Are you noticing that your house could use some good ol’ fashioned spring cleaning? Or perhaps the garden needs a make-over? Are you getting ready to participate in sports again, perhaps run a marathon? Or are you craving travel, now that winter’s storms are but a vague memory? Warmer temperatures and sunnier days shed light on neglected projects and disrupt the comfortable, slower pace that colder days bring. So, whatever your goals may be, if you’re feeling overwhelmed instead of inspired, or you don’t know where to start, instead of reaching for a third (or fourth) cup of coffee, try experimenting with aromatherapy instead. Read on to discover how specific scents can leave you feeling energized, motivated, and able to conquer your goals more easily.
History of Essential Oils
First of all, what exactly are essential oils? They are the highly volatile oils from a single fragrant plant species that have been isolated by a physical process – usually through hydro-distillation, maceration, mechanical pressing, or less commonly, solvent extraction. Like fixed oils, such as olive or coconut oil, they don’t mix well with water, but unlike fixed oils, they evaporate quickly at room temperature. Depending on the essential oil, different parts of the plant are used. For example, jasmine essential oil comes from the flower, myrrh comes from the resin or sap of the tree, peppermint comes from the leaves and sandalwood from the bark or wood.
The first recordings of essential oils were in ancient Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic texts between 3000 and 2000 BC – where at least 700 plants, including cinnamon, ginger, myrrh, and sandalwood were documented as being effective for healing. Egyptians were also using essential oils as early as 4500 BC in cosmetics or salves. Aniseed, cedar, and again, myrrh, were popular in their perfume or medicine. Knowledge of essential oils and methods of distilling them survived amidst the decline of the Egyptian Empire, being absorbed by the Greeks and then the Romans. After the Dark Ages, essential oils remerged during the Renaissance, and it was a 16th-century alchemist and physician Paracelsus who famously coined the term “essential oil,” believing these highly concentrated substances to be the quintessence of the plant.
The Brain and Scent
To best understand why aromatherapy is considered such a powerful medicinal tool, it is important to understand how scents interact with the brain. When an odor crosses your path, it stimulates your olfactory bulb – a stamp-sized area of nerves in the roof of your nasal cavity – and nerve impulses are immediately transmitted to the limbic system, a complex group of organs in the brain that, besides processing olfactory data, also govern everything from heart rate, blood pressure, and circadian rhythms, to sensations of thirst, hunger, aggression, fear, sexual arousal and also memory. That’s why you rarely react to odors neutrally – one person’s favorite cologne can make another person’s eyes water or provoke a gag response. Odors are also strongly linked to memories. The tangy smell of BBQ may make you remember your last 4th of July, just as the spicy aroma of pumpkin pie may connect you with memories of Thanksgiving.
Besides processing odors and storing memories, the limbic system plays a crucial role in the stimulation of emotions and subsequent reactions or behaviors, so inhaling essential oils can create changes in both body and mind. For example, a clinical trial in 2017 saw significant decreases in blood pressure and heart rate in open-heart surgery patients when two drops of lavender essential oil were added to their oxygen masks and patients breathed in the aroma for 10 minutes. Another study found that after diffusing rosemary and lemon essential oils in the morning, and lavender and orange in the evening for 28 consecutive days, 28 elderly patients who had dementia (17 of which also had Alzheimer’s) showed significant improvement in cognitive function. Wow! Who knew that scents could be so important?
How To Best Use Essential Oils
The method with the most successful studies behind it is inhalation. This can be done by using a diffuser, spraying oils mixed with water into the air, or in a steam bath. When purchasing the right diffuser, a few factors should go into consideration:
- Surface area. Do you want to diffuse your entire living room or just your bathroom, for instance? Measure the square footage you want to fill with scent. The right-sized diffuser is key.
- Operation time. A good diffuser will have interval settings to help you save on how much essential oils are used. Basic diffusers come with a fixed operation time of up to 5 hours, while deluxe models can run continuously for up to 20 hours.
- The reservoir size. A bulkier reservoir will allow your diffuser to operate for longer hours whereas a sleeker, smaller model may be easier to blend into your current décor but may not operate for as long or put out as much vapor.
- Vapor output. Another consideration related to operation time and reservoir size, a diffuser with various vapor output settings can affect how often you need to refill it and how strong the scent is in the room.
- Noise. Perhaps one of the most important factors, especially if you want to run your diffuser when you’re doing calm activities like meditating, yoga, reading, listening to music, or sleeping. For a quieter model, choose one with a noise output that is less than 23 decibels.
Another method to consider is topical application, thus allowing the oils to be absorbed through the skin, as well as through inhalation during the process of applying them. If you are interested in relaxing, using soothing and calming essential oils in massage oil, such as sandalwood or lavender oil, can increase the effectiveness of the massage. If you’re recovering from an intense exercise session, essential oils that help with blood circulation and muscle soreness, such as camphor or eucalyptus, can be applied instead.
However, it is important to note that essential oils should never be applied directly to the skin. As discussed earlier, these plant oils have been distilled into very high concentrations. So, they must always be diluted with a carrier oil such as sweet almond, jojoba, or olive oil. Just a few drops of essential oil to an ounce of carrier oil is all you need. And before applying this mix to your skin, always do an allergy test first by rubbing the mixture on a small patch of skin inside the forearm. Wait at least 24 to 48 hours before proceeding further.
What to Look for in High-Quality Essential Oils
Unfortunately, not all essential oils are created equal. Look for the following when finding the right oils for you:
- Read Labels. Pure oils will list the plant’s botanical name (such as Citrus lemon) rather than phrases like “essential oil of lemon” or “lemon fragrance.” The ingredient list should be simple, without any additives or synthetic oils.
- Know the Company. Some essential oil companies purport that their oils are safe to take internally. While this is strongly discouraged, it just shows how important it is to know what you are getting. Choose a company with a good reputation that uses a chemical-free extraction process such as steam or hydro-distillation or mechanical cold pressing.
- Dark Glass Only. Aromatic oils can dissolve plastic bottles over time, and light will hasten the degradation of the volatile compounds that make them so effective. Most companies package their oils in amber brown or blue glass bottles – don’t get anything else.
Looking for a Natural Energy Boost?
Now that you know what to look for in an essential oil and how to apply it safely, what oils should you choose? Just as there are hundreds of fragrant plants in the world, there are also dozens of essential oils – and their uses are even broader. Before you become overwhelmed, let’s start with oils that can help you feel more energized and focused – thus allowing you to dive in with curiosity and confidence!
From energy drinks to fancy lattes, obtaining beverages that keep you wired is easy to do. The problem arises when these substances are consumed regularly over a long period of time. Not only do they affect sleep quality, which can leave you reaching for even more espressos or Red Bulls when you wake up, but caffeine increases the stress hormone cortisol even when your body is at rest – so that it thinks it’s experiencing an acutely stressful experience. And compounding the issue is that caffeine is often consumed in greater quantities during stressful periods of time. Americans already experience enough stress as it is, and high levels of cortisol are linked to diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
Why not turn to an alternative that is safe and can be used every day without side effects? You may not be ready to give up your coffee altogether, but perhaps using aromatherapy will allow you to reduce how often, and how much caffeine you consume on a weekly basis. Clarity Oil Blend is a great place to start. It contains a proprietary blend of Rosemary, Basil, Grapefruit, and Lemon essential oils. Rosemary has long been an herb associated with memory and recent research reflects this. A study in 2012 found that when 20 students were asked math questions in a room diffused with rosemary, their speed and accuracy markedly improved. When you think of rosemary and basil, you may also immediately think of pesto or pasta and while Sweet Basil essential oil does smell delicious, it is also reputed to energize, fortify and uplift the mind without being too stimulating. Grapefruit is another essential oil with an uplifting fragrance, which adds a refreshing citrusy note, and is known to reduce blood pressure and stress hormones. And the well-known essential oil Lemon has long been used in DIY cleaning scrubs and sprays for its antimicrobial properties, and has also been shown to increase cognitive function (as mentioned earlier) as well as having antidepressant-like effects. As you can see, Clarity Oil Blend creates an energizing, stimulating and stress-reducing combination that can help you focus and tackle the planning behind your next trip, your next marathon, the weeds in your neglected garden, or any other challenge that you want to take on as warmer temperatures invite new adventures!