The Truth About Stress
Stress. You never know when it will creep up, wrap its arms around you, and refuse to let go. We live in a hectic, emotionally charged and constantly changing world. Being able to keep up with and manage all of that stress can be challenging, no matter how young or old you are.
As younger people take on the daily stress of employment, family, responsibility, and all of the other things that have effects on our overall general health, although difficult to process, many find that they can deal with and handle the challenges via physical activity, social interaction, time outside, vacations, and other forms of holistic practice.
Physiologically, younger people have the ability to process and heal, allowing them to move forward with their daily lives.
Older people, on the other hand, might find it a bit more difficult to adapt, process, and challenge stress when it sets in and threatens to change brain function, muscle memory, and other forms of general physical well-being. It is a fact that our bodies age. And, with age comes a break-down, if you will, in the lines of communication between the brain and the body.
Activities and tasks that once were simple slowly become more laborious and harder to accomplish. Things that once took 10 minutes now take much longer and require more mental and physical output, thereby leaving the body drained and hungering for periods of recovery.
As we age, so do our cells. Physically speaking, heart function and lung capacity decrease, making the body work harder to perform basic functions. Once this begins to happen, the body's natural ability to accommodate stress lessens and has a greater impact on physical as well as mental capacity to adapt and process.
When we feel stress, our brains are flooded with stress hormones. Our mid-brain takes over and the midbrain takes over. At that point, the front of the brain, which controls decision making, attention, and concentration slows down and cannot process as well as it should. This defense mechanism which is innate in the brain's makeup can manifest itself in many ways, such as memory loss and a disruption in the body's natural ability to restore itself through restorative sleep.
Without constructive and regular sleep patterns, the body's natural defenses against stress cannot function as they should and cannot release those stress hormones that are controlling the brain. Hence, fatigue, and an augmentation of negative cognitive effects begin to be the dominating and controlling force at work.
A recent study by the American Psychological Association reports that seniors, aged 66 and over, report the lowest stress levels of any generation. Although this study displays one perspective, it is a commonly held misconception that, as we age, everyday stresses are reduced. Some feel that many seniors are retired by he time they reach a certain age and, therefore must not have as much stress as they once did in their lives, when they were working more hours, taking care of family and household, and keeping up with their day to day routines. Even though this may be the case, there are a number of stressors that are very unique to this age group which can be extremely detrimental to overall health.
Reduced mobility, the loss of family members and friends, frequent and/or ongoing health issues, and a potential lessening of social connection can exacerbate many physical and mental symptoms of stress, augmenting negative physiological effects.
More than ever before, oder adults need effective ways to manage the symptoms that are often associated with stress.
Stress and the Body; A Game of Cat and Mouse
While we are young, certain stress inducers could be a continually crying child, or a very busy and challenging day in the workplace. It could be an argument with a spouse or loved one, or the overwhelming social demands that we feel on a regular basis.
Some symptoms of stress can come in the form of headaches, loss of concentration, anxiety and general irritability, gastrointestinal difficulties, and trouble sleeping. When we are younger, our bodies are naturally capable of handling these symptoms and, although they can seem overwhelming, these symptoms can be controlled and, in many cases reduced or even negated.
As we age, so do our cells. And as our cells age, the body's natural ability to overcome these symptoms lessens, threatening our day to day lives and making simple tasks seem insurmountable. The stress that was once manageable becomes heavy and overwhelming. Because so much depends on the restoration and regeneration of cells and basic brain patterns, aging really takes a toll on the process.
Seniors may be unaware that their physical and mental issues, such as high blood pressure, loss of mobility and social contact, chronic or recurring illness, or loss of close friends and family members can have a drastic impact on how the body responds.
When the brain senses danger or a negative change in routine, it sends a signal to the muscles to constrict and then tells the adrenal glands to release those dreaded stress hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones change breathing patterns, making the body breathe more quickly which, in turn, delivers much more oxygen to the muscles. They also trigger a more concentrated release of sugars and fats into the blood in order to deliver more energy to the cells so that they can effectively and quickly combat the feelings of stress.
When this happens, heart rate increases, as does blood pressure. When we are younger all of this is beneficial to us, allowing us to fight off the stressors that threaten to make things difficult. It is also important to note that, when we are younger, this might only occur every once in a while. But as we age and our processes slow and become less capable, the body cannot properly manage these responses and will, without a doubt, being to display more chronic symptoms like high blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety, gastrointestinal issues and irregularities, poor concentration, a weakening of the immune system, and a much greater risk for heart disease.
Simply put, we cannot continue to handle the stressors that we are confronted with as we age.
Conventional Treatment and Medication
Today's society is riddled with very conventional treatments to stress and sickness. If you have a pain or a problem, there is a pharmaceutical grade medicine that can be prescribed to you in a matter of minutes. With the majority of seniors taking at least one medication daily, and in many cases more five, we clearly see a pattern of covering up the root of the problem with a band aid, if you will, that addresses the issue and symptoms in the foreground and does nothing with the deeper and more resonating problem.
Take high blood pressure, as an example. When people express discomfort which is subsequently found to be high blood pressure, a prescription is given for the symptoms, in order to reduce them and make life seem more manageable. Rather than treat the underlying causes, western medicine often only addresses those problems that bubble to the surface, when in fact we should be looking more closely at why all of this might be happening.
Does the person have reduced mobility? Is this person, because of his or her reduced mobility, unable to exercise regularly and is, as a result of that, over eating or under eating and unable to naturally process the fats and proteins that are necessary for overall health? Has a loved one or a close friend passed, causing feelings of grief? Is anxiety playing a part in any of this? The anxiety of getting older and not being able to remember things clearly, or recognizing a general reduction in their ability to be a functional member of society? Is this person having trouble sleeping, which leads to a reduced capacity for healing?
As you can see, we must address the whole person, and not simply the topical symptoms.
In addition to all of this, conventional medications are or can be reactive. Interactions between medications can cause very unpleasant side effects, which, in turn, limits the overall benefits of the treatment. Because many seniors take multiple medications at various times throughout the day, the body's ability to naturally heal itself lessens, making it increasingly more dependent upon the medication to stabilize itself.
Starting a Holistic Revolution From the Inside Out; Healing with Essential Oils
A study called, "The Role of complementary and alternative medicine in geriatric care: A mini review", published in 2014 in the U.S. National Library of Medicine, addresses the possibility of the success of alternative forms of healing, such as Chinese medicine and traditional herbalism, as well as practices like yoga. What is now being called, "Complimentary and Alternative Medicine", or CAM, by the medical community is being found to have many incredible healing and restorative benefits that, heretofore, were not recognized or utilized as companions to conventional forms of medicine. Illnesses such as osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and hypertension, cognitive disorders, sleep issues that lead to fatigue and imbalance can all be treated in various, alternative ways which have been, interestingly enough, practiced in certain civilizations for hundreds of years.
We are learning, day by day, how amazing our natural world is, and how important it is to harness as much of it as we can in our daily routines in order to feel more healthy, balanced, and productive on a regular basis. Rather than immediately reaching for a pill that can take away our aches, pains, and symptoms of illness, it is possible to turn to alternative forms of medicine that could have incredibly beneficial impacts on our overall mental and physical health.
A simple internet search can lead you to a plethora of medical studies that have been published within the past 10 years which all speak of the beneficial and healing properties of CAM. If multiple studies demonstrate the effectiveness of alternative forms of healing, isn't it time to consider some for yourself?
One of the safest, easiest, and most effective ways to address stress symptoms naturally is through the use of essential oils. These healing oils have been recognized and utilized for centuries by civilizations all over the world to treat almost any illness or chronic health issues in existence today. With more and more exposure to these non-conventional forms of medicine, many people are learning to treat their symptoms on a holistic and healthy way; and the results are amazing!
It's time to learn more about how seniors can treat some of the most commonly occurring symptoms of stress by strategically, routinely, creatively, and mindfully harnessing the power of various essential oils.
One of the most common physical manifestations of stress (for individuals of any age) is a headache. A stressful situation can cause intense pain in many different places in the head, augmented by companion neck, shoulder, and back tension. It can happen in an instant and, when it does, it can alter the course of your day, leaving you unable to continue on in a normal manner. Prolonged stress can cause frequent headaches, which threaten to interfere with life, changing natural rhythms and routines.
Some of the most common and widely used essential oils for headache relief are;
All of these essential oils, when combined with a carrier oil, such as coconut, tamanu, emu, or jojoba and rubbed on the temples or at various pressure points such as the base of the next or the bottoms of your feet, can have immediate effects. You can also simply open the cap and inhale the aroma of the essential oil deeply, which will stimulate the limbic system, improve blood circulation, and reduce muscle constriction, helping reduce the painful feeling of a headache.
When mixing with a carrier oil you will only need between 3-5 drops of essential oil per teaspoon of carrier oil. Just a small amount is all you need to start feeling relief.
Sleep can be one of the most elusive and intangible things we can ever hope to achieve and are, often, plagued by a lack of it. Even feelings of stress don't seem present, older adults can suffer from insomnia due to natural changes that occur with aging. Many seniors often report staying up late into the evening and the wee hours of the morning, watching television, reading, playing cards, or just generally being awake.
For those seniors who are experiencing certain forms of stress in their lives, sleep can be even more challenging and can lead to terrible insomnia which, in turn, is extremely detrimental to overall physical and mental health. We know how important restorative sleep is to all of us. What we might not realize is that it is even more important to seniors.
Commonly used essential oils for sleeplessness or insomnia are;
These essential oils stimulate the limbic system and the amygdala and are known to decrease blood pressure, aid in deep relaxation and help bring about sleep.
Combining with your choice of carrier oils and apply topically to the temples, the base of the neck, wrists, and the bottom of the feet will help soothe and calm your otherwise tense nervous system.
You can also inhale these essential oils, taking advantage of the healing properties that way. A few deep inhalations can provide much needed relief.
Diffusers are also an excellent choice for application of essential oils when your goal is sleep. While you lie down, consciously releasing tension and thought processes, your choice of essential oils will be released into the air, creating a relaxing space all around you.
3. Over / Under eating
For many individuals, stress can cause a fluctuation in appetite. When faced with stress, some people eat too much, while others cannot eat at all. Either way, the results are potentially damaging to your body's well-being. When eating patterns become an issue, the entire body suffers, due to a lack of proper nutrition. If the body cannot absorb the vitamins, minerals, and calories it needs to perform efficiently, the stress of that alone can have very adverse effects on the individual.
There are a number of essential oils that can help control fluctuation in appetite, such as;
These oils also stimulate the limbic system, which is the "feelings" center of the brain, and help improve overall mental clarity. In this case, diffusing or inhaling the aromas from these essential oils are the best way to bring about a positive effect. Whenever feelings of eating too much or not eating enough occur, that is the perfect time to harness the power of these healing oils.
Find the oil or blend of oils that works for you and use it whenever you need them.
4. Anxiety and Depression
When stress is present for extended periods of time, both depression and anxiety can occur. Seniors rank particularly high in these categories, due to the numerous challenges and losses they are faced with regularly. Loss of mobility or increased pain, loss of loved ones and friends, fear of the future and the recognition of a potential decline in health are all serious issues that bring about stress and can lead to clinical depression and severe anxiety.
While it is always important for anyone to seek professional help in whatever capacity whenever mental health issues arise, there are also many natural remedies that can support a healthy, more positive, and stable mood.
Here are a few essential oils that can help promote feelings of calm and positivity;
All of these essential oils produce calming and relaxing effects on the nervous system. They help reduce stress and improve overall stability in mood and emotional clarity. For this purpose, diffusion, inhalation, or topical application through massage are the best ways to deliver these essential oils.
If diffusing or inhaling, no dilution is necessary. Simply remove the cap and breathe deeply, or place a few drops of your choice of essential oil/s into your diffuser and turn it on.
If applying topically, sweet almond oil or moringa oil work well as carrier oils, in order to dilute the essential oils, because they are both known to have calming effects on the nervous system. Mix 3-5 drops of essential oil with your choice of carrier oil and massage.
In addition to simply choosing one essential oil to use at a time, consider mixing a few together. Many people have reported much relief from anxiety and depression when they combined frankincense, bergamot, and lavender oils. Another well known and widely used combination is a mixture clary sage, lavender, and bergamot.
In either of these cases, equal amounts of the three essential oils are all you need to be on your way to a less stressful and more peaceful state of being.
5. Increased Heart Rate and High Blood Pressure
For seniors struggling to control blood pressure and heart rate, stress can be an added obstacle. In fact, the American Heart Association reports that, on average, 1 in 3 adults live with high blood pressure, which is a very high statistic by any standard.
High blood pressure occurs when the pressure on the blood vessels and arteries becomes too high and the arterial wall becomes misshapen, which causes increased levels of stress on the heart. When these issues are left unchecked, they can lead to some very severe problems such as vision loss, heart failure, diabetes, and even stroke. Due to the serious health threat posed, maintaining proper blood pressure levels is extremely important, especially to seniors.
It is vital to check your blood pressure at least once a day if you are experiencing symptoms of high blood pressure or increased heart rate. Be sure to monitor just after periods of both rest and activity, to see how your body is reacting to strain or repose. It is also important to check your blood pressure at the same time every day, to have a more accurate reading.
It is important to note that, while essential oils can help support the heart, it is imperative that you consult a doctor, whether conventional or holistic, regarding possible treatments and methods of healing. Neither increased heart rate nor high blood pressure are conditions that should be taken lightly.
In conjunction with other treatments, essential oils can be a very effective way to support heart health by reducing stress levels, lowering heart rate, and inducing better heart health. First, a list of beneficial essential oils;
- Ylang Ylang
- Valerian Root
All of these essential oils are excellent for helping to promote healthy blood pressure and heart rate by calming the nervous system and relaxing the senses. They are hypotensive, which means they tend to lower blood pressure. When we relax, our heart rate slows, leaving our bodies feeling more calm and peaceful.
For use, diffusion, inhalation, or topical application with a carrier oil all, such as rosehip oil or coconut oil work well.
Note: There are some essential oils that should never be used when issues of high blood pressure or increased heart rate are present, because they are hypertensive, or they increase heart rate and blood pressure by stimulating the nervous system.
Here is a list of a few to avoid;
- Black Pepper
Find the perfect combination of hypotensive essential oils, just as the ones mentioned above. After regular use, you will notice a difference in your level of calm and ease.
6. Poor Concentration
The ability to focus and maintain concentration for prolonged periods of time significantly diminishes when elevated levels of stress are present. In fact, stress causes a lack of concentration and an overall reduction in ability to remain on task during daily life. Not only that, but at a certain point it can actually become quite dangerous, as it can lead to many haphazard accidents that would not have otherwise occurred if proper focus was present.
Poor concentration also causes frustration in all of us, but especially in seniors. If there are any existing cognitive issues present, it can lead to augmented feelings of anxiety and frustration, further compounding the stress levels.
Because the emotional center of our brain is so directly linked to our olfactory sense, essential oils are perfect for mental stimulation when it is needed most. When renewed focus is required, there are an number of essential oils that can aid in overall mental clarity and concentration. Here are just a few;
All of these essential oils improve mental clarity and a renewed sense of concentration. Try them on their own or find a combination that works for you. The most direct and instant delivery is via inhalation. Remembering that the nose and the brain are intrinsically connected companions, as it were, this method is the quickest.
A topical application is also a good choice. When mixed with a carrier oil such as sweet almond, coconut, or tamanu and rubbed or massaged routinely on pulse or pressure points, a more visceral, full body delivery occurs, which can be extremely healing and beneficial.
7. Low Energy
When our bodies feel stress, they tend to respond because stress leads to fatigue and low energy. When any of us, and especially older people, feel consistently overwhelmed by stressful situations or states of being, such as anxiety, issues with chronic pain, fear of isolation, or any other number of things, the adrenal glands, hypothalamus, and pituitary gland begin to function at a less than ideal level.
When all of these essential pieces are not functioning properly, the result can be feelings of low energy and fatigue and a weakened immune system. When our immune system is compromised, there is no end to the complications that may ensue.
What is the importance of the adrenal glands, in relation to stress? Quite simply, the adrenals control our body's response to stress by releasing epinephrine and cortisol, which are all vital to the regulation of heart rate, the storage of energy, and the balance of the immune system. When adrenals are not optimally functioning, they will weaken, causing a disruption in their routine and leading to feelings of constant fatigue, lack of energy, and even depression.
Thinking about this is terms of age, the older we are, the less able we are to potentially control our situations. Life is long and, often, riddled with unexpected complications. Consider being a senior who, due to decreased mobility, cannot leave your home. Perhaps you are noticing that many of your friends and peers are dying. Maybe you are dealing with issues of chronic pain.
There are a myriad of reasons why getting older can lead to feelings of stress and anxiety. It is crucial, for the good of our health, to pay close attention to any changes or irregularities, and do whatever we can to help our physical and mental states of being function as well as possible.
Because eliminating the stressors completely from our lives is often not an option, it is important to find ways to learn how to cope with these stressors, as well as to give our bodies a gentle, but effective, boost. If we can reduce the feelings of anxiety and keep our energy levels up, our spirits will elevate, causing a shift in our overall physical and mental well-being.
Essential oils are a wonderful way to do just this. They can help to provide a natural and sometimes almost instant feeling of calm and rejuvenation, which can help with mood and anxiety. Again, remember that our olfactory sense is tethered to our brain, breathing in specific aromas can aid in mood elevation, which is a key factor in stress reduction.
There are a number of essential oils that are helpful in these situations. Here are just a few;
- Citrus oils, such as lemon, lime, orange, or grapefruit
All of these oils have aromas which will cause a promotion of healthy energy levels and help to alleviate feelings of stress and low energy. They can be administered via a diffuser, by direct inhalation (breathing deeply through the nose), through massage or application to pulse or pressure points, or even by adding 8-10 drops in the bath.
You can use them on their own, or find the combination of essential oils that works for you. Some examples of combinations are;
- 15 drops of bergamot oil, 10 drops of grapefruit oil, 10 drops of cedarwood oil
- 6-8 drops of basil oil, rosemary oil, ginger oil, and peppermint oil
Using essential oils can drastically help to improve your overall outlook on life. They can help make even the lowest of days feel so much better.
8. Decreased Immune Function
As many of us are aware, stress is a major foe of the immune system. The longer and more persistent the stressors, the more negatively they effect our body's natural ability to stay strong and healthy.
A properly functioning immune system is a result of the brain working in tandem with the endocrine system to release any needed hormones that will keep our bodies working at an optimal rate and energy level. When stress is present for a prolonged period of time, the endocrine system becomes bogged down and overstimulated. This can cause a rift between the brain's call for protection and the body's ability to produce the appropriate response, leading to an imbalance in levels and, eventually to a decrease in the function of the immune system.
This inevitably puts the body at a much greater risk for illness. When too much stress is present, our body releases cortisol and other hormones to fight against the negative energy, potentially overworking the endocrine system and putting the body at risk. As we age, our bodies have a harder and harder time staying strong and healthy. Because of this, it is imperative that extra care be taken to keep the immune system strong and functioning at an optimal level.
There are a number of ways to help combat the accumulation of stress in the body. Because it builds up gradually, daily maintenance is necessary in order to keep stressors at bay. Some examples of this are;
- Positive thinking
- Relaxation techniques, such as massage, yoga, or t'ai chi
- Increased social interaction
- Physical activity
In addition to these suggestions, essential oils can help keep the immune system strong and healthy. In order to ward off the flu, a cold, or many other illnesses, there are a number of essential oils and combinations of oils that can be very beneficial to overall health. Here are just a few;
Thieves oil is a wonderful combination of essential oils which can greatly aid in overall health. Inspired by a 15th century legend of a band of French thieves who concocted a powerful blend of very potent essential oils made up of;
They applied this to their wrists, temples, and under their nostrils while they were stealing from the sick and dying because they needed to stay healthy in order to support their profession and did so, with the help of this highly aromatic and pungent combination. Although this is an alarming story, it shows how essential oils have been used for centuries to keep people healthy and strong.
Delivery for all of these oils or combinations can be via diffuser, massage, application to pulse or pressure points, direct inhalation, or by adding 10-12 drops in the bath. Some have even said that Thieves oil can be mixed with water and used to create an effective, all-natural cleaning spray that can be used throughout the house to diffuse the aroma and create an immune system boosting environment.
9. Stomach Pain or Discomfort
An upset stomach is another common symptom often felt by those who experience both short and long-term stress. Whether it be a sudden ache or feeling or nausea from unpleasant or unexpected news that can flare up in an instant, or the dull ache of chronic stress and anxiety that manifests itself this way, stomach aches are a completely unwanted experience.
Why does the stomach hurt when stress is present in the body? When the brain senses stress, the brain's "fight or flight" mechanism is triggered, alerting the enteric nervous system (which regulates and control digestion) to slow down, or even stop, digestion. Why does the body do this, you may ask? Quite simply, the brain is telling the body to concentrate all of its energy on the disruption that is causing the stress. When this occurs, digestion is interrupted, leaving the body to fend for itself. Unfortunately, the stomach cannot work well on its own and, so, abdominal discomfort occurs.
There are a number of things that we can do to help support a calm and well-balanced gastrointestinal system, such as;
- Eat a well-balanced diet, avoiding fats highly acidic, and other processed foods
- Drink plenty of water
- Take a yoga or t'ai chi class
- Get a massage/acupuncture
- Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol
- Exercise regularly
In addition to all of these suggestions, essential oils can be used to help support and calm stomach and digestive system. Some oils that are known to illicit pleasant responses from the body are;
Throughout history, people have turned to peppermint, ginger, fennel (which has similar properties to licorice), and chamomile to quickly and effectively soothe an upset stomach. In their pure form, before being distilled into essential oils, each of these are well-known to calm the gastrointestinal system and help reduce or eliminate stomach discomfort. Steeping in tea or ingesting in other ways is often the most common vehicle for delivery.
When using essential oils, ingestion is not recommended. Instead, these oils can be delivered via diffuser, massage at pulse or pressure points, direct inhalation, or even rubbed directly onto the stomach. Any of these methods can be extremely effective and can help reduce the sensation of pain and discomfort.
Blends or combinations of these essential oils can also be beneficial to help soothe an upset stomach. Here are a few suggestions;
- Blend 2-3 drops fennel oil, 4-5 drops chamomile oil, 4-5 drops grapefruit oil, and 5 drops of peppermint oil. Use in a diffuser or place in a vessel and simply inhale when needed.
- Blend 5 drops lavender oil, 5 drops ginger oil, and 2-3 drops peppermint oil. Mix with 2 tablespoons of your chosen carrier oil, such as jojoba, tamanu, or coconut. Applying the oil blend gradually, gently massage the abdomen and just above in a soothing, clockwise motion (to compliment the natural movement of the large intestine).
- Blend 10-12 drops fennel oil, 10 drops chamomile oil, and 7-8 drops peppermint oil. Mix with 2 tablespoons of your chosen carrier oil. Applying the oil blend gradually, gently massage the abdomen in a clockwise motion.
Finding the Calm Within
While essential oils are a wonderful and very effective way to reduce many symptoms of stress within the body, it is crucial to find ways to avoid or lessen the causes for stress altogether. Although that may be difficult to imagine, it is possible.
There are so many ways to remain positive, healthy, and active as an older person living in the world today. There are many more social outlets than there once were such as senior groups and sponsored activities and communal and/or assisted living situations that are much different than they once were. There is also an increasing awareness of holistic practices and remedies such as yoga, t'ai chi, massage, and acupuncture.
We know that stress is, in many ways, an inevitable part of life. By adopting a healthy and more positive lifestyle, the body's natural stress defense systems can be supported, making it possible to live a more well-balanced and fulfilling life.
There is nothing we can do to stop the aging process. But we can do our best to intuit, listen, and support our bodies in whatever way possible in order to remain vital and healthy.