How to Reduce Stress through Mindful Aromatherapy

 
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A 2014 study by the American Psychological Association revealed that more than 77% of Americans regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress and 73% of them regularly experience psychological symptoms caused by stress.

These statistics aren’t surprising. Most of us can relate to feeling the daily stress of balancing work, home and family. In fact, that same study highlighted that the top 3 causes of stress are job pressures, money and health expenses. The stress translates to fatigue, headaches, lack of sleep, irritability and often anxiety.

Stress is in Our Head.

Stress is largely a feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure. It can affect how you feel, think, behave and how your body works. Stress is not an illness itself, but it can cause serious physical and mental illness if it isn't addressed.

Minding Our Thoughts

The human mind is an amazing thing. It gives us our ability to be aware of our experiences, and then allows us to express and share these experiences. It allows us to have language, culture and art. And, importantly, it gives us the potential to simply connect with the world within us and around us.

Our mind is constantly active. How often do we have thoughts racing through our head during the day? These thoughts are a direct experience of what we call the mind. It is constantly assessing our lives, criticizing, judging, understanding, seeking pleasure, feeling insecure, comparing ourselves to others, dwelling on the past and worrying about the future.

But let’s be honest, our thoughts can be exhausting.

Whatever the mind is telling us, it often takes us away from the experience of our lives in the present moment. Think about it. How often are we lost in our thoughts, not noticing anything around us. The mind has the ability to separate us from the direct experience of life.

The Benefit of Mindfulness: Paying Attention on Purpose

Mindfulness is the ability to be aware of our experience in the present moment in our lives. It’s about paying attention to and noticing the life within us and around us - here and now. And it will allow happiness into your life because you are engaging with your experience more fully.

Being mindful of our thoughts and emotions allows us to become more aware of them - without judgment and with acceptance. Thoughts and emotions come and go. Take some time to notice them. Acknowledge them. Then let them go.

The beauty of mindfulness is that it lets you be present. It puts you in a state of being instead of doing. Just being is relaxing, but constantly doing is pressure and creates stress.Importantly, mindfulness reduces activity in the amygdala, which is the central switch on your stress response. The amygdala is also responsible for the response of emotions, especially fear.

How Aromatherapy Fits In

The practice of aromatherapy, like mindfulness, has a connection to the mind. It uses naturally extracted aromatic essences from plants (mostly essential oils) to balance, harmonize and promote (among others) the mind. And it’s the use of our sense of smell and the aromas we inhale that gives rise to effects in our mind.

When we inhale essential oils, we’re sending sensory signals from the outside world to our brain. And, unlike the other senses, our sense of smell connects with two parts of our brain simultaneously: the limbic system responsible for our instinctive behaviors and our automatic emotional responses, and the cerebral cortex responsible for higher functions like language, memory and perception.

Using Aromatherapy for Mindful Awareness

Mindfulness, on its own, is a useful practice. However, combined with aromatherapy, it offers an added dimension for practicing presence and reducing stress.

Here are 3 exercises to help you use aromatherapy in a mindfulness practice. Just 5 minutes can provide some benefits.

1.) On the Go

This exercise is great if you’re out and about, maybe waiting to pick up your kids, or you have a few minutes to spare before an appointment, sit outside mindfully for just 5 minutes and use the smells of your surroundings as your aroma tool.

What to do:

  1. Find a comfortable outdoor spot to sit, ideally aware from people.

  2. Close your eyes and relax your shoulders

  3. Now focus in on the smells around you

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What do you smell? Can you identify it?

  • Is it pleasant or unpleasant?

  • Does the smell recall any memories?

  • What emotions are you feeling?

  • How is your body responding to the smells?

2.) Food & Drink

This exercise is great anytime you can carve out a few minutes to be by yourself, whether at home or in the office. Take 5 minutes out of your day and use things you have in your kitchen or in the office as your aroma tool.

What to do:

  1. Make a cup of tea or coffee; or slice a lemon or orange

  2. Find a quiet and comfortable spot to sit without distractions

  3. Close your eyes and breathe normally

  4. Now focus on the aroma of the drink or food

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Mentally describe the aroma. Can you name it?

  • What color and sound is the aroma? Make an association.

  • Does the aroma recall any memories?

  • What emotions do you feel?

  • How is your body responding to the aroma?

3.) Essential Oils

This exercise is great when you’re at home and you can take a few minutes away from family and home responsibilities. Find a time when you have a few minutes at home to sit in a quiet, comfortable location where there are no distractions.

What to do:

  1. Find a comfortable spot to sit in a quiet room

  2. Diffuse a calming essential oil that readily diffuses such as lavender or frankincense (you can also apply a few drops of essential oil to a scent strip, cotton ball or tissue and place near you).

  3. Close your eyes and relax your shoulders; breath normally

  4. Now focus on the scent that is diffusing.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Mentally describe the character of the scent.

  • What color and sound is the scent? Make an association.

  • Does the scent recall any memories?

  • What emotions do you feel?

  • How is your body responding to the scent?

Smells from nature, food and essential oils can be such a wonderful additional to a mindfulness session. I hope these three exercises will be useful for you. Let me know how it goes.

 
Frauke Galia