The use of inhalers infused with lavender and rosemary essential oils was shown to reduce test-taking stress in graduate nursing students, according to a recent study.

The research, “The Effects of Lavender and Rosemary Essential Oils on Test-Taking Anxiety Among Graduate Nursing Students,” involved 40 subjects, all of whom were graduate nursing students at Florida Atlantic University.
These students were required to pass four examinations with a grade of 80 percent in order to complete the master’s program in advanced nursing practice. The aromatherapy intervention took place before and after three of these four tests.

The first examination was used to gather control data; therefore, no aromatherapy intervention was conducted. Researchers evaluated each student’s baseline stress and anxiety levels both before and after the test.

The Test Anxiety Scale (TAS), a 10-item self-report survey, was used to gauge the nursing students’ perceived stress. Each participant’s blood pressure and pulse also were measured before and after the examination.

For the second test, students were given a lavender essential-oil inhaler and asked to breathe in the aroma before and during the test. A piece of cotton in each inhaler was infused with three drops of Lavandula hybrida, extracted by steam distillation. Once again, researchers used the TAS, along with blood-pressure and pulse measurements, to assess the subjects’ stress levels both before and after the examination.

For the third test, students were given a rosemary essential-oil inhaler and asked to breathe in the aroma before and during the test. This time, the cotton in the inhalers was infused with three drops of Rosmarinus officinalis, with a camphor phenotype. Again, the TAS, blood-pressure and pulse measurements were taken before and after the test.

Research results showed no significant differences between pre- and post-test mean scores on TAS for the first examination, where no aromatherapy was used. On the second and third tests, which involved lavender and rosemary respectively, there was a significant decrease in test anxiety as evidenced by the students’ TAS scores.

There were no significant differences in blood pressure before or after any of the three tests. However, there was a significant decrease in pulse rate after both tests that involved aromatherapy.

“Although blood pressure is an indicator of long-term stress and changes more slowly over time, pulse rate has been shown to accurately reflect acute stress and anxiety,” state the study’s authors.

During discussions with the students following each exam, it was indicated the rosemary aromatherapy was preferred to the lavender aromatherapy, as the latter “made things more relaxed and even fuzzy at times.”

Authors: Ruth McCaffrey, Debra J. Thomas and Ann Orth Kinzelman.

Sources: Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing, Initiative for Intentional Health, Holy Cross Hospital, Florida Atlantic University, Northern Arizona University and American Holistic Nurses Association. Originally published in Holistic Nursing Practice (March/April 2009) 23(2): 88-93.

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