Aromatherapy A-Z: Grief

Aromatherapy A-Z: Grief

When we think of grief, we tend to associate it with bereavement, however it is much wider than that and can encompass many different forms of sorrow. It may be caused by the death of a loved one, but equally it could arise from the breakdown of a relationship, the loss of an item that has deep sentimental value, or even losing one’s job. People may grieve over a miscarriage, termination, loss of a limb, loss of sight, a hysterectomy, or a loved one who is suffering with a debilitating illness such as dementia. While the causes are varied, the impact can be intense and may last for years! The person who is grieving may go through different stages of emotions, from the initial shock, disbelief and an overwhelming sense of hopelessness through to anger, regret, guilt, jealousy, loneliness, despondency and despair. Aches and pains are common with grief, along with stress, anxiety, depression, loss of appetite or overeating. 

Unfortunately grieving is an inevitable part of life that most people will have to face at some point in their lives. It’s a process that has to be gone through and allowed to take its course, as suppressing it can be potentially dangerous, both psychologically and physiologically. Everyone has different ways of coping and of expressing their sorrow, whether that be hiding away and sobbing uncontrollably, confiding in friends, or turning to counselling. Seeking the help of a professional aromatherapist can also help to release some of the grief.

Aromatherapy and grief

When people are experiencing a state of grief, the compassionate care of the therapist is the most important element of help and support at this time. Aromatherapy can provide a wonderful additional resource – as we know the essential oils create an instant trigger to the emotional centre of the brain when inhaled. This is invaluable when dealing with raw emotional states. The comfort and calm that gentle massage can bring - the power of therapeutic touch - is also widely documented. This also provides your client with a safe environment to talk about their sense of loss in a completely confidential space, which may be the only time they get to focus on their own needs. They may also need to be completely silent – so always be led by them and use your discretion. Emotional release is such an important aspect of the healing process, and often your client is “being brave” to the outside world – and may not have had the opportunity to be true to their own feelings and need to grieve.

Supporting and reassuring your client at this time can be done in a variety of ways. One of the most important is often by reinforcing that their need to grieve is a natural part of the healing process, and offering them a safe place to share their feelings and memories.

If your client gets “locked in” to this state – i.e. can never think of their loved one (if death of a loved one is the issue) without an over-whelming sense of loss and sadness – then other therapies may be an important additional point of access. I particularly recommend Bach Flower Remedies, Thought Field Therapy (TFT) and Hypnotherapy. Bach Flower Remedies can be invaluable if there is a strong element of shock in addition to grief. Regular doses of Rescue Remedy can help ease shock, feeling faint and bemused states of mind. TFT can quickly help re-route the thought process so that memories can be positive (not painful) once again. Hypnotherapy is a powerful therapy if there is additional guilt, or if the feelings are linked to a lack of resolution – i.e. they didn't get to say goodbye or if they felt they needed to tell the person something that has left them unable to “move on”.  Specialist bereavement counselling can also be incredibly helpful and is provided by the NHS if requested. Even if there's a long waiting list it can be invaluable.

In terms of aromatherapy and which essential oils are most helpful - as always, the choice needs to be led holistically – bearing in mind the person's general health and wellbeing. It’s important to remember that essential oils will not stop the grieving process but can be used to comfort and console and help the person express their grief and come to terms with it. Grief – especially if accompanied by shock – can often have a huge impact on the immune system, so essential oils can also be used to strengthen immunity and fight off illness. Be guided by your client’s preferences – as they will be naturally drawn to oils they need most. 

Useful essential oils for grief

Rose essential oil is known to be one of the most comforting and calming oils at such times and can be combined with comforting, warming oils such as Benzoin or Frankincense. Neroli and Bergamot can be wonderfully uplifting additions, with Chamomile, Lavender, Marjoram or Melissa for calming, grounding and helping to release tension and stress. Cypress and Clary Sage can be helpful if there is a recurrent sense of loss and melancholy – unexpressed grief that has created feelings of suspended animation.

If you're a therapist, make up bath and massage oil preparations for your client to take home to use in between regular massage treatments. You might also suggest they diffuse oils in their bedroom too, if they are finding it difficult to sleep.

Massage blends

In 30ml of base oil such as Sweet Almond or Grapeseed:

  • Initial grief: 2 drops Rose, 2 Benzoin, 6 Marjoram
  • Persistent sense of loss: 2 drops Rose, 4 Cypress, 2 Frankincense, 4 Bergamot
  • Sadness and confusion: 2 drops Rosemary, 4 Clary Sage, 2 Neroli

Blends for the bath

In 15ml Bath Oil or SLS Free Bath & Shower Gel:

  • 1 drop Rose, 1 Benzoin, 4 Marjoram, 4 Lavender
  • 1 drop Rose, 2 Cypress, 2 Frankincense, 2 Bergamot
  • 1 drop Rosemary, 2 Clary Sage, 2 Neroli

For diffusing

  • 1 drop Rose, 2 Benzoin (or 2 Frankincense), 5 Bergamot, 5 Lavender (or 3 Roman Chamomile) in an aromatherapy burner or diffuser

Joannah Metcalfe
Consultant Aromatherapist

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