(the author of this post is not intending to give medical advice and the information contained herein should not be considered as such. consult a professional before using any herbal remedies, vitamins or supplements, or essential oils)
Stress and anxiety are complex issues, so this will probably be a multi-part posting. I don’t want to cause information overload!! Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I like to give complete and accurate information, so this post will be more like a thesis if I try to fit everything into one session. I also use the word “probably,” because I don’t write my information ahead of time – this is sort of like “stream of consciousness” writing for me. I do, however, complete my research ahead of time. I’m not just handing out my opinions or unverified information!!
Before we discuss stress, we have to look at resilience. Resilience is each person’s capacity to deal with stress. You can almost think about resilience as your “stress bucket.” Everyone has a bucket, they’re just all different sizes. Your ability to deal with stress is dependent on the capacity of your bucket… whose size is determined by such things as genetics, childhood, previous trauma, etc. When your bucket overflows, stress is negatively affecting your physical and mental well-being. Stress management is designed to give you a bigger bucket. What stress management strategies am I talking about?
- time in nature (this is a research-based approach called eco-psychology)
- engaging in activities that bring you pleasure (sports, socializing, reading, etc.)
- herbal and botanical nerve modulators, or nerve tonics
What am I NOT talking about?
- chemical anxiolytics (a.k.a. “nerve pills” such as alprazolam / Xanax / benzodiazepines). I could probably do an entire post about these medications and why they are not the best treatment for chronic anxiety. It irks me to see diffuser blend or roller bottle recipes entitled Liquid Xanax or some bullcrap. That’s stupid.
- modern medical psychopharmacology (antidepressants, etc.)
- cognitive behavioral therapy, which is a great option but I don’t feel knowledgeable enough about it to discuss it in detail. Maybe later…
Since I’ve had specific questions about aromatherapy for stress & anxiety, I think I’ll jump right into that part of the discussion. I’ll just move the other topics to the next posts. Except, I have to tell you about MAGNESIUM first. Studies have shown that at least 68% of Americans are deficient in magnesium. Many herbal practitioners (and I’m not talking stoners here… I mean real herbalists haha!) estimate that number at close to 100% due to our soil and environment being depleted of this important mineral. Magnesium is an essential component in over 300 chemical processes in the human body. Symptoms of deficiency include irritability, irregular heartbeat, nervous fatigue, twitching & muscle spasms, constipation, insomnia, memory problems, and nausea. It is also important for blood pressure regulation and can prevent & treat migraines. As with many supplements, not all are created equally. Some have greater bioavailability (a.k.a. absorption) than others. The truly weird thing about this is that the most commonly known magnesium supplement is a prescription called MagOx®, or magnesium oxide, which has the LOWEST absorption of all! Go figure. Thomas Easley, a licensed herbal practitioner here in NC, recommends 600-800 mg per day (divided into 2 or 3 doses) of magnesium bisglycinate or magnesium glycinate. These 2 forms of magnesium are available anywhere vitamins and herbal supplements are sold, including Amazon.com. It’s just an overall, not-gonna-hurt-you supplement to take. (fyi if it causes diarrhea, you’re taking too much, or at least too much at a time so take fewer mg more often).
So, finally, we move on to aromatic tools for anxiety. I’m sure everyone has heard of LAVENDER. It really does work! It’s a calming remedy for anxiety, depression, nervousness, and insomnia. There are a lot of essential oil blends that contain lavender (it mixes well with all oils), but it’s great all by itself. What do you do with lavender?
- put a few drops of lavender essential oil into your bath
- make a lavender linen spray for your pillow & use it before bedtime
- diffuse lavender essential oil in your bedroom – turn it on about 15 minutes before going to bed
- getting a massage with lavender-infused oil is divine for relaxation (however, in my experience, men don’t want to give you a massage then let you sleep so that’s a potential problem)
- get some cold pressed avocado or jojoba oil (or purchase unscented lotion if you don’t like the feeling of oil on your skin but if you haven’t tried it you should), mix in some lavender essential oil (just a little – no more than 2-3%) and rub it on before going to sleep. Lavender oil has been shown in research to reduce anxiety and improve sleep even when the trial subjects couldn’t smell it so the scent does not have to be strong. More is not always better. If you have questions about how to calculate the percentage, contact me.
Internal use of standardized encapsulated lavender essential oil (Silexan®) has also been found to have an effect on generalized anxiety disorder, PTSD, neurasthenia anxiety-related restlessness & disturbed sleep, and other anxiety-related disorders comparable to benzodiazepines and SSRIs without many of the side effects associated with these drugs. There were some events of GI distress though not at rates higher than comparable drugs. Though I can’t recommend that anyone to turn up a bottle of lavender oil, it might be worth researching this supplement for those who have significant anxiety issues. I believe you can purchase it on Amazon if you search for Integrative Therapeutics Lavela.
You can’t talk about stress management without inviting CHAMOMILE to the party! Roman chamomile, not German chamomile (it has its own uses!). Chamomile is nearly as versatile as lavender – it has analgesic (pain relief), anti-inflammatory, nervine (calms/soothes the nerves), anxiolytic, and skin healing properties. And that’s just a little bit of its greatness! You can mix chamomile and lavender essential oils & use them as discussed above. Plus, you can drink chamomile tea, which is fantastic for stress relief. A 2013 research study published in the Evidence-Based Complementary Alternative Medicine journal shows that patients undergoing coronary angioplasty exhibited reduced symptoms of anxiety and stress (vital signs and sleep patterns were used to measure stress level) by inhaling a combination of lavender, Roman chamomile, and neroli essential oils. Another study conducted by a hospice provider shows relief of patients’ nausea by inhalation of a combination of essential oils (fennel, anise, Roman chamomile, and peppermint).
Well, it’s almost midnight and I have to work tomorrow so I’ll definitely have to continue this discussion later. There’s so much more to tell you! If you don’t have a diffuser, I highly recommend you get one (look at these!!). Most of them (the less expensive ones) only require distilled water and essential oil. MAKE SURE YOU’RE USING HIGH QUALITY ESSENTIAL OILS!! When the label says “pure” or “therapeutic grade,” that doesn’t mean s**t. Read the section of this post about choosing quality oils. Soon, I’m going to add my own brand of essential oils to my site for purchase and I guarantee they will be REAL. THERAPEUTIC. AROMATHERAPY. and not overpriced.
Easley, T. & Shutes, J. (2017). Herbs and essential oils for anxiety. Retrieved from http://www.aromaticstudies.com
Johnson, S.A. (2015). Evidence-based essential oil therapy: the ultimate guide to the therapeutic and clinical application of essential oils. Lexington, KY: Scott A. Johnson.