How Aromatherapy & Massage as Alternative Therapies Can Alleviate and Improve the Physical & Physiological Responses To Stress – Rebecca Mason
People struggle with stress each and every day. Some stress can have beneficial effects perhaps motivating an individual to acquire new strengths and learn new insights. Some stress however can have damaging effects such as impairments to performance, burnout and even psychological problems. In this article we will endeavor to understand the physical and physiological responses to stress and determine how aromatherapy and massage play a role in helping to cope and manage one’s response to stressful stimulus.
It is extremely interesting to ponder the complexity and the multi-dimensional responses that we as human beings have with regard to stress. A variety of events can trigger a stress reaction from frustration to perplexing decisions that create a conflict within us. Perhaps a life – changing event such as a divorce or a new baby, gives rise to stress or perhaps pressure to fit in or conform to another’s expectations. All of these situations can be perceived as a threat and result in some form of emotional arousal. Lets examine for a moment how human beings respond to stress.
When faced with stressful situations some common responses may include annoyance, anger, anxiety, fear, dejection or grief. Interestingly strong emotional responses to stress can interfere with a person’s ability to cope. For example, there is evidence showing that high emotional arousal can interfere with memory, impair judgment and decision making ability.
Physiological responses include the fight-or-flight response. This physiological response takes place in the amygdala, a part of the limbic system involved in emotion and aggression. The limbic system is a network of interconnected structures that play a role in emotions, motivation, memory and many other aspects of behavior. General adaptation syndrome involves three stages of psychological arousal 1) alarm 2) resistance and 3) exhaustion. This effect takes place with prolonged stress, when the body’s ability to cope with the source of the stress becomes limited, depleting the bodily resources and thus leading to a state of exhaustion. In the brain, many other parts of the limbic system including the hypothalamus are activated by the Autonomic Nervous System, stimulating the adrenal glands and releasing hormones that trigger this fight-or-flight response. Heart rate, and respiration increase as the digestive system is inhibited to conserve more energy. In addition, the hypothalamus sends signals to the endocrine system, specifically the pituitary gland and secretes hormones that stimulate parts of the adrenal glands. The adrenals in turn release fats and proteins into the circulatory system to help increase energy levels.
This understanding of how the limbic system responds during stress is essential to our understanding of how aromatherapy and other remedies impact our health. We can see clearly how each system of the body functions as a cohesive unit. Thus one is dependent on the other. This can be seen by how the olfactory system is correlated with the limbic system. When exposed to a sensory stimulus, receptor cells in the olfactory system receive information about the scent and send it via nerves to the limbic system where it interpreted and stored. This fact explains why memories and feeling are affected and triggered by specific smells.
In aromatherapy, essential oils are used to bring about a change in moods and emotions, to heal from trauma and to achieve a sense of peace and well – being. Much thanks to the advances in scientific research, the chemical constituents of essential oils show wonderful results in managing stress and its negative and long-term effects. An article by M. Lis-Balchin entitled ‘Essential Oils and Aromatherapy: Their modern Role In Healing’, states, “essential oils have an effect on brainwaves…most of the effect of the oils is probably transmitted through the brain via the olfactory system. Used professionally and safely, aromatherapy can be of great benefit…as an alternative.” Dr. Kurt Schnaubelt, Ph.D. says that Angelica Root essential oil “contains a variety of coumarines and furocoumarines…which make it effective to ease anxiety, insomnia, and nervous exhaustion.” During World War I and II, army surgeon Jean Valnet used essential oils on patients to treat…Psychiatirc problems. In the 60’s he published his use of essential oils in his book, ‘Aromatherapie’. From the 1960’s onward, doctors in France began to incorporate essential oils into their treatments. Through self-experimentation, I have used Lavender essential oil through diffusion and topical application and have noted through continued use, a decrease in stress induced reactions. I have also noted a sense of calmness that has resulted in a greater sense of relaxation and well – being.
Furthermore, when we combine massage with aromatherapy, the benefits are increased. Massage is perhaps one of the oldest known healing therapies that can relax, stimulate, comfort, soothe, relieve stress and anxiety, alleviate pain and reduce symptoms of minor illnesses. The sense of touch is the first sense to develop in the human embryo and is the most fundamental of all human needs. The sense of touch connects us as human beings, drawing us closer and is an expression of empathy. The skin is made up of the epidermis, dermis and subcutaneous layer. It is in the dermis where blood vessels, sweat glands and specialized nerve receptors are located. These receptors when triggered through massage as well as aromatherapy initiate the release of endorphins located in the pituitary and the hypothalamus, that results in a feeling of tranquility and well – being and also pain relief. These two modalities together aid in relaxation, directly affecting the body systems responsible for governing heart rate, blood pressure, breathing and digestion.
This article has substantiated the effectiveness of using aromatherapy and massage to relief and manage the physical and physiological responses to stress. Through proper use, aromatherapy, primarily through the sense of smell, can bring about changes in the brain to help relief the body of stress and increase the body’s ability to cope with the effects of stress. Combined with the time – honored practice of massage, these two modalities can effectively treat the negative and long-term effects of stress.
In conclusion, since anxiety and stress can exert such a powerful effect on our lives, our families our very well – being, it is important to consider how it affects us on all levels. It is also important to find an effective way and strategy for coping day to day. Consider other healthy choices that can reduce stress, such as nutrition and exercise. Our mental and emotional health is just as important as our physical health. By having a positive and pro-active approach to life we can combat and cope with stress successfully.
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