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Psychological effects of aromatherapy

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The history of aromatherapy traces back to over a thousand years ago. Several ancient civilizations like the Chinese, Indians, Greeks, and Romans all used aromatic oils in their perfumes. However, credit often goes to the Egyptians, who introduced these aroma-infused oils. These oils were used as incense or perfume, to set the right tone at events, and even as a form of medicine. However, aromatherapy alone did not find its use for healing purposes.

A French chemist named Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, while experimenting, burnt his hand and reached for the closest possible liquid that happened to be the lavender essential oil. To his surprise, the oil healed his burn faster than previously used methods, and thus, he introduced the concept of aromatherapy. He realized that applying these oils not only has an immediate and potent effect, but inhalation also had several positive effects on one’s health. Currently, aromatherapy has been in use for decades. Being a holistic treatment, aromatherapy enhances both physical and emotional health. When it comes to psychological benefits, the stimulation of amygdala is the main reason why aromatherapy can bring relief.

The amygdala is the emotional center of the brain. When inhaled, the molecules of these essential oils travel from the olfactory nerves to the amygdala and create various positive effects. Physically, aromatherapy is said to benefit patients with cold, flu, and, to a certain extent even, arthritis. However, the psychological benefits of aromatherapy outweigh the physical benefits.

Aromatherapy and our senses

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Given that everyone’s psychological and physiological states cannot be separated, all five senses are employed by all to guide their mind. When it comes to our olfactory senses, it has been found that smells can influence our attention, sleep, memory and can have an effect on our emotions. Given that aromatic oils are usually extracted from natural sources, they have almost no side effects. Most particles from the oil are inhaled and enter the lungs, while the rest are delivered to the brain. The particles that reach the brain are delivered to the limbic system, the area that is heavily implicated in memory and emotion. The ensuing emotional reaction leads to the secretion of endorphins, which can induce a state of happiness along with providing relaxation and calming effects.

Psychological benefits of Aromatherapy

Reducing insomnia:

Aromatherapy reduces sleepless nights while improving the quality of sleep. Peppermint essential oil is said to be especially beneficial. After inhalation of the essential oils, the nervous system is triggered and transmits signals to the limbic system in the brain. Because of this function, aromatherapy can also stimulate your brain after inhalation of a particular scent. Sweet marjoram oil is another oil used to treat insomnia.

Relaxing patients with dementia:

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In a study conducted in 2013, scientists discovered that rosemary essential oil could help in enhancing memory. Any upcoming task can be thus stored in the memory, aiding the patient to a greater extent. Memory loss is one of the significant symptoms of dementia. This function could make rosemary oil a vital component of aromatherapy to combat dementia.

Aromatherapy has been significantly proven to help improve the conditions of people having Alzheimer’s. Anxiety, Stress, and Aromatherapy:  mentioned earlier, the essential oils used in aromatherapy activate the limbic system in your brain, which plays a role in your emotions. When these essential oils reach the hypothalamus through the olfactory system, the limbic system responds by creating serotonin, the happy hormone. It stabilizes your mood and makes you feel serene.

Depression and Aromatherapy:

One of the main reasons why aromatherapy holds value when it comes to its psychological benefits is because of the presence of antidepressant properties in its essential oils. These oils may act as an alternative to addictive tablets. One study found that citrus fragrance stimulates the olfactory system and reduces the doses of antidepressants, which is otherwise essential for treating depression. Other natural essential oils like ylang-ylang, clary sage, jasmine, etc., are also helpful in assisting antidepressants.

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Improving focus and reducing symptoms of ADHD:

Besides elevating the amount of the happy chemicals; secreted in your brain, aromatherapy also enables your brain to boost the focus on a particular task. It could prove beneficial to individuals who face ADHD, allowing them to develop a higher concentration span. The icing on the cake is that essential oils smell divine. They are potent elixirs that can switch between emotions, hormones, stress response, and moods. Essential oils in their pure form are safer to use. However, while blending two or more essential oils, one must consult a professional, as these oils work differently on every individual; as every individual has a different mental state.

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Dr. Rachna Khanna Singh
Dr. Rachna Khanna Singh
Currently head of Department of Holistic Medicine & Wellness at Artemis Hospital, Gurgaon Dr. Rachna Khanna Singh is a mental wellness expert with expertise in relationship, lifestyle & stress management. The founder and director of The Mind and Wellness Studio Dr. Rachna Khanna has worked with leading hospitals like Fortis Escorts, Dharamshila Cancer Hospital. Her specialties include stress management, lifestyle management for heart diseases, supportive care for chronically ill patients, work-life balance, parent-child bonding, cancer support care, ante/postnatal care, relationship counselling, pre-marital & marital counselling, adolescent counselling, psychiatric & psychological illnesses like depression, anxiety, insomnia.


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