Doctors and scientists have long known about a link between mental and physical health, especially when it comes to stress and recovery. That is why doctors and nurses try to reduce the stress of a patient experiences before surgery. The more relaxed a patient is before the surgery, the less stress their body will be experiencing at the time of the procedure. Reducing stress may even help with recovery time afterward.

But patients that are undergoing surgical procedures are bound to experience a great deal of stress, and many of the traditional methods of relieving anxiety – such as providing the individual with anti-anxiety medications – may not be safe or ideal before the surgery takes place. That is why it has been important for doctors and hospitals to develop methods of relieving stress and anxiety that do not involve medicine, focusing instead on alternative treatments that won't have any potential side effects for the patient.

The Potential Power of Scents
Researchers in Iran sought out to find potential alternative therapies. A recent study published in the Iranian Journal of Nursing found that aromatherapy may have the positive benefits that doctors and nurses are looking for.
The study took 72 patients and split them up into a research group and a control group, giving them both the Spielberg scale – an scale developed to judge anxiety levels on patients current in hospitals. Both the control group and the scored roughly 51 on the scale (50.67 and 51.00, respectively). The control group was then instructed to breath in from a handkerchief with lavender aromatherapy oils for 20 minutes, while the control group was asked to perform the same exercise with water.

After the intervention, the control group's anxiety levels lowered, but only by one point. The aromatherapy group reported an anxiety level that was nearly 12 points lower on the scale (38.61) – far lower than the control. These reports indicate that aromatherapy may be able to lower the stress and anxiety for patients undergoing surgical care without the need for drug interventions or costly pre-surgery therapy.

Aromatherapy and Anxiety Reduction

This is not the first time that aromatherapy has been studied in an effort to reduce anxiety. Scientists in the Delmor Community Hospital Illinois tried a similar technique in 2006. Their results were mixed, as they found that while they were able to show a difference in anxiety levels, it was not statistically significant as to be considered clinical evidence. Still, the authors of the study found that patients did report the scent to feel calming and pleasant, implying that even if the scent itself does not have anxi-anxiety properties, it may still be worthwhile to give to patients.

Research into this field have shown similar mixed results. Often what the study proved was that any pleasant scent (not necessarily the aromatherapy scent believed to reduce anxiety) was enough to lower the patient's anxiety level, because it stimulated their brain on something positive so that it no longer needed to focus on the negative.
Other research was able to indicate that combining aromatherapy with another low cost procedure, such as a massage, may also promote a level of calmness that is useful for clinical patients.

What This Means in Clinical Practice

More research is needed before it can be said in any type of definitive way whether or not aromatherapy alone is a useful technique for reducing anxiety before surgery. But what all of these studies – including those that showed no aromatherapy benefits – have managed to indicate is that providing patients with pleasant smells is an effective way to reduce their stress. Despite the lack of definitive proof, doctors may need to consider providing their patients with these types of tools, as they are:

• Low Cost – Aromatherapy is only a few dollars, helping to cut down on the overall costs of treating the patient both for the hospital and for the patient's medical bills. It may be possible to help many patients with only a few scent vials, easily make it a cost effective option.

• Harmless – Unlike potential medicines that could cause harm, aromatherapy is harmless to those without allergies, which can easily help improve the patient's outlook and have no consequences should they be unable to provide those benefits.

• Beneficial – While studies have not necessarily found that the specific scents matter, all studies seem to indicate that pleasant smells do have an effect, and are likely better than smelling nothing but the hospital.
Doctors have long been searching for safe and effective ways to reduce anxiety in their patients before their surgical procedures. Aromatherapy – or, perhaps more accurately, scent therapy – seems to be a potential method that works. Because it has such a low cost and no potential to cause patients harm, doctors (and their patients) may want to consider requesting aromatherapy as a future method of reducing stress and anxiety.

Author's Bio: 

Ryan Rivera suffered from many of the physical and mental symptoms of anxiety, and shares his experiences and his methods of relaxation at