Stress is a natural part of everyday life, but chronic stress can be especially hard on your body and damaging to your health. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, stress can negatively impact your moods, sleep patterns, digestion and immune system. Over time, this wears on your body and can lead to illness. One unique way to prevent and reduce the harmful effects of stress is aromatherapy. This alternative approach has been around for centuries and is becoming more popular as we learn about its benefits. Aromatherapy in Practice Aromatherapy is the practice of using essential oils from plants to improve your physical and emotional wellness. It’s often used as a complementary therapy for stress, anxiety and pain. Essential oils are extracted from the roots, leaves, seeds or blossoms of certain plants and used through inhalation or application to the skin. Aromatherapy is frequently incorporated with other treatments like massage, yoga, acupuncture and meditation. Though research about aromatherapy is new, experts are beginning to think that smelling certain aromas sends your brain signals that positively affect moods, emotions and even physical health. Who Can Benefit from Aromatherapy Treatment? This alternative treatment has been shown to help relieve pain, promote relaxation, improve sense of well-being, and reduce stress. All of these benefits can boost your immune system and ease the anxiety caused by a variety of conditions, such as: Insomnia Psoriasis Itching Digestive problems Depression, anxiety and agitation Chronic pain caused by arthritis, cancer or other illnesses Precautions You should always check with your doctor before starting any new treatment. The risks for aromatherapy are fairly low and are usually allergy-related. If you are interested in trying this therapy, follow these precautions: Never ingest essential oils because some are toxic and can be fatal if taken by mouth. Pregnant or nursing women should consult with their doctor before using aromatherapy. Let your aromatherapist know if you experience any allergic reactions like a rash or headache. Avoid aromatherapy if you have severe asthma. People with high blood pressure may want to avoid stimulating oils like rosemary. If you have estrogen-dependent tumors, don’t use oils with estrogen-like compounds like fennel, aniseed, and sage. Always consult with your doctor if you are worried that aromatherapy may interact poorly with medication or other medical treatments. How an Aromatherapy Session Works Many massage therapists, acupuncturists and chiropractors are trained in aromatherapy. The National Association of Holistic Therapy is also a good resource for finding aromatherapists in your area. Here’s what you can expect during a typical aromatherapy session: Your practitioner will start by asking about your medical history, symptoms, and if there are any scents you particularly like or don’t like. You may be asked to directly breathe in essential oils or indirectly inhale them through a spray, diffuser or vaporizer. Since aromatherapy is often incorporated with another treatment like massage, your practitioner may dilute the essential oil with massage oil and apply it to your skin. At the end of your session, you’ll likely receive a list of oils recommended for your condition and instructions on how to use them at home in your bath or with lotions. Guide to Common Aromatherapy Scents One of the biggest health benefits of aromatherapy is stress reduction, but essential oils work wonders for a wide range of symptoms. Below are some of the most commonly used scents and what they’re used to treat. Lavender – headaches, insomnia, burns, pain Sandalwood – depression and anxiety Sweet Orange – depression and anxiety Peppermint – digestive problems Rosemary – muscle aches and mental stimulation Tea Tree – respiratory issues, antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal Now that you have a sense of what aromatherapy is all about, try it out with a practitioner in your area or browse your local health food store for essential oils and a diffuser to use at home. Just be sure to follow the precautions and talk with your doctor if you have any concerns.