Aromatherapy has been used for thousands of years and is documented in biblical accounts for spiritual rituals and burials (Smith & Kyle, 2008). Hippocrates, the founder of modern medicine, used lavender in baths and massages. Rene Maurice Gattefosse, a French chemist, used it for healing burns in 1930 and Dr. Jean Valnet used its healing powers on wounded soldiers during World War I (Thomas, 2002). Florence Nightingale also used lavender during wartime on the wounded soldiers of the Crimean War in 1856. Madame Marquerite Mauray was another prominent nurse who used aromatherapy and successfully established aromatherapy clinics in Paris, England, and Switzerland (Smith & Kyle, 2008).
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Science of aromatherapy
Aromatherapy is defined as treatment using scents to reduce stress and promote relaxation. This therapy is delivered through the inhalation of the essential oils derived from plants. The reaction of the human nervous system of the olfactory nerve which is connected to the limbic system that controls human emotions occurs when one inhales scents from aroma plants. It is thought that aromatherapy is effective because the effects of the scents on mood and behavior. Rarely are smells associated with neutral experiences (Thomas, 2002). Smells associated with these experiences can influence behavior by eliciting feelings of either excitement or relaxation (Duan, Tashiro, Wu, Yambe, Wang, Sasaki, Kumagai, Luo, Nitta & Itoh, 2007).
Study results related to aromatherapy
The effectiveness of aromatherapy has attracted attention for decades. Florence Nightingale was probably one of the earliest nurses to perform a study using aromatherapy. She utilized 10 nurses and placed a fragrance called Joy de Jean Patou on their upper lip and observed a difference in their behavior (Smith & Kyle, 2008). Walsh and Wilson reported reduced psychological distress in a study group involving severely disable patients when they were exposed to lavender (Thomas, 2002). Duane et al (2007) on the other hand performed a study in which participants were treated with lavender and then had PET scans performed to gather quantitative data related to the effects of lavender on the brains. The researchers also measured cardiovascular responses such as the heart rate, blood pressure, electrocardiograms, and respiratory status of the participants. The results of their study showed changes in both the cardiovascular system and the brain. The results of this study abided with other research works in this filed that that lavender did cause “relaxation and happiness”. These feelings were accompanied by an increase inactivity of the parasympathetic nervous system and a decrease in the sympathetic nervous system.
McCaffrey et al (2009) performed a study using graduate nurses to see how lavender affected their perceived levels of stress while taking a test. The results of the qualitative study showed a reduction in mental stress and anxiety. It also showed an effect on the parasympathetic nervous system resulting in lower blood pressures. In fact, the participants in this study found that they became too relaxed; a feeling that compromised their ability to focus on the test. Chiu (2009) performed a secondary study which led to similar results. Her review of lavender studies found reported feelings of relaxation, improved sleep quality, and a decrease in depression amongst participants of the study. Pemberton & Turpin (2008) performed a qualitative study on nurses working in the intensive care and self-reported their stress levels. The results of the study demonstrated that there was a 75% reduction in perceived stress amongst these nurses after being exposed to the scents of lavender. The last study for this report was performed on mice through the administration of caffeine as a stimulant. After stimulating process, the mice they were given lavender to inhale. The results of this study showed the mice returned to their pre-stimulated state, as well as decreased cortisol levels found in the blood (Denner, 2009).
My Plan for implementing therapy
My plan for implementing therapy included the involvement of friends and family. I selected a bottle of lavender essential oil from a local department store and used it on all my friends and family members who volunteered to participate. I prescreened my participants for three conditions: pregnancy, blood pressure disorders, and allergies. These form the list of contraindications to aromatherapy (Chiu, 2009). Once I established, they recorded negative results to the conditions. I admnistetered two drops of lavender oil on a two-by-two gauze and instructed them to lace them where they could smell the lavender throughout the day. I collected the results of the study at the end of the day.
Analysis of my experience
My study involved a total of nine participants. Only one participant reported a negative response and stated the lavender scent reacted negatively with her system and made her experience headache. Two other participants reported the oil had no effect on them at all and the other six participants reported that the therapy did help them experience a feeling of relaxation. Three of my participants may have been biased by the fact they use lavender at home on a routine basis for the purpose of relaxation. The funniest response came from my five-year-old daughter. She was an unintended participant in this study because she climbed into my bed while the lavender soaked in gauze. She demonstrated profound likeness to it and requested to sleep with it every night. Whereas I would have loved to comply with her request, I could not because lavender has been reported to cause pre-pubertal gynecomastia in children (Denner, 2009). One participant stated she felt she was in “heaven” and wanted to share it with everyone. The rest of the responses reported a feeling of relaxation after inhaling lavender scent.
What I learned from this experience
This experience expounded my knowledge base on the importance of knowing your participant before a study and the effectiveness of aromatherapy in stress reduction and relaxation enhancement. I also learned that relieving stress should be a goal in nursing practice because stress is correlated to the general well being of an individual. Some effects of stress I learnt from the study include mental distraction, difficulty with memory, nausea, headache, diarrhea, and increased heart rate (McCaffrey et al, 2009). Relieving stress can also help to increase the overall health of a person by promoting wellbeing of the mind, body, and spirit (Denner, 2009). I therefore believe that we have a duty as nurses to create an environment that stimulates such healing by utilizing essential oils such as lavender in the treatment of our patients (Smith & Kyle, 2008).
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Last, this experience reinforced my belief on the need for concerted research endeavors on aromatherapy as an alternative means of achieving well being. The effects of lavender on the cardiovascular system are an interesting area of study that should be explored. I believe lavender should be explored as an alternative medicine.
Chiu, T. (2009). Aromatherapy: the challenges for community nurses. Journal of Community Nursing, 24(1), 18-20.
Denner, S. (2009). Lavandula Angustifolia Miller: English Lavender. Journal of Holistic Nursing Practice, 23(1), 57-64. Web.
Duan, X., Tashiro, M., Wu, D., Yambe, T., Wang, Q., Sasaki, T., Kumagai, K., Luo, Y., Nitta, S., & Itoh, M. (2007). Autonomic nervous function and localization of cerebral activity during lavender aromatic immersion. Technology and Health Care, 15, 69-78.
McCaffrey, R., Thomas, D., & Kingelman, A. (2009). The effects of lavender and rosemary essential oils on test-taking anxiety among graduate nursing students. Holistic Nursing Practice, 23(2), 88-93.
Pemberton, E. & Turpin, P., (2008). The effect of essential oils on work-related stress in intensive care unit nurses. Holistic Nursing Practice, 22(2), 97-102.
Smith, M. & Kyle, L. (2008). Holistic foundations of aromatherapy for nurses. Holistic Nursing Practice, 22(1), 3-9. Web.
Thomas, D. (2002). Aromatherapy: mythical, magical, or medicinal. Holistic Nursing Practice 17(1), 8-16.