Sense to Sooth – Aromatherapy

Sense to Soothe (aromatherapy) This is the second article in our blog series, Sense to Soothe. As we shared,  the Sense to Soothe blog series is aimed at helping you identify your sensory preferences and create a corresponding sensory kit. For this article, we are pleased to introduce aromatherapy.  “Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across...
Sense to Sooth – Aromatherapy

Sense to Soothe


This is the second article in our blog series, Sense to Soothe. As we shared,  the Sense to Soothe blog series is aimed at helping you identify your sensory preferences and create a corresponding sensory kit.

For this article, we are pleased to introduce aromatherapy. 

“Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived.”  – Helen Keller

Overview of aromatherapy

  • Aromatherapy, also referred to as essential oil therapy, is the use of essential oils (e.g., flowers, herbs, or trees) to promote physical, mental and spiritual health.
  • French perfumer and chemist, Rene-Maurice Gattefosse published Gattefosse’s Aromatherapy (1937) and coined the term “aromatherapie.” In his book, Gattefosse presented early clinical findings supporting the use of essential oils for a range of physical ailments.
  • Essential oils are the fragrant (aromatic) part found in many plants (e.g., bark, roots, peels and petals). The cell that give a plant its fragrant smell are its “essence.” The essence is extracted by physical means such as distillation (steam, steam/water and water) or expression (e.g., cold pressing).
  • Aromatherapy treatment often involves either breathing the essential oils through the noise or applying diluted forms onto the skin. Methods of aromatherapy application include: massage/body oil; facial cream, lotions and oils; baths; steam inhalation; aromatic spritzer; diffusion. Note: It is rare for person to take essential oils by mouth. One should never do this unless advised by their physician.
  • Commonly used essential oils are chamomile, geranium, lavender, tea tree, peppermint, eucalyptus, lemon, ginger, cedarwood, and bergamot.
  • According to WebMD, aromatherapy can be used to ease stress, anxiety and depression; boost feelings of relaxation; improve sleep; enhance quality of life for people with long-term health problems like dementia; ease certain kinds of pain (e.g., including pain from kidney stones and osteoarthritis of the knee); fight bacteria on the skin; and lessen some of the side effects from cancer treatment, like nausea and pain
  • Aromatherapy is generally safe, although there can be side effects from using essential oils (e.g., irritation of eye, skin, or mucous membranes of nose). There can also be mild allergic reactions. Although essential oils have been used, reputedly effectively, for centuries as a traditional medicine, they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), thus there is no agency oversight to monitor safety or effectiveness.


Using essential oils engages our sense of smell and possibly touch and sight as well.

Why should I consider adding aromatherapy to my sensory kit?

Because scents can improve your mood, make you feel calmer or more energized. The scents released by essential oils act on the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that influences the hormonal system. Individual responses to scents are highly personal, but a scent can affect your mood, metabolism, and stress levels.

In Six Aromatherapy Essential Oils for Stress Relief and Sleep, psychiatrist Marlynn Wei M.D., J.D., highlights how aromatherapy can balance your mind, body and spirit (and therefore, in or perspective, may be useful for a sensory kit or relaxation practice). According to Dr. Wei,

  • Scents have power to evoke emotions and memories instantly and can directly impact our bodies through our nervous system.
  • The olfactory nerve gives us our sense of smell and starts from our nose and enters the skull through tiny holes to connect directly to the brain. This nerve sends signals almost instantaneously to many parts of the brain, including the limbic system and amygdala, which are in charge of emotions, mood, and memory.
  • These systems are also in charge of regulating our autonomic nervous system, which can either trigger a fight-or-flight response, quickening our breath, heart rate and raising our blood pressure, or can soothe us through turning on the parasympathetic nervous system, which relaxes our bodies. This theory helps explain why scents can so quickly trigger physical reactions in our bodies and have lasting effects after the scent is gone.
  • Essential oils like lavender have even been shown to interact the same way biochemically that many anti-anxiety medications do on neuroreceptors.


Dr. Wei goes on to present summaries of studies supporting the use of aromatherapies for various nervous system ailments:

Lavender: Lavender essential oil is one of the most well-studied essential oils in terms of its relaxing effects. One study found that lavender oil aromatherapy calmed the nervous system — lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and skin temperature as well as changing brain waves to a more relaxed state. Lavender can also help with mild insomnia and provide better quality of sleep. Lavender aromatherapy has also been found to help reduce anxiety and depression in women with postpartum depression. Lavender has also been found to help reduce anxiety in many medical settings, such as dental offices, the intensive care unit, and during preparations before surgery.

Lemon or Yuzu: Japanese researchers found that yuzu citrus scent can soothe stress and anxiety and lower your heart rate in just 10 minutes, with effects lasting for almost half an hour.

Bergamot: Five out of six clinical studies, conducted between 2009 and 2013, have found that bergamot essential oil aromatherapy reduces heart rate, blood pressure, and stress.

Clary sage: Clary sage essential oil has been found to help people relax during dental procedures. Clary sage oil aromatherapy has also been shown to have antidepressant-like effects.

Jasmine: Jasmine essential oil is less well-studied, but does have one study that suggests that the odor of jasmine tea can be calming.

What types of aromatherapy do you recommend?

  • Essential Oil Haven contains a list of seven things to consider before purchasing any essential oils. For one thing, make sure the oils are sold 100% pure, without chemical fillers, additives or synthetics.
  • Armita Aromatherapy’s Essential Oils Uses Chart may be a useful resource to identify what essential oils are appropriate for you. Remember, essential oils are not regulated by the FDA and therefore you should research brands carefully.


Type of product






SpaRoom Pure Mist Ultrasonic Essential Oil Diffuser ($19.99)


Aromatherapy Oil Diffuser Helix


Pier 1 Fragrance Misting Diffuser


Organic Infusions Professional Spa Essential Oil Diffuser


Travel diffusers

Rocky Mountain

Droplet Diffuser, Portable

Plant Therapy NovaFuse USB Diffuser

J. Crew Campo Essential Oil Travel Diffuser

Young Living Essential Oils Gentle Mist Personal Diffuser

Essential oils blends

Rocky Mountain Oils Balance

NOW Foods Clear the Air

Eden’s Garden Anxiety Ease

NOW Foods

Peaceful Sleep

Roll on

Nature’s Truth

Good Nite

Aura Cacia Chill Pill


Stress Relief

Young Living Essential Oils

Stress Away


Gya Labs Peppermint Hydrosol

Mountain Rose Invigorate Aroma Spray

Frankie & Myrrh Serenity Now! Relaxation Spray

Asutra Mist Your Mood Lavender Aromatherapy Mist


Plant Therapy DIY Cleaning Set

Plant Therapy 7×7 Essential Oil Set

World Market A&G Good Night Chamomile Essential Oil Duo

NOW Foods Let There Be Peace & Quiet – Relaxing Essential Oil Kits



  • Not sure of your essential oil preferences? Visit your local health food store, Target, or Walmart and ask to smell/sample those that intrigue. 
  • When shopping for essential oils, look for bottles that are blue or brown. The clear bottles let more light in and may reduce effectiveness.
  • To save money, make your own spritzes and mists. Purchase glass spray bottles from Amazon (2 pack for $11.38) and check out
  • If you work in a communal setting, be considerate of others’ space and sensory preferences. Instead of using a diffuser, keep a couple of roll-ons handy or consider buying aromatherapy towelettes. Want to avoid purchasing towelettes? Just place a few drops of your preferred essential oil onto a cotton ball or piece of tissue, again being sure to exert care of others around you.
  • To enhance your aromatherapeutic experience, add a breathing exercise
  • Match oils to your needs. Consider oils for morning, afternoon, before bed or for specific experiences (e.g., anxiety). 



  • Affordable brands include NOW Foods, Aura Cacia, and Lisse Essentials
  • Pricier brands include Plant Therapy, Rocky Mountain Oils, Edens Garden and Mountain Rose Herbs Essential Oils
  • Some of the priciest brands include Young Living and dōTERRA


Links + Resources


Concluding thoughts

Smell is regarded as the most primitive of our senses. Our brains process smell in the olfactory bulb and then the limbic system, or the set of structures within the brain that play a critical role in mood, memory, behavior and emotion. It makes terrific sense to identify and have available smells that may support your limbic system and bring you to your desired physiological or psychological states.

Moving forward, prioritize finding your preferred scents and making them available in your home, workplace, and purse, bag or suitcase.

Sensory kit (so far)

  • Tea bags
  • Essential oil bottles, roll-ons, or towelletes 


You are worth taking time for.

Be on the lookout for the next article in our Sense to Soothe blog series. The topic? Binaural beats.

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