,8-cineole might be your answer. After 20 minutes of inhaling 1,8-cineole, functional images of the human brain showed an increase of cerebral blood flow, where higher thought takes place.11 In another study, participants inhaled Rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis) essential oil prior to completing cognitive tests. Results showed that cognitive performance in both speed and accuracy improved related to the concentration of 1,8-cineole measured in participants’ blood serum.10 Another study of a high 1,8-cineole rosemary essential oil showed that after inhalation, participants felt less bored and had fresh mental energy. Brain imaging showed participants had increased beta wave activity in the frontal region of the brain, supporting alertness and higher thinking processes.12
Mark had a series of deadlines approaching at the office and a daughter fighting the flu at home. He was having trouble focusing on tasks and worried he would fall behind at work. He also wanted to support his immune system so he wouldn’t be further impeded by the brain fog that comes with a cold. I created an inhaler for him that included Ravintsara (Cinnamomum camphora) and Rosemary Tuscan Blue (Rosemarinus officinalis), both high in 1,8-cineole. As I mentioned in my June blog post, 1,8-cineole also supports respiratory and immune health, so this inhaler supported his focus at work while keeping his immune system strong. After the first week, Mark told me that he felt highly focused and motivated after using the inhaler and he easily met his first work deadline. Since 1,8-cineole isn’t recommended for children under the age of 10, I made a child-safe steam blend to help his daughter recover from the flu.
Having a healthy and happy mind is important to overall well-being. It helps us wake up and look forward to the day, achieve professional goals, and cultivate relationships with ourselves and those around us. If you are interested in a blog post that addresses another mental concern or you are interested in how I can support you, please let me know!
- Blanco, M. M et al. “Neurobehavioral effect of essential oil of Cymbopogon citratus in mice.” Phytomedicine, vol 16, 265-270. March 2009. Science Direct, doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2007.04.007
- Buchbauer, G. et al. “Aromatherapy: Evidence for sedative effects of the essential oil of lavender after inhalation.” Zeitschrift fur Naturforschung, vol. 46, no. 11-12, 1067-72. Nov-Dec 1991. PubMed, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1817516.
- Conrad, P and Adams, C. “The effects of aromatherapy for anxiety and depression in the high risk postpartum woman—a pilot study.” Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, vol. 18, no. 3, 164-8. Aug 2012. PubMed, doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2012.05.002.
- Costa, C A et al. “The GABAergic system contributes to the anxiolytic-life effects of essential oil from Cymbopogon citratus (lemongrass).” Journal of Ethnopharmacology, vol. 137, no. 1, 838-36. Sep. 2011. PubMed, doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2011.07.003.
- Goes, T C et al. “Effect of Lemongrass Aroma on Experimental Anxiety in Humans.” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, vol. 21, no. 12, 766-73. Dec 2015. PubMed, doi: 10.1089/acm.2015.0099.
- Gross, M et al. “Chronic food administration of Salvia sclerea oil reduces animals’ anxious and dominant behavior.” Journal of Medicinal Food, vol. 16, no. 3, 216-222. March 2013. PubMed, doi: 10.1089/jmf.2012.0137.
- Kuroda, K et al. “Sedative effects of the jasmine tea odor and (R)-(-)-linalool, one of its major odor components, on autonomic nerve activity and mood states.” European Journal of Applied Physiology, vol. 95, no. 2-3, 107-14. Oct 2009. PubMed, doi: 10.1007/s00421-005-1402-8.
- Linck, V. M. et al. “Effects of inhaled linalool in anxiety, social interaction and aggressive behavior in mice.” Phytomedicine, vol. 17, no. 8-9, 679-83. July 2010. PubMed, doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2009.10.002.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Chronic stress puts your health at risk.” 21 April 2016. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037. Accessed 3 July 2018.
- Moss, Mark and Lorraine Oliver. “Plasma 1,8-cineole correlates with cognitive performance following exposure to rosemary essential oil aroma.” Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology, vol. 2, no. 3, 103-113. 2012. PubMed, doi: 10.1177/2045125312436573.
- Našel, C et al. “Functional imaging of effects of fragrances on the human brain after prolonged inhalation.” Chemical Senses, vol. 19, no 4, 359-364. Jan 1994. Oxford Academics, doi: 10.1093/chemse/19.4.359.
- Sayorwan, Winai et al. “Effects of Inhaled Rosemary Oil on Subjective Feelings and Activities of the Nervous System.” Scientia Pharmaceutica, vol. 81, 531-542. Dec 2012. PubMed, doi: 10.3797/scipharm.1209-05.
- Umezu, T et al. “Anticonflict effects of lavender oil and identification of its active constituents.” Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and Behavior, vol. 85, no. 4, 713-21. Dec 2006. PubMed, doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2006.10.026.
- Umezu, T et al. “Anticonflict effects of rose oil and identification of its active constituents.” Life Sciences, vol. 71, no. 1, 91-102. Nov 2002. PubMed, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12409148.