Stress management 101: The perfect Jan Term class

Paulina Hollinger and Krystal D'Amato creating stress reducing essential oil scents
January 10, 2017

Peppermint. Lavender. Lemon. Cinnamon. Grapefruit. Bergamot. A cacophony of aromas filled Paul Mazeroff’s Coping with Stress classroom as his purple-gloved students concocted their own stress-relieving inhalers under the watchful eye of aromatherapist-in-training Shannon Jones M.S. ’15.

Anthony Crawley, a sophomore from Baltimore, used a pipette to carefully transfer a few drops of cinnamon oil into his inhaler — a one-dram brown bottle filled with Epsom salts — before topping it off with a few drops of peppermint.

Anthony Crawley Sydney Palmer Krystal-DAmato
(r to l) Anthony Crawley, Sydney Palmer, and Krystal D’Amato

Nearby, junior Psychology major Sydney Palmer settled on lavender and chamomile, while best friends Krystal D’Amato and Paulina Hollinger, both beginning their senior years after transferring to McDaniel a year ago from Frederick Community College, exercise their individuality with totally different recipes.

“Mine is just peppermint oil — peppermint makes me calm,” says Hollinger, a Psychology major from Frederick, Md.

As she mixes the essential oils of jasmine, grapefruit and bergamot, D’Amato of Woodbine, Md., says she sees a dual purpose in the popular Jan Term class. Learning various ways of managing stress, anxiety and depression will serve the Psychology major well as she pursues her profession, and the techniques will help personally as she tackles the coursework and exams along the way.

“Who doesn’t need to learn ways of coping with stress?” says Palmer, a Psychology major from Glen Arm, Md.

Crawley, an Exercise Science and Physical Education major, agrees.

“I decided to take this class to help me deal with the stress of exams and I think it is going to work,” he says. “And I really like it a lot.”

Krystal D'Amato and Sydney Palmer
Krystal D’Amato and Sydney Palmer

With two packed sections, the popularity of Mazeroff’s course endorses both its real-life necessity and its fun factor. Topics include yoga, Qi Gong, coloring, exercise, aromatherapy, meditation, massage and others, and students have the chance to test and assess most of the techniques. They also learn the scientific roots of stress relievers — how and why they work — and will develop a comprehensive, personalized stress management plan as a final project.

Passing out pairs of stress balls and reminding his students that the ping-pong-size rubber balls touch on the dozens of acupuncture points in the hands as they handle them, Mazeroff talks about the top two stress relievers: Exercise and social support. A Psychology instructor, he explains that the sense of smell is the only sense that bypasses the thalamus — which relays sensory impulses to the cerebral cortex — and instead goes directly to the limbic system, the brain’s emotional control center.

“That’s why aromas evoke memories — both positive and negative,” he says, explaining that during stress the sense of smell is enhanced and therefore primed for delivery of a calming aroma.

There’s nothing new about aromatherapy or the use of natural oils, which dates back more than 1,000 years, Jones told the class. A blend called Thieves Oil originated during the plague in the 1300s when thieves would put a few drops of oils of clove, lemon, cinnamon bark, rosemary and eucalyptus on a mask to protect them when they plundered the homes of ailing victims.

Anthony Crawley and Shannon Jones
Anthony Crawley and Shannon Jones

In recent times the same blend has been shown to be anti-viral, anti-bacterial, antiseptic and immune system stimulating, Jones says.

Overnight, the students tested their stress-relieving formulas on friends and relatives. Palmer’s boyfriend thought her recipe of lavender and chamomile truly had a calming effect, and Crawley said his mom liked his cinnamon-peppermint blend.

D’Amato’s mom has used essential oils and wanted to guess the scents in her blend, but was only able to identify bergamot not jasmine or grapefruit. While everyone knew there was citrus in the recipe, no one identified it as grapefruit.

When Hollinger’s mom sniffed her pure peppermint inhaler, she smiled and said she wasn’t surprised. It seems Hollinger has always loved peppermint, and it’s the scent her mom melted in the wax warmer when Hollinger was a baby.

“It makes me feel so warm and comfortable, and now I have an idea of why,” she says.     

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