19 October 2023
Teaching and supporting students has always been a demanding occupation. The profession necessitates responding to students’ varied educational, social and emotional needs, managing high workloads and often not receiving remuneration and community recognition commensurate with such a highly skilled and high-pressure profession. Combined with the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as managing personal health concerns, navigating ever-changing infection control measures and supporting students and their families through anxious times, it is no surprise that many educators are feeling stressed, anxious, sleep-deprived and burnt out. Educators of students with refugee experience, have the additional pressure of supporting students who have often been disproportionally affected by lockdowns, separation from loved ones, financial losses while dealing with the stress caused by acute and prolonged crises in their countries of origin.
School Liaison Officer, Nicole Loehr, spoke with STARTTS colleague Thuy Tran, who is a Counsellor, Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioner and Aromatherapist (PhD [TCM], Diploma in Aromatherapy). They discussed the benefits of aromatherapy and how educators can use essential oils to support their physical and mental health and wellbeing.
It is well established that aromatherapy oils can reduce stress and mild anxiety (Butje et al., 2008). However, the present article is of a general nature only, and therefore readers are encouraged to consult an Aromatherapist with respect to their individual needs and health. While essential oils are a natural product, they can cause irritation and allergic reactions in some people and therefore need to be used carefully. Importantly, essential oils shouldn’t be used undiluted on the body. At STARTTS, our aromatherapy program has been evaluated by STARTTS Community Development Evaluation Officers Damaris Quintero and Ansuya Naguran.
How does aromatherapy work?
Aromatherapy works by inhaling essential oil molecules. These scent molecules travel through the olfactory nerves to the limbic system in the brain, which plays an important role in controlling the stress response and emotions. It is also directly connected to the brain that controls breathing, heart rate and blood pressure (Higley & Higley, 1998). Some scents, such as lavender, have been found to interact with GABA neurotransmitters (that is, chemical messengers on nerve cells that receive the chemical messages that help inhibit or reduce nerve impulses) via olfactory neurons to bring about relaxing effects (Harada et al., 2018).
Image source: Thuy Tran
Tips for using essential oils to support restful sleep.
Sleep is essential to optimal physical health, as well as to our ability to self-regulate and navigate our daily stressors. Lavender is a well-known sedating essential oil that can assist with sleep when inhaled 20-60 minutes before bed. However, not everyone enjoys the lavender scent. Alternative calming essential oils include sweet orange, marjoram, lemon myrtle, lemon, jasmine, frankincense, sandalwood, cedarwood and ylang ylang.
Some options for integrating these oils into your evening routine include:
- Add 5-10 drops to a bath. Epsom salt can also be added to help relax muscles (follow packet instructions for dosage).
- Add 20 drops to a diffuser, some of which use mist, while others use a small fan and don’t require water to diffuse the scent.
- Add 3 drops to 50mls of water and pour this over your head (avoiding eyes) following an evening shower. Do not rinse.
- Apply a few drops onto a cotton pad and place it inside your pillow slip or attach it to your pyjamas. Alternatively, a few drops can be applied to a wheat bag that you take to bed with you.
Using essential oils throughout the work day.
Many educators experience their highest stress levels on their way to work and throughout the school day. Thuy shared her tips for integrating calming aromas into the school day. During the day, when teachers need to be alert, sedative aromas such as lavender, sweet orange, bergamot, marjoram, jasmine and rose are best avoided. Instead, scents that are calming and mood boosting are preferred. These include peppermint, basil and rosemary. Some ways to incorporate aromatherapy into your day include:
- Use a car diffuser so that you can start your workday with the benefits of an aroma that uplifts and calms you.
- Place a few drops of oil on a wooden comb and comb your hair up and back, away from your hairline. The sensation on your scalp of the gentle pulling and stroking of the comb can calm the nervous system, relieve tension and enhance the calming effect of the aroma.
- Keep a cotton pad with a few drops of essential oil on it in your pocket or bag. Inhale the scent with three slow diaphragmatic breaths, whenever you need to take a moment to reset.
- Add 3 drops of oil to 50mls of water in a spray bottle and spritz your hair throughout the day, being careful to avoid your eyes.
- Keep a bottle of scented massage oil with you at work. Massage oil differs from essential oil in that essential oil has been diluted in a carrier oil and is therefore safe for most people to use directly on the skin. Take a moment to practice self-care throughout the day by rubbing scented massage oil between your hands until it is warm and then cup your hands around your neck so that your fingertips meet at the back of your neck. Hold your hands there for 20 seconds, then repeat.
With each of these suggestions, be mindful that our responses to scents are unique and therefore, students and colleagues around you may have adverse reactions to particular scents.
Image source: Thuy Tran
Aromatherapy Workshops for Educators
If you are interested in finding out more about how aromatherapy can support you with self-care, please get in touch with the School Liaison Team to register your interest in a potential upcoming workshop.
Butje, A., Repede, E., & Shattell, M. M. (2008). Healing scents: an overview of clinical aromatherapy for emotional distress. Journal of psychosocial nursing and mental health services, 46(10), 46-52.
Harada, H., Kashiwadani, H., Kanmura, Y., & Kuwaki, T. (2018). Linalool odor-induced anxiolytic effects in mice. Frontiers in behavioral neuroscience, 241.
Higley, C., Leatham, P. & Higley, A. (1998). Aromatherapy A-Z. Hay House.