By Denise Williams | News & Views
After spending the past couple of years tucked behind masks, noses are primed to play a small but important role for some cardiac rehabilitation patients. Specifically, explains Lonnie Sebastian, MSN, RN-BC, at Pennsylvania’s Bryn Mawr Hospital, those who have reported stress as a risk factor or who have difficulty sleeping are prime candidates for an affordable and readily available stress management aid.
Aromatherapy is simple and easy to administer. Sebastian’s own research shows that it’s also effective. Her small single-site study, conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, measured the effect of aromatherapy using 100% pure lavender essential oil. While the technique, which entailed inhaling the scent from some drops squeezed onto a cotton ball, did not significantly lower blood pressure or heart rate, participant survey responses indicated that it did decrease negative feelings associated with stress. “My study supported what is claimed out there anecdotally and in other research that the lavender did what it’s supposed to do,” Sebastian notes. “It helped relax the person and lessened anxiety.”
Although her investigation was limited to inhalation-based lavender aromatherapy, it’s likely that other essential oils and application strategies – i.e., hand massage – deliver similar experiences and benefits. Aromatherapy with orange essential oil, for instance, might help uplift CR patients who are dealing with depression.
The implications of Sebastian’s findings and other evidence are promising for the CR population, for whom stress is a common contributor to their diagnosis. Consider it, she suggests, as another tool to offer patients for their “bag of tricks” in terms of stress management. It may not work or be appropriate for everyone, but it certainly may prove useful for others.
Safety Nothing to Sneeze At
That being said, there’s very little financial investment required to introduce aromatherapy to CR patients – some cotton balls, the essential oil itself and a quiet space are all you really need, according to Sebastian. However, she emphasizes, the greater investment involves provider instruction and patient screening.
At Bryn Mawr Hospital, nurses may perform orange or lavender aromatherapy on CR patients only after completing a four-hour training course and securing patient consent. In addition, patients must be assessed for contraindications. “Many people do have allergies that would prevent them from being a candidate for aromatherapy,” says Sebastian.
For CR patients who have stress as a risk factor but do not have allergies or sensitivity to fragrances, aromatherapy is a strategy that their CR staff can introduce them to in just a matter of minutes, but that they can employ as needed in the home.
Sebastian says she was both surprised and pleased that her study participants were willing to try aromatherapy, which she suspects is much more common now then it was when she launched her research five or six years ago. At a time when the public appears to be increasingly receptive to alternative therapies and treatments – from Reiki to tai chi – she believes aromatherapy is a natural addition to the menu of choices.
“Stress management is so important for heart health. It just makes sense that if you’re going to talk about deep breathing and yoga and similar activities, that this is just another part of that [outreach],” Sebastian urges. “We’re always trying to find interventions, and this is possibly one of them for some people.”