Is less stress just a sniff away?

By Elizabeth Hogan

Senior Editor

When Kelly Cullen ‘21 finds herself having trouble sleeping, which seems to be happening more often these days due to the pandemic, she finds herself reaching into her desk drawer where she keeps her essential oils and drops some lavender in her diffuser.

When our minds are more stressed it depresses not only our mood, but also our immune systems. Cullen, like many college students right now, in such uncertain times is looking for new ways to de-stress with she like many others is turning to more holistic methods of relaxation, one of these methods is aromatherapy.

Aromatherapy is the inhalation or bodily application of essential oils which are derived from plants for therapeutic purposes. It works through the olfactory system, which includes all of the cells and physical organs involved with or relating to the sense of smell according to 

“The olfactory is the only direct link to the limbic system which is the emotional center for the brain. The emotional center of the brain basically rules cognitive and intellectual function as well as emotional and hormonal function” said Leyla Bringas the founder and owner of Lunaroma in Burlington,  as well as a certified aromatherapist.

Cullen is a frequent user of essential oils for aromatherapy “I use essential oils because they help to relax me or to uplift my mood. I think that the smells are very comforting and relaxing especially after a long day of classes or work.”

 Essential oils are not exclusively related to relaxation. According to Bringas ach scent has a host of different effects both emotional and cognitive.  Some essential oils relax the nervous system  and others enliven the nervous system. Some are specific to memory, some are specific to relaxation. The same scent can have differing effects depending upon the person.

“It is a personal choice. The citrus family of essential oils like lemon, grapefruit and orange as well as those in the mint family are energizing for some people and calming for others, “said Sarah Klionski who is the Assistant Director of Counseling at the Bergeron Wellness Center.. “ Lavender, jasmine, chamomile, lemon grass, vanilla, cinnamon and rose can be calming for some and energizing for others. It can be fun to try out different combinations of scents as well” 

“I tend to use lavender because it smells nice and I have heard it reduces stress levels which I think everyone needs especially right now. I use lavender oil almost every night but especially if I am having trouble sleeping or if I have something stressful like a test the next day” said Cullen.

not all stress comes from the same root cause therefore different scents may work better for different specific root causes to your stress.

“Sometimes people deal with stress because they have trouble focusing,” Bringas said. “ If you have trouble focusing it’s not that you’re stressed out because you have anxiety, it is more that your mind is not focused and you don’t have the mental agility to get your work done so then it begins accumulating and then you become stressed because of that. So when we read that scents like lavender or chamomile are great at relaxation a lot of people think ‘Well at work, I am really stressed out so I need something that is going to relax me.’ But sometimes it is not the case that you need relaxation but that you need focus or clarity. 

“It really depends on what the source of the stress is for what oils would be best” said Bringas.

There are many different methods for using essential oils these include diffusing the oil, spray forms, roll ons, inhalers, lotions, and even putting the essential oil in a base oil such as coconut oil and applying it directly to the skin. The method used is up to the person and what they feel works best for them.

“Personally, I tend to use a diffuser most often, but I also have used roll on oils as well as room sprays” said Cullen. An essential oil diffuser is a device that disperses essential oils into the surrounding air, filling the room with the desired therapeutic scent.

“The method depends on who you are, for example if you are a student and you are on the go a lot, an inhaler can be really great since it is so portable. It can also be as easy as putting on a hand lotion and smelling your hand. But, there are also the more aggressive methods such as inhalation, diffusing, or roll ons” said Bringas.

When purchasing essential oils for aromatherapy make sure that they are actually a pure oil made from plant matter and not a synthetic oil made in a lab.

“There is a lot of adulteration in the industry as the average person does not know what real rose smells like or real lavender smells like. Synthetics are super common as they are a lot less expensive. It is my belief that plants are here to help us grow and heal as well as to find balance. I feel that there is a nurturing and nourishing component to something beautiful that you are smelling rather than something synthetic which can be assaulting to your senses” said Bringas.

“I really like the brand Young Living for essential oils since I have researched different essential oil brands and they seem to be reputable as well as selling pure essential oil, not any of the fake stuff,” said Cullen.

“Anything ,especially for students, that can help with dealing with such a weird world is important. Relying on things like essential oils that are healthy and things that are going to make your body and mind more balanced are important because everybody needs a little bit of help right now” said Bringas.

“I definitely find myself turning to essential oils more in such a crazy time and would recommend it to other students looking to destress or increase their mood in a natural way” said Cullen.

Photo by Elizabeth Hogan