In my 35 year career as a nurse, I have participated in many types of codes. One such code, “Code Blue,” is when a cardiopulmonary arrest is happening to a patient in a hospital or clinic. It requires a team of providers (“code team”) to rush to the specific location and begin immediate resuscitation efforts. Similar to “Code Blue” alerts, the Cleveland Clinic has coined “Code Lavender” alert. This alert responds to a need for emotional and spiritual support for the caregiver, family, or hospital staff. The nurses who respond to these codes train in varying modalities. The use of essential oils to ease symptoms, aromatherapy, is one modality in their knowledge base. (Johnson, 2014)
Code Lavender is becoming increasingly important as more and more elderly require caregivers, many of which are overwhelmed.
Jean Watson, a nursing theorist of the Human Caring Model, describes finding sacredness in the act of caring and human relationships. Essential Oils used via Aromatherapy is the perfect modality to foster a sense of harmony and calm. This easily works within a caring environment that supports basic comfort and release of blocked energy.
“As a symphony integrates disparate instruments and their tones into a harmonic piece, so do essential oils vibrate with the human field to support the emerging natural order of healing. Essential oils represent a powerful methodology to impact the release of blocked energy in the mind-body-spirit system.” (Smith & Kyle-Pounds, 2008)
For this article, a caregiver is defined as any person who is responsible for attending to the needs of a child or dependent adult. A caregiver can be anyone including husbands, fathers, wives, mothers, sons, daughters and even professionals such as nurses, social workers and doctors. The list is actually quite extensive.
When providing care to another individual, a caregiver can often neglect their own needs. This neglect, over time, can exact a heavy toll on the overall well-being of a caregiver, causing an emotional and physical strain. To prevent burnout and ward off compassion fatigue, you need to put yourself first, treat yourself, and acknowledge that you deserve it! You must acknowledge yourself and your needs to keep balance within your life. An unbalanced, inharmonious situation will lead you or your loved ones to unhappiness. Using essential oils is the perfect method to address and treat the psychological, emotional, social, physical and spiritual toll of care-giving.
What is Aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is the use of therapeutic oils from natural plant matter in order to encourage good health, equilibrium, and well-being. Essential oils are chemicals that plants produce naturally as part of their defense system. Some have antibacterial, antiviral and anti-fungal properties, others repel insects and herbivores while others attract insects and birds for pollination. The aromatic oils are found in various parts of the plant including leaves, twigs, stems, roots, flowers, blossoms or fruit. The material used and the art of extraction has developed slowly over the course of time but the origins reach back to the heart of the earliest civilizations.
The Vedic literature of India dating to around 2000 BC lists over 700 plant substances used for healing including cinnamon, ginger, myrrh, and sandalwood. The Chinese system of medicinal plant usage is evident in the Yellow Emperor’s Book of Internal Medicine which dates back to 2000 BC, along with the great classic Pen ts’ao kang-mou, which lists over 8,000 thousand plant-based formulas used for healing and wellness even today.
Perhaps the richest association concerning the first aromatic materials used for medicinal purpose are those surrounding the ancient Egyptian civilization. Papyrus manuscripts, dating back to 2800 BC speak of ‘fine oils and choice perfumes, and the incense of temples, where by every god is gladdened’. Aromatic gums and oils such as Frankincense, Cedar and Myrrh, are still detectable 1000 of years later when tombs were exhumed. Even Hippocrates, the father of medicine, who was born in Greece about 460 BC, also prescribed fumigations and refers to a vast number of medicinal plants in his writings.
Smell and the Limbic System 101
This complex v-shaped structure sits on top of the brain stem and is made up of the hippocampus, amygdala, part of the thalamus and the hypothalamus and several regions of the cerebral cortex. It is one of the earliest parts of the brain to develop in terms of evolution with 34 structures and 53 pathways, and since aromas, emotions, and memories all meet here you see why smell can trigger specific memories and emotions. When essential oils are use in the treatment of certain conditions either through inhalation, via massage or used in the bath, they cause various parts of the limbic system to spring into action. This triggers the release of neurochemicals and hormones that will slow the heart rate, regulate blood pressure, and stimulate the immune system making one less susceptible to disease or illness.
Recommended Essential Oils for the Caregiver
- Lavender (lavendula angustifolia)
One of the most versatile and widely recognized of all the essential oils. Most commonly known for its ability to relax the body, therapeutic-grade lavender benefits the skin. It may be used to cleanse cuts, bruises and skin irritations. The fragrance is calming, relaxing and balancing – physically and emotionally. This essential oil can be used directly on the skin. When applying the oil, I always recommend the bottom of the feet for best absorption and therapeutic outcome. You can also place a drop or two on a cotton ball and inhale it as needed.
- Frankincense (boswella sacra)
This is my all-time favorite essential oil. Comfort tired and achy joints by massaging with Frankincense Sacred Essential Oil mixed with a carrier oil such as olive or coconut oil. Frankincense Oil is very effective as a sedative, because it induces a feeling of mental peace, relaxation, satisfaction and spirituality. It also awakens insight, makes you more introspective and lowers anxiety, anger and stress. When feeling anxious or if you anticipate a stressful episode, add frankincense oil to a diffuser or a vaporizer. Frankincense Sacred, which enhances deep meditation, also helps balance emotions, lessening feels of loneliness, frailty, and grief. Use of the oil encourages you to live in the moment while balancing everyday tension and stress.
- Roman chamomile (chamaemelum nobile)
Chamomile tea is one many commonly prescribe for relaxation and sleep – and, of course, chamomile essential oil can offer much of the same, only more. It not only offers relaxing and calming properties, but it can help lessen anxiety and dispel lingering anger. A calming scent, the aroma of chamomile encourages inner harmony while reducing anxiety, irritability and the tendency to overthink everything. A study out of the University Of Pennsylvania School Of Medicine on the antidepressant activities of chamomile essential oil showed that it “may provide clinically meaningful antidepressant activity that occurs in addition to its previously observed anxiolytic activity.”
- Valerian (valeriana officinalis)
Valerian is well-known for its ability to help induce sleep. While it’s aroma isn’t exactly pleasing it’s outstanding when it comes to the ability to relieve anxiety and stress. Science has shown that valerian raises the amount of a compound known as GABA (gamma animobutyric acid) in the brain. GABA regulates nerve cells and calms anxiety. Common pharmaceutical drugs like valium and xanax work by increasing the amount of this chemical in the brain. Valerian contains valerenol and valerenic acids which acts in the same way as these anti-anxiety medications, all without the side effects that commonly come with prescription drugs. I recommend mixing Valerian with Lavender
“Caveat Emptor” when Purchasing Essential Oils
Since we use our essential oils for medicinal purposes, we only purchase our essential oils from a vetted organic supplier. Our office carries over 30 different essential oils. We can also order ones we do not carry for your use directly. Visit our store: https://www.holisticaging.com/holistic-health-store/ or contact us directly at email@example.com
When ordering independently – please assure your supplier has listed:
- Common name, Latin name (exact genus and species)
- Country of origin, Part of plant processed
- Type of Extraction (distillation or expression)
- How it was grown (organic, wild-crafted, traditional)
- One who is dedicated to supplying essential oils to the aromatherapy practitioner market and educated public
- Owned by an aromatherapy practitioner or essential oil specialist
- Who has relations with his/her distillers, if possible
- Who can readily supply a batch-specific GC/MS spec report on each essential oil it sells
- Readily able to provide material safety data sheets (MSDS) as needed
- this is most often needed for individuals who are practicing in a medical facility
- Who has a strong ethical reputation in the field
- Who has preferably been in the field for a number of years
- Well known to other aromatherapy practitioners and/or educators
A “Code Lavender” is as serious as a “Code Blue”! Only when you first help ourselves can you effectively help others. Self care is one of the most important and often forgotten things you can do as a caregiver. Take care of your needs and the person you care for will benefit, too.
The author, Bobbi Kolonay RN MS CCM is certified as a clinical aroma therapist and holistic nurse. She has been using essential oils medicinally in her Aging Life Care Management practice Holistic Aging-Options For Elder Care for the past 10 years.
Johnson, B., RN, ADN, RM, HTPA. (2014, April). Code Lavender: Initiating Holistic Rapid Response at the Cleveland Clinic. Beginnings, 10-11.
Smith, M., & Kyle-Pounds, L. (2008). Holistic foundations of aromatheraphy for nursing. Holistic Nursing Practice, 22 (1), 3-9.