Reducing Holiday Stress with Aromatherapy
The information in this podcast does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should not be used as a substitute for healthcare from a licensed healthcare professional. Consult with your healthcare provider for individualized treatment or before beginning any new program.
Hello and welcome to Well Wisconsin Radio, a podcast discussing health and wellbeing topics with experts from all around the state of Wisconsin. I’m your host, Renee Fox, and today my guest is Robin Kourakis, a board-certified aromatherapist and trauma-informed sensory consultant with the Mendota Mental Health Institute.
Robin also has 20 years of experience in education, and she focuses on empowering others to use the potent and healing gifts of nature safely and effectively for their own well-being. Robin’s quest for holistic learning led her to essential oils 25 years ago, and she says it was love at first sniff and success at first formulation.
Host: Robin, thank you so much for joining us today to talk about reducing holiday stress with aromatherapy.
Guest: Oh, you’re welcome. It’s my pleasure to be here. I enjoy your podcast and the topic of aromatic wellness is one that’s close to my heart.
Host: Well, thanks so much. Can you just start our conversation off today by telling us a little bit about what aromatherapy includes and some well-being benefits that are associated with it?
Guest: Absolutely, aromatherapy, is the use of essential oils and CO2s that are naturally extracted from roots and rhizomes, wood, leaves, flowers, and seeds. They are aromatic essences that are very volatile and concentrated. They are multifaceted, they are made up of pharmacologically active compounds, and they are available to everybody, pretty much at Walgreens and everywhere today.
It’s an exciting topic and within everybody’s reach and realm for their well-being. What are they? That was a big question, what are the health benefits? Let’s see, the health benefits and the well-being benefits are plentiful. I can start with the health benefits. Your body is generally not in a place of homeostasis due to stress whether you can recognize what your stress is at the moment or not, we all carry layers of stress with us and thus our bodies are not in a place of homeostasis as a general place of being.
Many embrace well-being and do much to stay balanced, which is fabulous, and what essential oils can do is complement one’s own body in its healing and supportive processes. How does it do that? Well, through the limbic system, we can get into that in a moment, through the nose, through its aroma, through one’s perception of an experience.
An aroma has the capacity to do so much, and the health benefits are, again, multifaceted there are layers and layers as each body system is and can be affected. I can talk more about all of that, but I do want to mention not just health benefits, but well-being as well. Instead of using them for your mind, body, and soul on a physical, physiological, and spiritual level.
One can also use essential oils for the environment to clean and support, disinfect, and get rid of synthetic products that are known to be causing problems in our environment. Systems and bodies and experiences. So, I hope I answered that question.
Host: Yes, absolutely. That’s really wonderful. Thank you. Can you tell us a little bit more about the work that you do at Mendota Mental Health Institute and how you’re using aromatherapy to help patients?
Guest: Absolutely, the patients at Mendota Mental Health are people who past a sensory evaluation, meaning it’s been identified that an aromatherapy consultation would be worthy to support their wellness in their journey.
I meet with the patient and do a full-on aromatherapy awareness intake, where they have opportunities to sniff and discuss. Or rather, sniff and react, if appropriate, to the different fragrances, and from there, my goal, is to create a blend that would synergistically serve their purposes.
And when I say synergistically, I wouldn’t use a single oil. The goal of what I was doing was to serve a physiological or psychological need, and in doing so, a single note was not my goal or the goal of the patient. The patients all really had a range of different needs depending on where they came from.
They were all coming from a place of trauma and from a forensics background. However, their needs as humans were quite substantial in terms of finding grounding, stress relieving, uplifting, calming, sedative, or in sleep-enhancing solutions. So, I had the honor of serving the patients with opportunities to explore different aromatherapy options to support their needs.
Sometimes it was a nasal inhaler, sometimes it was an aromatic spray. Most of the time, the feedback I got was, this is really, helpful, and the other big component was, yes, I used it. Very powerful, as we enter the holiday season, some people may experience stress. Whether that’s due to finances, maybe relationships, loss of loved ones, especially this time of year, maybe just the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.
Host: So how can any of our listeners who are interested in aromatherapy use this to help reduce stress this holiday season or really throughout the year?
Guest: We all know that stress is linked to all the leading causes of disease and ultimately death. So, to avoid that, reducing stress will, of course, lead to health and well-being, and knowing when things are going to be stressful gives us a one-up on being able to take care of ourselves in these situations.
So, here’s how to relieve your stress. Start inhaling. That’s what you can do. Essential oils have the power to rebalance your feelings and your emotions. There is stress everywhere and if one could find an appropriate oil to support the circumstances causing that stress, that would best serve them.
For example, you mentioned finances, relationships, and grief. For finances, something to relax oneself. For relationships, something that one could ground oneself within, and for grief, something to uplift. Now, I could name different essential oils that generally would support these categories. However, because of our individuality and our own sense of recall, our own recollection of past events, and the way that they are part of our memory, one smell may be wonderful and uplifting to one, and yet at the same time to another, not at all. So, what can one do? Start now. Find the scent that works for you. How do you do that?
Well, we can talk about that, but it’s really important to do that because aromatherapy, as I said, supports our bodies in finding homeostasis. And that is really important for our overall wellness. And, as you said, the holidays can be stressful. Going into the holiday season with that in hand, specifically, your own personal nasal inhaler, which is something I can talk a little bit about how to make at some point, is something that everybody can do, and it can support your entire body in so many ways.
Host: Do you have any suggestions for those of us who may encounter some of those smells maybe walking into a loved one’s home this holiday season, whether that is resulting in feeling down or negative or, maybe even some suggestions for if we are experiencing that, how we can tap into things like the nasal inhaler, and really have that positive, feeling as we are experiencing the holidays.
Guest: One can know that they can transport the signals going into their mind and support the memories that will be triggered, transport what they already understand will happen with stress, and simply be prepared by having an aroma that they like, that they can smell. Having that inhaler, but if they don’t have that, they haven’t taken the time to do that, they can simply visualize that smell, if you will.
The experience of that smell is something everybody can do simply even after this podcast is take a moment and think of a smell that brings to them a feeling of happiness or joy. It might be different for everybody from the cinnamon and nutmeg smells of the holidays to the Christmas tree pine needle to chamomile tea.
There’s a multitude and I think there are, I’m not going to quote the number that our nose is able to detect of smells, but it’s quite significant. And when compared to animals, it’s somewhat insignificant. So, it’s really fascinating but if you don’t have a smell of the holidays, again, you can project and take yourself there and work through it.
The other thing to note is this, when one does smell danger, that smell will last, but when one smells something that they like, that smell sensation will become familiar, and it won’t even remain for too long. So, aromatherapy is quite an expedited and accelerated process that doesn’t require much.
So, one can either project or invest in a small inhaler from Amazon working safely with the concerns that one needs to know to mix their own inhaler.
Host: Can you tell us more about the nasal inhalers and how those are different or similar to diffusers or roll-on perfume-like aromatherapies?
That’s a great question. The roll-on aromatherapy oils that people might be able to find at the store could work for them, serve their needs, and be fabulous. The considerations would be what they’re made of and who made them. A little bit more about a nasal inhaler, it is something that I often make for my clients whereas, an infuser the air is generally not as controllable in that it affects others. You need to be in the room with your infuser. An inhaler is something like, Vicks makes them, and some people might be familiar with them. like a Chapstick, but it’s for your nose and you can inhale it directly. It will have immediate results and you just take a deep inhalation of an appropriate oil. You can buy the pieces and make them yourself or work with somebody who you feel is trusted trained and appropriate. They can serve you in so many spaces and places and they’re quite private and personal. It can be used by people of all ages that are appropriate, and again portable. So, whether it’s for a calming experience or because you’re developing a cold, your inhalers could have different types of ingredients.
Host: Can you talk a little bit about some safety risks that are associated with aromatherapy and especially for anyone who wants to, you know, come up with their own blends? And could you talk about why you focus on teaching how to safely and effectively use essential oils, and just what people should look out for when they are making these purchases?
Guest: That’s really important stuff. Let’s talk about it, safety. Well, people feel that because they’re available over the counter and kind of everywhere, they’re ubiquitous at this point, that they’re safe and they really are safe if used appropriately and within guidelines.
And those aren’t shades of gray words. Those are important words. Why are they important? Well, most of the essential oils are so concentrated that they cannot be used, which we call neat, which is direct. They need to be mixed with a carrier oil to the right dilution. What is the right dilution? Well, the application for what are the indications for the individual? What are the contraindications for the individual? What percentage or how old is the individual? Are they a child? Are they elderly? And beyond that, are they pregnant? So, right there, there’s just a little bit to think about. Now, yes, some oils can be used directly.
Lavender has been known and is known to be safe. GRAS, generally regarded as safe, is what we say in the aromatherapy industry. But what is safe and comfortable for one may not be for another. A patch test is always appropriate, no matter the application, even when applied and mixed appropriately because just like anything else in your system, you could be reactionary to its components or constituents.
Most of our pharmacological constituents and components in chemistry are from nature. And so, it’s not surprising that because it’s natural, you may have a reaction. But, with all the over-the-counter, all the prescribed medications you’ve had in your lifetime, what percentage have you personally had a reaction to? I know for me there was one, and I stayed away from it.
I have not had an adverse reaction myself to essential oils. when used appropriately. They all do not belong in the bath. They can burn skin. Sometimes when not used, or sometimes even when used appropriately, you’re not able to get the maximum benefits, if not applied appropriately.
For example, just because an oil is safe to use in the bath if you don’t mix it with a dispersant, it will just stick to the walls of the bathtub. There are things to know to be able to administer and utilize them to their potential and they have such great potential.
Host: If someone’s just, you know, trying to decide and determine if aromatherapy is safe for them, what guidance would you provide and where they can find more information and are there some people that should just avoid aromatherapies altogether for maybe the stage or season of their life, they’re in?
Guest: I think that avoiding something altogether might be too heavy-handed. I think like all health modalities, there is something in it for everybody. You know, there are different ways of using them beyond the application of inhalation. There’s using them physically, topically for massage, for body lotions, for body oils.
There are ways to keep the fragrance away from your nose if it’s not something that appeals to you but to allow its therapeutic purposes to persevere. There are ways of blending them so that one note doesn’t stand out, but I think that oils that are generally regarded as safe are worthy of most people’s attention if used appropriately. Before you asked about purchasing them safely and, I didn’t talk about the safety of your source. That’s something I’d really like if I could go back to, just because they’re for sale doesn’t mean they’re great quality. And just because it’s the best price probably means something, actually. Why is it that price? Because it shouldn’t be. And so, for example, sandalwood, to harvest sandalwood oil ethically, it needs to be growing for 50 years. If overharvested, then harvesting resources that aren’t sustainable becomes a no-no. So, when you purchase oils, it’s important to trust the company making ethical decisions that are environmentally sustainable, as well as creating products that are made with purity. If appropriate to be organic, then organic, but if not appropriate, then grown sustainably and harvested ethically.
It’s important for them to provide testing reports, where one can see the chemical components of the oils and the makeup and molecular structures of what’s going on. Because if not, somebody might be getting a product that is adulterated with synthetics and that isn’t serving the purpose of the goal.
That’s not actually doing anything but driving an economy that is not legitimate and authentic with integrity and that’s not what we’re going for.
Host: So, for anyone who wants to find more information and make sure that their purchases are from reputable sources, do you have any recommendations of places our listeners can go to get more information?
I sure do, there’s so many wonderful resources. I am in love with a couple in particular. A school that I studied through is Aroma Apothecary Healing Arts Academy, which offers a multitude of classes that will reach beginners, to the advanced level, to aromatherapy enthusiasts.
I have had the honor of completing everything they offer and I can’t say enough about how wonderful it was to work with such a mentor. Another wonderful school is the School For Aromatic Studies, Jade Schutz is the owner and a wonderful aromatherapist.
I follow her on several podcasts as well that we can talk about. Some of the podcasts I love are the Essential Oil Revolution, Aromatherapy Library, and The LabAroma with Colleen Quinn. A couple of wonderful websites for really in-depth learning and the opportunity to purchase some great aromatherapy products and oils are Mountain Rose Herbs as well as Eden Botanicals.
I have one more I would absolutely love to add because it is such a rich resource of information and it’s Aromatics International. With Aromatics International, you are able to search for your essential oils through the chemical composition of the parts of the plant, implications, plant family, and many other different defining characteristics that are really interesting.
Host: Our listeners can check out all of those great resources in our episode show notes. Can you talk a little bit more about emotional rebalancing where participants can focus and discover how to turn chaos into calm by using aromatherapy whether that’s during the holidays or any time of year?
Guest: Yes, it is again back to the fastest ways through your nasal inhaler. You need to rebalance and what we know about ourselves is we are connected. Now, we know that when we are feeling chaos, as I mentioned before, our bodily systems, from our digestive to our nervous system, to our vascular system, every system is affected and what we can do is bring calm to our autonomic nervous system by simply inhaling.
And when we do, we’re able to tell all our other body systems through those chemicals going through our brain to calm down. It’s not a fight or flight, it’s okay to relax. Our parasympathetic nervous system steps up and finally takes its spot as our sympathetic nervous system has been running the show.
I had mentioned before we need our sympathetic nervous system. Those were the caveman days. We really needed them intensely. But now, we really need to work on finding the parasympathetic response and allowing that space to find ourselves in the space of calm. The best way, again, to know everything is connected and that’s called psychoneuroimmunology.
It’s where our mind and body connection are real, and that our emotional health affects our entire physiological body. It’s important for us to kind of take control of that, and again, use what we know to do what we can.
Host: Love that. Great advice. Any final recommendations for our listeners, especially those who might be just getting started with aromatherapy or anyone who just wants to reduce that stress this season?
Guest: Absolutely. You don’t need a nasal inhaler. You can take a walk and just start to smell. You’ve heard the expression, stop and smell the roses. Well, It’s for a reason. The fragrances in the natural world are what we are talking about right now, and aromatherapy with essential oils are the most concentrated, most volatile oils from those plants, and they have such a concentrated, intense, possibility.
But taking a walk out in the woods gets you started. Get started, just breathe in, and enjoy those fragrances. There are reasons people feel grounded when they do what you call forest bathing. It is the sesquiterpenes and the monoterpenes and oxides coming out through the leaves and the wood and the trees that people are breathing in. And so, walking in the woods, breathing in the flowers, and finding clarity in the leaves is my suggestion.
Host: Great advice. I love it. I hope our listeners have a chance to do that this holiday season. I really appreciate all the great recommendations and educational information you shared today, Robin. Thank you for joining us.
Thank you so very much. And if I could share one last quote from Oscar Wilde, please. “I, I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them”.
Host: I love that. Great way to wrap us up today. Thank you, Robin. Thank you so very much. Do you have a goal to reduce stress this holiday season or improve your mental health?
When it comes to making changes, we can all use some help. A WebMD health coach can be the beneficial guide you need to get the real results you’re looking for. Hear how coaching impacted a fellow Well, Wisconsin participant’s life.
“I find the whole Well, Wisconsin program to be incredibly helpful and, uh, motivating to keep an eye on my health. The actual coaching program is one of my favorite bits because it keeps me accountable and I find the coaches to be really, really helpful in, checking if I’ve been keeping up with my targets and also helping me set new ones. So, thank you Well Wisconsin.” WebMD coaches are trained health professionals ready to support you, whatever your goal. Get started today by calling 800 821 6591 or sending a confidential message on webmdhealth. com/wellwisconsin. Well, Wisconsin participants, our new 2024 program kicks off in January, and we’ve got a few surprises in store, including new well-being resources, more support for mental health and chronic conditions, world-class coaching, and best of all, new activities to find more fun and connection.
Log in to the Well Wisconsin portal in 2024 and explore new ways to nourish your well-being in the beautiful state of Wisconsin, right where you belong. Thanks for listening today. I hope you enjoyed this episode. You can find our survey in the Well Wisconsin portal and our transcripts and previous episodes at webmdhealthservices.com/wellwisconsinradio. If you’re listening to this podcast on your platform of choice, be sure to subscribe. So, you’ll never miss an episode.
Join us for an interview with a board-certified aromatherapist and trauma-informed sensory consultant to discover the science behind aromas and their ability to bring up good or bad memories. Our expert shares ideas for using aromatherapy to reduce stress this holiday season and discusses emotional rebalancing. You don’t want to miss this conversation that covers how to safely and effectively use essential oils and how to use holiday aromas to find balance. Learn more about Robin Kourakis at cosmicaromatics.com.
Websites recommended by Robin:
- Aroma Apothecary Healing Arts Academy
- The School for Aromatic Studies
- Mountain Rose Herbs
- Eden Botanicals
- Aromatics International