Aromatherapy and Chronic Fatigue / ME
Winter is the time of year when we’re all at our most tired. However, for some people this exhaustion is permanent; those with the debilitating condition Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) – also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME). So, after a busy festive period, and in the depths of Winter, what better time of year than to focus on how essential oils can help combat fatigue and exhaustion, and some of the other symptoms that go with that!
The ME Association describes that one of the main symptoms of CFS/ME is severe fatigue and malaise following any kind of activity – physical, mental or emotional. The CFS/ME patient may also experience symptoms such as muscle pain, brain fog, impaired immunity (sore throats, etc), sleep disturbances and low mood, and these can be exacerbated by stress. So, while the post-festive period is exhausting for the best of us, people with this condition often find themselves completely ‘burnt out’. Often, their symptoms only become apparent 24-48 hours after exerting themselves; because of this, sufferers can sometimes look fairly well when they are out doing something, but it is afterwards when they feel the effects of having pushed themselves too far. It is therefore a difficult condition for people to understand, and as well as leaving sufferers exhausted, it can leave them feeling quite isolated.
I am one of these sufferers. I know the symptoms too well, but I also know how focusing on my wellbeing has really helped me to improve – particularly through the use of essential oils.
So which aromatherapy oils can help? I have pulled together a range of tips that will be helpful, whether you have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME), or are generally suffering with any of the symptoms below.
Exhaustion and Fatigue
While some might advise trying hugely stimulating essential oils to re-energise, such as Rosemary or Lemon, we don’t want to over-stimulate with CFS/ME because it can have the opposite effect. Whilst Rosemary and Lemon essential oils have their place for certain symptoms, the body is already over-stressed in CFS/ME. Instead of trying to stimulate further, we need to calm it so that it can relax and re-balance itself.
Helping the feeling of being ‘run-down,’ Petitgrain is good in fatigue blends because it helps revitalise the body, yet it is still relaxing. Try mixing this with Geranium and Lavender for an exhaustion-busting blend. Alternatively, try Cypress or Bergamot, as this is a great combination for calming the nervous system. One theory for CFS/ME sufferers is that the body is always in a state of stress, with the autonomic nervous system being constantly in an imbalanced state of overdrive, so any essential oils that work on balancing the nervous system will be helpful in calming the body in order for it to re-energise.
Try 3 drops of any mix of the above 3 oils in an aromatherapy diffuser or candle burner, daily, to see if this has an effect on your wellbeing and energy levels. My favourite blend for this is Petitgrain, Geranium and Bergamot.
For muscular pain, you could try creating an oil blend to gently self-massage. Alternatively, you could try a compress made from dipping a flannel in hot or cold water that has a few drops of each essential oil in (depending on whether you need heat to relax your muscles or cool for inflammation).
Sweet Marjoram, Cypress and Lavender essential oils are great muscle-easers and relaxants, along with Black Pepper and Peppermint, so you can play around with any 3 of these aromatherapy oils when mixing your massage blend. Grapefruit has a lovely citrus scent which helps sweeten the blend, and it also helps with fatigue, boosting immunity and ridding the body of toxins, as well as being uplifting – a great aromatherapy oil for CFS/ME.
Try 10ml Grapeseed or Sweet Almond carrier oil mixed with 2 drops of each of Sweet Marjoram, Black Pepper and Grapefruit for a real tension-busting massage oil.
Other challenges for CFS/ME sufferers are poor concentration and memory. There are some great cephalic (mind clearing) essential oils for this. Try diffusing 2 drops of Basil and Rosemary, with 4 drops of Lemon, to aid concentration or memory. However – this is quite a stimulating blend, so don’t overdo it. If it is too much, substitute Rosemary for Lavender as this is more calming but still cephalic. Diffuse this aromatherapy blend for half an hour in the morning (perhaps whilst sipping warm water with a slice of real lemon!) to get your body going, but then move to a more relaxing blend later in the day / evening. This helps remind your body of how it should be working; how a balanced mind and body should react – i.e. waking up in the morning and winding down in the evening.
Generally, immunity is worse when run-down, so in an illness which centres on exhaustion, low immunity is a real challenge. Essential oils can really help with this – there are loads of immunity boosting options. Some of the best options for building immunity are Sweet Orange, Tea Tree, Lemon and Lavender, and some of the best ones for warding off germs are Eucalyptus and Lemongrass. If you aren’t keen on the smell of Tea Tree, try Ravensara as it has a nicer aroma.
The most effective for me personally is diffusing 5 drops of Sweet Orange daily, perhaps as one of your oils for your morning or evening blends, to help build immunity – and, if you feel a cold coming, pop some Eucalyptus on a cotton pad in an inhaler stick and take it with you wherever you go!
If sleep issues are another challenge, try making a Sleep Spritz to keep by your bed. In a spray bottle, add 100ml of Chamomile Hydrolat with 5 drops of each of Chamomile, Lavender and Ylang Ylang or Mandarin essential oils, depending on whether you prefer floral or citrus smells. If you would prefer something a bit woodier, try Sandalwood in the blend. This spritz can be sprayed on your face or on a tissue to be placed inside your pillow to aid sleep. For a ready-made solution try our Sweet Dreams Spritz with Lavender, Chamomile, Frankincense and Cedarwood.
If you’re feeling low with all the above symptoms, why not make a pulse point oil? To boost your mood add 10ml of Grapeseed or Sweet Almond oil into a rollette bottle with 1 drop of each of any of the following oils:
Use the rollette on the pulse points on your wrist throughout the day. Alternatively, see which oils you like and diffuse them during the daytime. Lemon, Lime and Sweet Orange is a cheery daytime blend that can help to lift your spirits!
Stress and Anxiety
Stress and anxiety play a big part in unbalancing the nervous system. During times of stress, diffuse a soothing blend of Bergamot, Mandarin and Lavender. Other essential oils like Clary Sage and Chamomile are great too. Rose Otto is an extremely de-stressing oil and I find this works really well for me when I am feeling on edge. You might like to make a pulse point rollette for this also.
Top Tips for CFS/ME Sufferers
CFS/ME sufferers can be quite sensitive to different stimulus, so it is important to remember to build up exposure to essential oils gradually, as well as testing the oils for sensitivity. Try just one drop of each oil in a blend to start with before building up to the quantities above. The reason being, that we don’t want to over-stimulate the body, but naturally balance it with the therapeutic effects the oils can offer - we don’t want to shock the body, we want a gradual effect.
Once used to essential oils, it may also be worth considering including oils like Juniperberry and Fennel in your morning or daytime blends, in low doses, to try and cleanse the body of the toxins that are causing such negative symptoms. This is because these are very good detoxing oils. However, take caution with extreme or too-regular use of these oils in CFS/ME sufferers as too much ‘detox’ can simply release too many toxins into the system and often the body can struggle to cope with this overload.
Overall, there are many essential oils to support with symptoms suffered with conditions that include fatigue-related symptoms – whether CFS, ME, Fibromyalgia, general exhaustion or anything with similar symptoms - so remember to mix it up and try new blends to see what works for you.
Whether suffering a fatigue related condition or not, essential oils can help you recover from the often exhausting (but fun!) festive season - just remember to enjoy the process along the way! Smell the oils to see which ones you like before creating a blend, as the ones you like tend to be the ones your body needs; they are clever old things, our bodies – even if they are exhausted! So - for those sufferers of CFS/ME who are giving up on their bodies because they feel they have let them down - let essential oils restore your faith in your body’s ability to know what it needs to heal itself. It worked for me!
Guest Blogger & Consultant Aromatherapist