Common "Scents" for Holiday Stress
Republished with permission of Natural Standards Research Collaboration ©2007


Listening to favorite holiday tunes and burning relaxing candle scents, especially lavender, may help holiday stress.

For many, listening to Christmas carols or holiday classics may ease the tension and anxiety associated with the busiest time of year. Music has been used since ancient times as a healing tool; the Greek philosophers Pythagoras, Aristotle and Plato all recognized the benefits of music in their writings.

The modern discipline of music therapy began early in the 20th century with community musicians visiting veterans' hospitals around the country to play for those suffering from the traumas of war. Patients' responses led to the hiring of musicians by hospitals.

Music is used to influence physical, emotional, cognitive and social well-being and improve quality of life for healthy people, as well as those who are disabled or ill. It may involve either listening to or performing music, with or without the presence of a music therapist.

Music therapists are professionally trained to design specialized applications of music according to an individual's needs using improvisation, receptive listening, song writing, lyric discussion, imagery, performance or learning through music.

Sessions can be designed for individuals or groups based on the specific needs of the participants. Infants, children, adolescents, adults, the elderly and even animals can all potentially benefit from music therapy.

There is also evidence that combining music with guided imagery may lead to reduced fatigue, mood disturbance and blood levels of cortisol (a stress hormone). The relaxation response is a state that speeds many of the body's healing responses. This state is characterized by reduced heart rate, reduced blood pressure, reduced tension and many other beneficial changes. Evidence that music therapy can lead to the relaxation response has been found in studies with heart bypass surgery patients, healthy college students, infants being treated for chronic lung disease, patients on breathing machines, healthy males and acute heart attack patients.

Many different forms of music intervention have been used to reduce anxiety in a variety of medical conditions and medical procedures. Most studies have positive findings, although not all do. Overall, the evidence favors use of music interventions for anxiety, although more studies are needed to determine what forms work best.

Another solution for calming holiday nerves may be burning relaxing candle scents; lavender in particular has been scientifically proven to reduce anxiety and stress.

Fragrant oils have been used for thousands of years to lubricate the skin, purify air and repel insects. Ancient Egyptians used fragrant oils for bathing and massage. Plant fragrances were given to patients with bubonic plague in ancient Roman, Greek and Medieval times. Essential oils of plants have been used medicinally through application directly to the skin (usually diluted), as a part of massage, added to bathwater, via steam inhalation or in mouthwashes.

The modern practice of aromatherapy is often traced to the French chemist René-Maurice Gattefosse. Gattefosse is said to have poured lavender oil onto his hand after experiencing an accidental burn. The pain and redness reportedly disappeared, and the burn healed more rapidly than expected. In later experiments, Gattefosse studied other oils in the treatment of various skin problems and coined the term aromatherapy in the early 20th century. Research with plant oils was later conducted by other French scientists, and techniques were developed that are still in use today.

Aromatherapy is a technique in which essential oils from plants are used with the intention of preventing or treating illness, reducing stress or enhancing well-being.

Fragrant oils and products containing man-made compounds are not used in the practice of genuine aromatherapy. Although many gift shops sell scented candles, pomanders and potpourri as aromatherapy, genuine aromatherapy treatments use higher strength (concentrated) essential oils drawn from various herbs.

Early evidence suggests that lavender may reduce anxiety and improve mood, but some other aromas may not. Lavender is found in the Mediterranean, the Arabian Peninsula, Russia and Africa and has been used cosmetically and medicinally throughout history. In modern times, the fragrant oils of lavender flowers are used in aromatherapy, baked goods, tea, candles, detergents, massage oils, perfumes, powders, shampoo and soaps. More studies of stronger design are needed to confirm these findings, but there is some support for the use of lavender in reducing anxiety.

References:

1) Cooke M, Holzhauser K, Jones M, et al. The effect of aromatherapy massage with music on the stress and anxiety levels of emergency nurses: comparison between summer and winter. J Clin Nurs. 2007 Sep;16(9):1695-703.

2) Teng XF, Wong MM, Zhang YT. The effect of music on hypertensive patients. Conf Proc IEEE Eng Med Biol Soc. 2007;1:4649-51.