To complement the MASSAGE Magazine article, “Aromatherapy for Stress Reduction,” by Traci Dalrymple, in the July 2012 issue. Article summary: Essential oils are highly effective, and some say most effective, when they are delivered to the body through massage. Adding stress-relieving essential oils to your massage work has some amazing health benefits for your clients that you will benefit from, too.

by Valerie Cooksley, R.N.

Promote Stress Relief with Aromatherapy, MASSAGE MagazineThere is no doubt we are living in stressful times; stress, after all, is part of our existence. We require some stress to venture out of our comfort zones and to grow as individuals; however, the dramatic effects of prolific financial concerns, job uncertainty, technological information overload and chronic health challenges have never been so pervasive as they are today.

You will see people with a definite need for help with stress reduction. As a massage therapist, you directly observe the common signs of stress in your clients every day: complaints of headache, neck and back pain, palpitations, lethargy, nervousness, concentration difficulties and insomnia.

The burden of stress can also be the underlying source of teeth grinding, recurrent infections, as well as personality changes, such as tearfulness, or being irritable and short tempered. Lastly, prolonged stress will lead to more significant health problems like angina, asthma, heart disease, depression, high blood pressure and ulcers, if not addressed.

Besides the health risks it poses, stress can impact virtually every aspect of a person’s experience with relationships, employment, emotional and spiritual well-being and the overall enjoyment of life. In fact, approximately 90 percent of the common ailments I see as a holistic practitioner have stress at their core.

Massage, including such touch therapies as acupressure and reflexology, and various types of energy healing, all help to promote relaxation and balance of the mind and body. “The way to health is to have an aromatic bath and scented massage every day,” Hippocrates said.

Touch alone can bring about a relaxation response; as can the pleasurable and therapeutic use of pure and natural essential oils in the practice of aromatherapy. When these two modalities—massage and aromatherapy—are combined, the results are not only synergistic; they are anticipated to be superior to either therapy individually.

For example, inhalation of the essential oils from hands cupped over the nose, along with encouraging the client to take a few slow, deep breaths, can work in unison to aid relaxation via the expansion of the diaphragm. Aromatherapy inhalation directly balances the autonomic nervous system through the respiratory and limbic systems.

Scents that reduce stress include sweet basil, bergamot, Roman chamomile, clary sage, frankincense, rose geranium, grapefruit, jasmine, juniper, lavender, lemon, lemongrass, sweet marjoram, neroli, nutmeg, sweet orange, palmarosa, pine, rose, rosewood, sandalwood and ylang ylang.

Further enhancing the therapeutic effect is to apply essential oils topically by mixing with a natural, nonmineral and oil-based lotion or oil, to support the transdermal absorption of their active chemical constituents. Proper dilution for whole-body application, 1 to 2 percent for the average adult, as well as performing an aromatherapy intake consultation, is imperative for safe practice.

There are more than 300 published studies in the National Institutes of Health’s database relating specifically to essential oils, relaxation or stress, confirming their beneficial effects on mental and physical relaxation. Autonomic nervous system regulation has been documented and measured by the reduction of cortisol levels (a common stress marker), breathing and pulse rates, blood pressure, improvement of coronary flow and subjective feelings of calm and relaxation.

Active chemical constituents, such as bornyl acetate, a volatile component in conifer oils, was found to induce autonomic relaxation. (Matsubara E, et al, Kyushu University, Japan 2011.) Another ingredient found to be effective in relieving anxiety is a monoterpene alcohol called linalool, which is prominent in several aromatic plant species. (Linck, MV. et al, Brazil 2010.)

Linalool-rich essential oils, such as lavandula angustifolia, was found to reduce stress and decrease cortisol levels (Field T, et al, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, USA, June 2008); have sedative and antispasmodic effects; significantly reduce serum cortisol levels and improve coronary flow viscosity reserves (Shiina Y, et al, Chiba University Graduate School of Medicine, Japan 2008). You can see the relevance as to why lavender essential oil is included in so many aromatherapy blends for stress.

Skin temperature, pulse rate, breathing rate and blood pressure were measured along with a self-evaluation assessment on 40 healthy volunteers to evaluate the relaxing effects of ylang ylang (cananga odorata) essential oil. Not only did ylang ylang cause the subjects to rate themselves more calm and relaxed compared to the control group, but it also revealed to lower their blood pressure. (Hongratanaworakit T., et al, Srinakharinwirot University, Thailand, 2006.)

Nature has provided us particular scents that possess properties which are natural relaxants and remind us to enjoy life. Fortunately, numerous essential oils contain these properties but the ones most noted for stress reduction are the fresh and uplifting citrus scents, the deep-calming woods and resins, and the mood-altering floral and herbal aromas.

By utilizing the power of nature, validated by the growing number of worldwide scientific-based studies, you can integrate essential oils into your massage practice and stress-relief treatment protocols with confidence.

Calming Massage Blends

The following recipes are from Valerie Cooksley’s book, Aromatherapy: Soothing Remedies to Restore, Rejuvenate and Heal, published by Prentice Hall Press (2002).

Serenity Blend

  • 8 drops lavender essential oil
  • 2 drops bergamot essential oil
  • 2 drops mandarin essential oil
  • 1 ounce carrier oil or lotion

Stress Relief Retreat

  • 7 drops lavender essential oil
  • 2 drops lemongrass essential oil
  • 1 drop sweet basil essential oil
  • 1 ounce carrier oil or lotion

Massage Away Stress

  • 10 drops lavender essential oil
  • 4 drops ylang ylang
  • 1 ounce carrier oil or lotion

Valerie Cooksley is a holistic nurse aromatherapist, author of eight aromatherapy natural-health books and a national lecturer. She is president of Flora Medica Essential Oil Co. ( and founder of the Institute of Integrative Aromatherapy in Houston, Texas. Cooksley personally mentors correspondence students in the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork-approved Integrative Aromatherapy® Certificate Program.