Series On Stress: Mindfulness and Aromatherapy

Deanna Savage, the President and Founder of Savage Support once told me that, when she received her breast cancer diagnosis, one of the last things she wanted to do was to practice mindfulness. After all, she had just received bad news and thought there would be nothing worse than looking inward. Instead she wanted to spend her time thinking about anything BUT her diagnosis.

We looked at mindfulness in one of our previous articles and want to dive deeper into the subject to not only look at what it is, but also some useful ways to practice mindfulness in daily life; whether battling cancer, receiving a diagnosis, or any stress happening in life.

As such, we invited Lisa Zochert, a certified integrative aromatherapist, reiki master/teacher, mindfulness/meditation coach and breast cancer survivor, to talk about aromatherapy and mindfulness and how it can be used to reduce stress.


How Aromatherapy Works

One of the most commonly asked questions Lisa gets is: does aromatherapy still work if I can’t smell? The answer to that question is yes; aromatherapy can affect you both mentally and physiologically. This is important to note because that means that the effects of aromatherapy and the use of essential oils, one of the most common vehicles for delivering wonderful aromas, have two different ways of helping to reduce stress.

“It is really, really powerful and super concentrated plant medicine and that is how we need to think about essential oils. Yes they smell nice, but they are very powerful medicine as well.“

Mentally, aromatherapy works by taking in smells typically associated with calming effects. The mind then knows it is time to calm down. Much of this area of aromatherapy is subjective to each person, as everyone has different reactions to smell.

“One person might like an earthier smell or others might like a more floral smell. What I like about my job is that I get to create custom blends for people based on their needs. I will put out a bunch of oils that I know have calming effects. We then work through all of those smells together to create a blend they like that is specific to them.”

Physiologically, aromatherapy has been shown to affect blood pressure, heart rate, skin conductivity and mental activity. Additionally, it can affect the way medications are absorbed by the body.

“There are oils that interact with medications. If someone is diabetic, there are certain oils they shouldn’t use because they affect their glucose levels. Oils and aromas can also cause your liver to process medications too quickly so that your body doesn’t get the full benefit from it. ”


Aromatherapy and Breast Cancer Treatment

There are very strict rules about the use of aromatherapy for those undergoing cancer treatment.

“Nobody undergoing chemo or radiation should be putting essential oils on their body because it can affect their treatment. Again, it is really powerful plant medicine and it can cause your body to act differently.”

Lisa says that you should always consult your doctor and a professional aromatherapist if you are considering implementing aromatherapy into your treatment.

“Your doctor came up with a very clear and specific plan for you and you want to make sure you are getting the most out of that. You don’t accidentally want to be counteracting those effects by doing something with aromatherapy that you shouldn’t be.”


The Smell of Relaxation

So what are some of the most common aromas that Lisa suggests for relaxation and stress reduction?

“People always go to lavender because it is a great oil that does a lot of things, but its not the be all end all. There are lots of oils out there that are as good or even better at helping with relaxation.”

She says that bergamont can smell uplifting and awakening, but physiologically, your body relaxes when you smell it. Vetever, cedarwood and ylang-ylang are also great aromas that all have excellent stress reduction and calming properties.

Finally, she reminds us that everyone is different and the mental connection to a scent may counteract the physiological effects of the smell. For example, if you have a negative memory associated with the aroma of lavender, it may evoke the feelings of that negative memory instead of calming you.


Slow It Down

In the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life, we tend to cruise from place to place with little room for self-reflection and mindfulness. Lisa says that there are a few easy things you can do to slow things down and be mindful, even when you are out and about.

“I practice something called Four Square Breathing. This is when you take a breath in over the course of four seconds, then hold it for four seconds, let it out for four seconds, then hold your breath again for four seconds. Doing this forces you to focus on your breath and starts you along the process of calming down.”

Another activity she recommends is taking a minute to focus on one thing around you. You could look at a rock, a blade of grass, a key or anything else. Look at it and appreciate every crevice, change in color, blemish and pattern there is. She likes this activity as a way to center herself when she is standing in long lines or when she finds herself getting irritated.

Finally, she recommends doing a bit of yoga as a way to not only calm your mind, but calm your body as well.

“When I work with patients, I find that some people develop neuropathy or their balance is affected. I find that doing yoga helps with both of those things on a physical level and the practice of yoga helps with the mental side of mindfulness.”

She says that it is important to remember you are not competing with anyone in a class you might be taking. Yoga is about being mindful and being thankful for what your body can do today. She says it’s important to remain positive and accepting.

“Yesterday I could put my leg a little bit further in this direction but today I can’t, and that is okay. I am honoring my body in this moment and it is telling me to only go this far today, and that is okay.”


Take Time To Put Yourself First

As a society, we are becoming more and more aware of how stress negatively affects us. Our work, home, and personal interactions suffer when we are under stress. As such, it is more important than ever for us to figure out ways to deal with our stress.

One of the most important ways of doing this, according to Lisa, is to put ourselves first.

“Take time for yourself without guilt. Recognize that in the end, you are a better partner, parent, employee and person when your needs are taken care of.”

In our last SOS with Dr. Leslie Waltke, she shared that you don’t need to have fancy exercise clothes or equipment to exercise. All you have to do is make a little bit of time. Lisa shared the same advice when it comes to mindfulness.

“If I can only take one minute to be mindful five times per day instead of blocking out a 30 minute chunk of time, that is great. As long as you are taking time to reflect on yourself in the moment, you are doing it right.”


Practice Makes Perfect

If you have ever tried to sit down and “be mindful,” you know it is a daunting task. As soon as you close your eyes, you remember seven things you need to do, you are met with thoughts and worries, and you cant seem to get them to stop.

Lisa says that lots of people get bogged down when they first try mindfulness and they judge themselves because they couldn’t do it. She emphasizes that they shouldn’t beat themselves up about it. Taking time to reflect and center yourself is not something most people know how to do intuitively.

“The more you do it, the better and faster you can get yourself to that place of mindfulness, and the faster you can get to a point where you take one deep breath and you are already relaxed.”

We don’t have to be sick or stressed to practice mindfulness. One of the best times to practice mindfulness is when you are not stressed out because it allows you the opportunity to cut out the distractions and focus deeper. You also don’t have to be focus on something that is bothering you or concerning you when you are practicing mindfulness. Focusing on any gratitude for yourself or on a physical object is enough to create the calming sensation and help you relax.


How Do You Practice Mindfulness?

There are many ways to practice mindfulness. You can sit quietly on the floor and focus on your breathing. You can light some scented candles or an incents burner and reflect on your day. You can listen to music or a guided meditation you found on YouTube. You can inspect an object in great detail as a way to focus.

We want to hear how you practice mindfulness. Let us know in the comments below if you found this SOS helpful and how you take time to reflect and be mindful.

Lisa Zochert, BS, MS, IAC

Lisa Zochert, BS, MS, IAC

Founder at Aroma Centered

Lisa Zochert is a certified integrative aromatherapist, reiki master/teacher, mindfulness/meditation coach and breast cancer survivor. She serves as the only certified aromatherapist working for the Froedert system and also runs Aroma Centered where she offers customized aromatherapy and other services and education.

Lisa Zochert, BS, MS, IAC

Lisa Zochert, BS, MS, IAC

Founder at Aroma Centered

Lisa Zochert is a certified integrative aromatherapist, reiki master/teacher, mindfulness/meditation coach and breast cancer survivor. She serves as the only certified aromatherapist working for the Froedert system and also runs Aroma Centered where she offers customized aromatherapy and other services and education.


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