The Nose Knows: A Quick Guide to Implement Aromatherapy into Your Study Practice

When I sat down to write this blog, I first thought to myself, what would help me put my words to paper, well to computer actually? What came to mind, of course, were scents of lemon and lime, my two favorite essential oils.

The correct work environment makes a great deal of difference in performance.  You want to have the right lighting next to you to avoid eye strain, a comfy chair under you to avoid lumbar compression, a cup of tea or “insert other preferred beverage here” to keep you hydrated, as well as a quiet environment to eliminate distraction. While taking all of these things into account, there is something missing in this equation, the air that surrounds you. Don’t ignore the power of your fourth sense, smell. It may have quite a bit more of an effect then you may realize.

Implementing aromatherapy in my study habits has been greatly beneficial. The National Institute of Health (2017) defines aromatherapy as “the use of essential oils from plants (flowers, herbs, or trees) as a complementary health approach”. Humans have used essential oils for thousands of years. Manlon & Widder (2017) defines essential oils as “highly concentrated, aromatic oils extracted from plants by steam distillation, hydrodiffusion, or pressure”. Aromatherapy affects everyone in a different way including the type of oil and the delivery system used.

I use a diffuser, which creates a vapor of the essential oil, allowing it to be inhaled.  There are many different types and sizes of diffusers available. It takes a little bit of research to find the right size and style that fits your needs. When shopping for a diffuser you may note there are four types of diffusers currently on the market. These include heat diffusers, evaporative diffusers, ultrasonic or humidifying diffusers, and nebulizer diffusers. Each diffuser type uses different means to cause the essential oil to be released into the air.  As the name implies, heat differs use heat to evaporate the oil as it is placed in water. Some believe the heat may make changes in some of the components of the oil. The evaporative diffusers allow the essential oil to evaporate to a gas and then be released. These types of diffusers have the simplest design. The ultrasonic or humidifying diffuser uses electricity to diffuse the essential oil, which is also mixed in water. This type of diffuser needs to be cleaned regularly since the oil can become corrosive to the internal mechanism within the diffuser. The last type of diffuser, which is the nebulizing diffuser, uses compressed air. The absence of water in the nebulizing diffuser means the oil is not diluted. It is the most powerful of the various types of diffusers. It lacks the added benefit of humidifying the air, which water-based diffuses have. I personally use the ultrasonic diffuser. Out of all the diffusers, it is the loudest but I find the hum to be relaxing white noise while studying.

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Lemon and lime are my favorites because to me citrus smells are cheery and arousing, keeping me motivated. When I want to relax and decompress, lavender is the go-to scent I use. There are dozens of different essential oils that have various effects. For more information about Essential Oil types and their uses, you can go to https://naha.org/explore-aromatherapy/about-aromatherapy/most-common-base-oils-used-in-aromatherapy/. The type you choose will depend on your goal as well as what personally works for you.

Essential oils have become extremely popular in the past few years. With this new trend, it has become increasingly difficult to determine the quality of the essential oil. A good first telltale sign of the reputability of the oil is the container it is carried in. Many essential oils, including citrus, are photosensitive, heat sensitive and oxygen sensitive. Therefore, when storing them they should be kept in a dry, dark area with the caps sealed tightly.  When shopping for aromatherapy, the color of the bottle should be amber, protecting the oil from light.

There are a dizzying amount of factors that affect the quality of essential oils. Some factors include the soil the plants are seeded in, the climate, and the cultivation practices including the use of pesticides and chemicals. Other factors include time harvested, the method of distillation, and the practices of storing and transporting the oil.

Of course, a consumer such as myself who is searching for a safe and effective essential oil is not in the position to interpret all these variables. This is where government agencies and regulatory bodies are helpful. Unfortunately, The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (2018) (NAHA) indicates “Aromatherapy is an unregulated and unlicensed field both for the practice of aromatherapy as well as the manufacture of aromatherapy products”. This is an important realization to make especially when seeking counsel from individuals who claim to be aromatherapy practitioners. With the absence of governmental regulation, the only regulatory bodies are professional Organizations including the NAHA

Without oversight, marketing agencies and essential oil companies have been allowed to run rampant. It takes a keen and persistent eye and nose to differentiate between lofty claims with no basis and those that are carefully distilled and distributed. When shopping in the marketplace, you may notice some companies claiming their product is therapeutic, medical grade or medical grade A. According to Nodquist (2017), these distinctions have no basis; in fact, they are just marketing ploys used by companies to manipulate consumers. In order to truly know the quality, you are buying you must get a copy of the GC/MS spec sheet. This is a document that delineates the chemical makeup of the essential oil contained in the bottle as well as the authenticity of its makeup. You can obtain these by contacting the manufacturer directly. According to Shutes (n.d.), make sure you receive a batch-specific GC/MS spec sheet.

Essential oils are concentrated forms of plant extracts, and in essence have the potential to cause chemical changes in your body as well as affect the limbic system in your brain, which affects moods, memory, emotion, and learning. This is why it can be an effective tool when implementing study practices. Picking the right oil for you and diffusing it in the room in which you study may assist you in staying focused and productive. I have found it is important to be consistent in essential oil use when studying for the same subject. This consistency grounds me and aides in my memory recall. It may be helpful to put one or two drops of the oil on a piece of cotton before your exam. Practice relaxation and deep breathing with the oil to relax yourself putting you in the zone ready for that material which you are being tested on. It is important to keep in mind those around you. Do not bring the cotton ball with the essential oil into the Exam room, since the aroma could disturb your peers.

Improper use of aromatherapy can be dangerous. It is not just a fun perfume. So when using it, you need to give it the right respect. As with anything, you should check for allergies to the oil you are attempting to use. According to Nodquist (2017), it is important to keep in mind that some people develop allergies after multiple uses, even at times, after years of use. Some individuals suggest internal use of essential oils. This can be dangerous in that some are poisonous and they can adversely interact with medications. An example is the essential oil use within the first trimester of pregnancy, which according to Nodquist (2017) can be dangerous to the developing fetus. Peppermint used when breastfeeding is contraindicated, as is topical use of citrus, which increases photosensitivity and can lead to sunburn. You should always consult your primary care physician before using aromatherapy in any form.

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