Aromatherapy 101

Aromatherapy, what the hell is it? Is this for real, or is this more internet bullshit? Essential oils are everywhere. Everyone is buying diffusers, and I’m willing to bet your social media feeds are flooded with people selling Young Living and DoTerra, right?  There are lots of articles on the internet about essential oils claiming all kinds of miraculous health benefits from curing cancer to the fountain of youth. There are also horror stories of people with terrible burns and skin reactions after using essential oils. I know its overwhelming but don’t worry, I’m here to help you sort out the real from the bullshit.

A simple definition of aromatherapy is essentially the use of aromatic plant oils for the treatment and improvement of our physical and psychological well-being. Aromatherapy is an art that utilizes aromatic essences extracted from plants to balance, harmonize, and promote the health of our body, mind, and spirit. The intent of aromatherapy is to unify the physiological, psychological, and spiritual processes of  mind and body. Aromatherapy is an alternative medicine and it is a wonderful complementary medicine.

The benefits of aromatherapy include relief of stress, anxiety, and depression; increase in energy and boost in memory function; pain relief and healing; improved sleep; improved digestion; headache treatment; and relief of symptoms of chronic illness.

Studies cited by the Mayo Clinic have shown aromatherapy results in improvement of anxiety and depression, improved sleep, and improved quality of life for patients with chronic disease. Smaller studies using lavender essential oil showed reduction in pain for patients suffering pain from osteoarthritis in the knee, improved quality of life for dementia patients, and reduced pain for people with kidney stones.

So how do you get started with aromatherapy? Essential oils are everywhere and it seems like no matter where you go you are bound to run into someone selling Young Living Essential Oils or DoTerra right? Hell, even Amazon and Groupon are blasting ads for essential oil diffusers and collections of “high quality” oils. Again, don’t worry, I’ve got your back. First, let me start by telling you that I have been practicing aromatherapy for 22 years. I got started while working as a cosmetologist. I was introduced to aromatherapy in skin care and massage classes. At that time aromatherapy was not mainstream. It was for hippies and weirdos. Its use in the salon industry gave it a bit more creditability although misleadingly as a ‘cosmetic’ rather than alternative medicine. I was surprised by the power essential oils had on the well-being of my clients. I used aromatherapy as part of facials, pedicures, manicures, and scalp treatments. I learned how to make my own blends. The effects were both immediate and slow-release. Clients experienced immediate psychological benefits and over time with continued use physical benefits. I’ve been a devoted believer in aromatherapy and its benefits since the first time I performed a facial using a blend made with lavender on a client with a bad case of rosacea on her face who had just lost her husband of 30 years to cancer.  Not only did the redness in her skin calm down but immediately following the facial she experienced an emotional release of pain with tears flowing followed by hugging me and thanking me profusely and for what she didn’t know but only that she felt so much better, so much lighter. So, with my 22 years of experience, below is a very brief how to get started in aromatherapy.

First, you need to invest in good quality oils. When it comes to aromatherapy you get what you pay for and not all oils are of the same quality. I know a good quality oil immediately by the smell but it takes time to develop a trained nose. Quality oils do not smell perfumey. They do not smell like oil. They smell like the plant listed on the bottle. If you are totally new to aromatherapy its a good idea to contact one of your friends who is a distributor for Young Living or DoTerra. I don’t consider these brands to be the top two brands on the market but they are very good reliable brands and if you are new with an untrained nose these are a great way to get started. You will certainly get good quality, 100% therapeutic grade essential oils. That last part is essential. You always want to be sure to buy therapeutic grade oils. You do not want fragrance oils. Fragrance oils are used to make candles and perfume. They do not have the therapeutic benefits that essential oils provide. In fact, when clients would tell me that they tried an essential oil and it didn’t work I asked them to bring me the bottle of oil and 99.9% of the time what they had purchased was a bottle of fragrance oil rather than a therapeutic grade essential oil. So, if you are not buying from a Young Living or DoTerra distributor please read your labels carefully.

Next, you will need to think about how you want to use your oils. There are three basic modalities: aerial diffusion, direct inhalation, and topical application. Aerial diffusion is achieved by using a diffuser or humidifier with essential oil added to the water.  An old method for aerial diffusion, and one of my favorites, is by burning incense. Direct inhalation can be achieved by applying the oil directly to a cotton ball and holding it to your nose. Topical application can be done in a variety of ways. You can add the oil to your skin care and hair care products, you can add it to your bath water directly or to your bath salts or shower gel, or you can use essential oil infused soaps, lotions, and body oils. You can apply essential oils directly to your skin, but this must be done with caution. Some oils cause photosensitive reactions which result in the horror stories you’ve seen on the internet. There are even essential oils that can be used for cooking. Lavender and rose oils are wonderful for cooking.  I will be posting blog entries on specific oils in the near future, and I will include all the ways you can use each of the oils. But for now, I am going to leave you with my top 5 favorite oils. The list below are the five oils that I always have in my cupboard and use the most. They are my go-to oils and where I would recommend anyone new to aromatherapy begin. So, write them down and the next time you are in the store check out these five oils. Ask your friend who sells Young Living and DoTerra to show you these oils and how to use them. And, I’ll write more on these and other oils in upcoming blog posts.

Oh, one final note, please remember that essential oils are derived directly from plants. The rate of allergic reaction is high. Remember that nature is powerful magic. It can heal and it can hurt. So always test out any new oil on a small patch inside your arm to see how your body reacts before using it all over. Cheers!

  1. Lavender
  2. Peppermint
  3. Lemon
  4. Rosemary
  5. Frankincense

Don’t Set a SMART goal. Set SMARTER Goals!

I hate goal setting. I’m more of a leave it to the last minute kind of person. I like to free fall. I love the excitement of the unknown, the unexpected wins, and surprise endings. But, there are some areas of life that you just can’t succeed unless you set goals. Work, education, and fitness to name a few.

My boss loves to use sports analogies when he is trying to illustrate a point. I neither play nor follow sports so I usually struggle to relate to these analogies. This morning when I sat down to write this post I came across a sports analogy that I think perfectly illustrates why we need to set goals. “Without a goal we spend our entire lives running up and down the field and never score.” Immediately after reading this I pictured two football teams just running up and down the field, no one scoring. No one winning. No one really sure what they are trying to achieve. Get the ball! Throw the ball! Catch the ball! Run! But, why? What are you trying to achieve? How do you know when you’ve won?

When I started working in the corporate world I was introduced to SMART goals. The concept is great. Don’t just set a vague goal that can’t be measured and takes forever to achieve. Those are too easy to give up on and get sidetracked. Instead, set a goal that is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound.

Ex: I want to lose weight. –> This goal is too vague. Most of us want to lose weight, but how much, why, and by when?

Ex: I want to lose 50 pounds over the next year and feel comfortable wearing a bikini by next summer. –> It’s specific, its measurable, it’s achievable, its relevant, and it’s time bound.

But is it motivating? Does this goal make me want to jump up and go to the gym and start eating healthier? What are the rewards? I could rewrite this to be more specific to include language about how this will make me healthier, and allow me to live my best life, blah blah. But again, that’s just too vague. We see those slogans and phrases all over social media and the internet. Have they managed to get you off the sofa and exercising? I’m betting not.

What we need are SMARTER goals. SMARTER goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time bound, AND enjoyable, and rewarding. Goals are easy to achieve when you enjoy what you’re doing. I set SMART goals in college to help me accomplish my goal of completing 19 credits a semester while working 40 hours a week, raising a child on my own, and caring for my sick mother. Looking back, one of the reasons I was able to achieve my SMART goals is that I enjoyed learning. It wasn’t hard to follow the reading and study plan I had laid out because I enjoy reading and learning. It was fun to immerse myself into my textbooks and was rewarded not just with a passing grade but with new knowledge and skills gained along the way.

You know what I don’t think is fun? Working out. Over the years I have used the SMART model to set up fitness goals but I just have not had the same success as I did with academics. I realize now the reason is because I did not find the tasks required to complete the goal enjoyable. Also, there was no reward along the way. I set up rewards for completion of milestones along the journey and for completing the goal itself, but it just wasn’t enough to motivate me. Then it occurred to me, what if I made sure the tasks were as enjoyable and rewarding to me as academics? Instead of developing SMART health and fitness goals, what if I developed SMARTER health and fitness goals.

Ex: I am going to lose 50 lbs over the next year so that I am healthier and feel confident enough to wear a bikini to the beach next summer. I will achieve my goal by creating a fitness plan made up exclusively of exercises that I like to do and an eating plan that does not make me feel hungry or deprived of my favorite foods. I will reward myself every month for sticking to my plan and when I succeed I will treat myself to a new bikini to wear to the beach.

Okay, see the difference? The goal is now very specific. It’s measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound, but its also designed so that the tasks to achieve it will be fun. I have included a reward system that will motivate me continuously and keep me going to achieve the ultimate prize which I have set up clearly rather than just a vague overall goal.

SMARTER goals give us motivation. Think about the mouse in the maze. Would the mouse continue trying to make its way through the maze for 1 piece of cheese at the end? Probably not. But leave rewards along the way and the mouse is motivated to keep going. Would football players keep playing the game if they hated it? Probably not.

But make the game enjoyable and rewarding from start to finish and you win. This is the secret to successful goal achievement. I am developing my own fitness plan called The Michigan Wonder Woman Workout. I am working with a NASM certified personal trainer to ensure that this workout is effective. I want a workout that will improve my flexibility and balance, increase my strength, and help me lose weight. But more importantly, I want a workout that is fun! I want to be excited to exercise. I need a health and fitness plan that rewards me for my discipline and hard work along the journey.

I’ll be sharing my journey along with exercise and eating tips here. I hope you’ll join me on this journey.

To Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain

Dear Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain,

Its been a week since you took your own lives and though the world stopped for a day everyone has now resumed their normal rhythm. Isn’t that the way it goes though? We hear someone we know, loved, and admired has ended their lives and everyone’s social media feeds flood with well-intentioned memes urging readers with suicidal thoughts to come over for a cup of coffee, call the 1-800 number, reach out!! Fair enough right? But they don’t understand it do they? You know you were loved. You know you were needed. You know how much we all admired you. But depression is a monster that lives inside our heads and obscures the light. It blinds us from our ability to see, to feel. The darkness creeps in until it consumes and leaves you feeling overwhelmed. Depression mutes your ability to speak, to reach out and ask for help until eventually, it just feels hopeless.

To those of us on the outside you had it all. Glamorous lives, dreams fulfilled. Lives that were creative, adventurous, and rewarded. But depression numbed you to all of that. The numbness was probably the worst part right? How tiring it must have been to feel nothing. No joy, no fear, no pain, no love, just…nothing. Every day. All day.  It  makes you not want to face anything again. Just lay in bed under the covers and sleep until the numbness goes away. You canceled plans. Stopped doing the things you enjoyed. You stopped showing up. If only they would have checked on you! If only they would have reached out. But we’re all trained and conditioned not to. When someone stops showing up we assume they’ve moved on. We take it personally or we’re too afraid of being intrusive to check in. We feel helpless. We don’t know what to do.

Depression is so, so heavy.  You were strong but now you’re tired. You had been dragging that weight around for so long you stopped believing in hope. All those memes on social media about positivity and living your best life seemed ridiculous. Dying had to be the only way to find relief, right? Because after all, you were just a burden to everyone. The world would really be a much better place without you in it. You had nothing left to give anymore. No purpose.

But oh, you were wrong. So, so, so wrong! Depression is a liar. Depression is a lying bastard! You were never a burden to anyone. You were never alone. Hope is not a lie. Hope is real. Your life had value. Your life had meaning. When someone leaves this world they leave a massive gaping hole, a space that only they can fill. It hurts. Grief washes over those left behind in waves until eventually the gaping hole becomes a raw, festering open wound that never heals.

Reader, if you are living with depression, MDD, or bipolar II with depression, please know that voice in your head is a liar. You are not a burden. You are not a pain in the ass. Your life has value. I know my words do not fix your broken heart. I know they cannot lift the weight of your depression. We all fight our internal demons and invisible illnesses. You are not alone. Relief is coming. Depression is a liar. Love is the truth. You are loved. You are needed. You are the light in someone’s life.  You are the reason someone in the world has hope. So if you are reading this and thinking that the only way to stop the endless pain of depression is to end your life call 1-800-273-8255 and help will be there because you are worth fighting for.

If you are reading this and you are not suicidal and you don’t have depression then I hope my words have helped you to understand that mental illness is a real illness. It is not a selfish mindset. It is not a bad lifestyle choice. Its a disease. It is a biological disease like heart disease, diabetes, or hypertension. Its nothing to be ashamed of. It is a disease that requires medication, therapy, and support from family and friends. If you know someone has depression, anxiety, or any other kind of mental illness and you haven’t heard from them or seen them in awhile, check in on them. Ask how they are doing. Remind them that they are worth fighting for.