Megan Brooks

May 08, 2014

Aromatherapy could help relieve work-related stress among oncology nurses, according to the results of a small study.

When an essential oil was diffused in the nurses station at James Cancer Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, the nurses reported being less affected by tension, worry, and demands.

"A patient who had a diffuser in her room was saying how much it helped her; that's how we got the idea of seeing whether it could help our staff," Kelly Tomlinson-Pinkham, MSN, RN, OCN, told Medscape Medical News.

She and her colleagues presented their study at the Oncology Nursing Society 39th Annual Congress in Anaheim, California.

The problem of work stress, compassion fatigue, and burnout are well documented among oncology nurses, say the investigators. Work stress can negatively affect health and performance. Research shows that complementary alternative medicine approaches, including aromatherapy, can help ease psychological stress.

To see if it would help the nurses at James Cancer Hospital, Tomlinson-Pinkham and colleagues conducted a 6-week study, during which a pleasant-smelling essential oil was diffused in the central nurses station.

They measured staff work stress before and after the aromatherapy intervention using the Perceived Staff Work-Stress Questionnaire. This 30-question Likert-type survey has 4 subscales: tension, worry, demands, and lack of joy.

Responses from 25 staff members indicated significant improvement on 3 of the subscales. On average, scores for tension fell from 43 to 37 (P = .002), scores for worry fell from 26 to 20 (P = .013), and scores for demand fell from 41 to 34 (P = .049).

"The only subscale that did not reflect a positive effect was the lack of joy, which actually increased. But at the time, we had a lot of deaths on the floor and we had a lot of young patients on the floor, so we had a lot of stressors going on, which may have contributed to this outcome," Tomlinson-Pinkham said.

After the intervention, the majority of staff felt more knowledgeable about aromatherapy and open to "trying it" on a regular basis, she added.

Positive But Preliminary

It is important to note that this was a "nonrandomized, nonblinded pre–post study in a nursing station with a small sample," said Linda Carlson, PhD, RPsych, a clinical psychologist and director of research in the Department of Psychosocial Resources at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, and professor in the Department of Oncology at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, who wasn't involved in the study.

"The nurses reported significant improvements in tension, worry, and demands over the course of the intervention, and they seemed to like it," Dr. Carlson told Medscape Medical News. "These would be considered positive but very preliminary data. You can't conclude that the improvements were due to the aromatherapy without a comparison group; it could have been because of anything going on during that time frame," she said.

doTERRA supplied 1 essential oil diffuser and 12 bottles of essential oils. The investigators and Dr. Carlson have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) 39th Annual Congress: Poster 42. Presented May 1, 2014.

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