Reduce Anxiety with Mindfulness and Aroma Therapy
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“If you have unproductive worries, you can train yourself to experience those thoughts completely differently. “You might think ‘I’m late, I might lose my job if I don’t get there on time, and it will be a disaster!’ Mindfulness teaches you to recognize, ‘Oh, there’s that thought again. I’ve been here before. But it’s just that—a thought, and not a part of my core self,’” – Elizabeth Hoge.
Everyone experiences occasional anxiety and that is normal. But, frequent or very high levels of anxiety can be quite debilitating. These are termed anxiety disorders and they are the most common psychological problem. In the U.S., they affect over 40 million adults, 18% of the population, with women accounting for 60% of sufferers One out of every three absences from work are caused by high levels of anxiety and it is the most common reason for chronic school absenteeism. In addition, people with an anxiety disorder are three-to-five times more likely to go to the doctor and six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders than non-sufferers, making it a major burden on the healthcare system.
Anxiety disorders have generally been treated with drugs. It has been estimated that 11% of women in the U.S. are taking anti-anxiety medications. But, there are considerable side effects and these drugs are often abused. Although, psychological therapy can be effective it is costly and only available to a small number of sufferers. So, there is a need to develop alternative treatments. Recently, it has been found that mindfulness training can be effective for anxiety disorders. In addition, aromatherapy, the inhalation of essential oils, has been reported to reduce stress and anxiety, but there has been little systematic scientific study and none combining aromatherapy with mindfulness training.
In today’s Research News article “Aromatherapy with two essential oils from Satureja genre and mindfulness meditation to reduce anxiety in humans.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5198818/
Soto-Vásquez & Alvarado-García investigated the individual and combined effects of aromatherapy and mindfulness on anxiety in otherwise normal humans. They recruited normal adults between the ages of 25 and 45 years and randomly assigned them to 6 different gender balanced groups; a wait-list control group, mindfulness meditation, aromatherapy with S. brevicalyx essential oil, aromatherapy with S. boliviana essential oil, mindfulness meditation plus aromatherapy with S. brevicalyx essential oil, and mindfulness meditation plus aromatherapy with S. boliviana essential oil. Interventions occurred for 12, 30-minute, sessions over 2 weeks administered Monday through Saturday. Participants were measured for both state and trait anxiety levels before and after treatment.
They found that all of the interventions resulted in a significant decrease in both state and trait anxiety levels. The meditation and aromatherapy interventions alone produced and average decrease in state anxiety of 24.1% and trait anxiety of 27.8%. But when meditation and aromatherapy were combined there was, on average, a greater decrease in state anxiety of 34.3% and trait anxiety of 42.4%, although the differences with monotherapy were not statistically significant. All of these effects were of significantly very large magnitude.
These are interesting results and suggest that both meditation and aromatherapy effectively reduce anxiety in normal adults. Although not significant the results provide a suggestion that the combination of meditation with aromatherapy produces a greater reduction in anxiety than either alone. This would suggest that they work through different mechanism which can produce additive effects. Unfortunately, the lack of an active control group, greatly reduces confidence in the results. The wait-list control group did not receive any attention, placebo, or active activity. Hence, the results could be due to attentional effects, placebo effects, practice effects, or experimenter bias effects. It remains for future research to investigate these effects with larger groups to improve statistical power and active control conditions to eliminate potential confounds.
Regardless, the results are suggestive that aromatherapy and meditation, alone or in combination, may be useful for reducing anxiety in normal humans.
“It’s easy to stop noticing the world around us. It’s also easy to lose touch with the way our bodies are feeling and to end up living ‘in our heads’ – caught up in our thoughts without stopping to notice how those thoughts are driving our emotions and behavior. An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience. This means waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment. It’s about allowing ourselves to see the present moment clearly. When we do that, it can positively change the way we see ourselves and our lives.” – Mark Williams
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Soto-Vásquez, M. R., & Alvarado-García, P. A. A. (2017). Aromatherapy with two essential oils from Satureja genre and mindfulness meditation to reduce anxiety in humans. Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, 7(1), 121–125. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtcme.2016.06.003
The goal of this study was to verify whether association of aromatherapy with essential oils of Satureja brevicalyx or Satureja boliviana and mindfulness meditation can reduce anxiety levels in humans. A randomized experimental trial was carried out with 108 participants who were divided into 6 groups, comprising a waiting list control group and five experimental groups. Aromatherapy was carried out by inhalation of essential oils while mindfulness intervention program was focused on “flow meditation”. The anxiety index was evaluated by State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI). Measures were taken two times: pretest and posttest. State and Trait anxiety scores showed a decrease in posttest study phase in comparison with pretest in all experimental groups (p < 0.005), especially in those where aromatherapy and mindfulness meditation were used together. All Cohen’s d scores were over to 1 that means a large size effect in anxiety variable. Percentages of change showed reductions of anxiety variable ranging between 20% and 47%. All treatments used isolated or associated, may be considered alternative treatment options for anxiety.