About this post: A popular commodity in the wellness industry, essential oils actually do have many mental health benefits. Using them in the context of connecting with others can have exponential benefits.
I’m sitting on the floor in front of a coffee table where chalkboard labels, metallic markers, fractionated coconut oil, and empty roller bottles lay strewn around bottles of essential oils.
My teammates surround me, dropping their own unique blends into the colorful roller bottles. Kuljit wonders why her blends never end up smelling quite right, even though she mixes the same oils that we do. She hands me her latest bottle, and I hold it up to my nose, hoping I can see something reassuring, and before I can stop myself, my entire face scrunches up in confusion. I hear the loud, happy peal of Sabrina’s laughter filling the room, and Kuljit saying, “I guess it’s the proportions.” Sabrina’s wrapping up their bottles in black labels covered in the heart and flower doodles they have lovingly placed on the labels. Ruth carefully examines each essential oil, picking it up, appraising it, and considering just the right blend, as if she’s in a Harry Potter movie. Amy sits next to her, catalogue in hand, looking up each oil methodically, planning out before even a drop falls into her empty roller bottle. I notice Justine’s bottle is already made, as she watches the mix of organized chaos around her, giving helpful suggestions to the rest of us stragglers.
My friend had given me a set of oils for my birthday, telling me that she’d been using them for just about anything: stomachaches, stress, sleep, focus… It had been three months before I even opened the box. I realized that the pursuit of self-care wasn’t enough of a driver for me to make time, so one rainy weekend, I asked my daughter to make some blends with me. We opened the box carefully, as if opening a treasure chest, and carefully filled our colorful roller bottles, covering them with labels that said things like “sleep”, “tummy”, “happy” and “breathe”. That night, I covered the soles of her feet with our “sleep” blend, massaging it in, then kissing her lovely forehead goodnight.
I remember that when my box had first arrived, it came with a separate package, a mini goodie bag that had a pre-made roller among other knickknacks. I carried the roller a few days, swirling the metal roller over my temples and the back of my neck, willing it to bring me peace and calm. It felt nice, and maybe even worked a bit, but it had nowhere near the effect of the bottles I’d made with my daughter and then with my team. When I used the pre-made bottle, it felt like “self-care”. It was the type of self-care though that evoked feelings like, “I was worth it, I deserved rest,” and that it was okay to claim it for myself. When I applied the rollers that I made alongside the people in my life, I felt loved and supported. The peace and calm I felt came with feeling connected and loved and with caring for others.
The oils truly do have medicinal properties, and getting the right mix can really help in specific areas of health, but like most things, they can only do so much unless they occur in the context of connection. Self-care has become commodified and also a bit selfish – it’s become about what we deserve and what we claim as our own. As we try to care for our bodies and souls, we often disconnect from the world and from others, trying to find refuge within ourselves, within healing ourselves. But without relation to others, there is no refuge, no self-compassion, no validation. We exist in this world in relation to others. Our brains are programmed to love and to reciprocate emotion, and healing and (self) care cannot happen in isolation.
Check out some tips below about essential oils, and how we can use this self-care product to promote connection with others!
Essential Oils Health Tip #1: Give a Massage
Giving, not just getting a massage, releases oxytocin – the “love hormone.” Not only does it give us a warm fuzzy feeling, but it can improve mood, lower stress, decrease pain, and even improve communication. So if you feel you need a pick-me-up, offer to massage someone you love. You can use an essential oil, like lavender or citrus, to enhance the experience of relaxation, or just use any cream or lotion on hand. The thought and touch are what makes the biggest difference.
Essential Oils Health Tip #2: Benefits of Lavender Essential Oil
Within the group of essential oils, lavender tends to be one of the least expensive and most versatile. It is shown to be helpful with insomnia, stress, anxiety, depression, allergies, pain and even has some antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects. You can mix it with a carrier oil, like almond or fractionated coconut oil, and massage it onto your skin, or you can add a few drops to a cloth or tissue and inhale the scent. Remember though that even “natural” remedies can have side effects, and while uncommon, you should stop using it if you notice skin irritation, allergy, or physical symptoms like nausea or headaches.
Essential Oils Health Tip #3: Make handmade rollers
Handmade rollers are very easy to make and gift to loved ones. Choose a few of your favorite scents, and add about 10 drops to a 10ml roller bottle. Fill the rest of the bottle with a carrier oil like sweet almond or jojoba, and you’re done! If you want, you can also add a label and name your creation, or write a few words describing the scent. (The bottles with metal rollers feel best, and they can be as low as 50 cents a bottle when you buy in groups of 25+!)
Essential Oils Health Tip #4: Pair different scents for different activities and feelings
Scent, memory and emotion are very directly linked because scent travels directly, without interruption to limbic and memory centers in your brain. You can use this knowledge to train your brain. For instance, Justine, our office manager, made her own spray to clean her yoga mats, and now that scent can quickly invoke feelings of relaxation because her brain has made a neural connection between that aroma and the state that yoga evokes. I suggested that as a movement instructor, she could give the spray to others who practice with her. Their brains have already been trained to associate the scent with relaxation (and with the human connection within that experience). Taking in the scent, even when not in yoga practice, allows the brain to more easily, and often spontaneously, go into a relaxed state. Pair different scents at different times of day and for different activities, and use the associations to live intentionally.
Written by Dr. Tejal Kaur, founder and medical director of graymatters