Fall, Reflections, and Smell Goods for Stress Relief

Summer is fading and fall is finally here.  Our students are setting in, and so are we.  I’m hoping most of us are still in our creative calm, and that our stressors are not pushing us to the point of distress or burnout. 

These moments of settling can offer a joyous time of reflection.  Recently, I have been drawn back to reading Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements, in which he challenges us to be impeccable with our words, not take anything personally, not make assumptions, and to always do our best.

 In the teaching world, not taking things personally can be a challenge.  Our students are not tabula rasas, nor are we, and both the beauty and the pain of all of our lived experiences can be triggering in a classroom setting.  As teachers, it is our job to neutralize traumas, to listen, to support, and sometimes it’s hard to do our best.  

Ruiz says, “Your best will sometimes by high quality, and other time it will not be as good.  When you wake up refreshed and energized in the morning, your best will be better than when you are tired at night.  Your best will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick…  Your best will depend on whether you are feeling wonderful and happy, or upset, angry, or jealous.” 

So how do we do our best, and how do we make sure that our best is the highest quality possible?  The answer is clear; we need to take care of ourselves!  We need sleep, we need to be healthy, we need to learn how to de-escalate ourselves before we can de-escalate others.  

When trauma arises in our classrooms we often become reactive because we care.  We immediately try to help our students; putting on their facemasks before thinking about putting on our own.  This means that we carry our students’ traumas with us, on top of our own, which can lead to an extremely heavy feeling throughout our days.  

We will never have the capacity to take away all of students’ traumas or potentially even our own traumas; and in reality we shouldn’t want to take it away anyway because our experiences, our students’ experiences, make them the beautiful people they are.  But how can we focus on what is in our control?  How can we ground ourselves, so we are able to help our students feel their roots and ground themselves?

There are many types of stressors: environmental stressors, chemical stressors, mental stressors, emotional stressors, cultural stressors, etc.  Our bodies react differently depending on the type of stress, our experiences, and our ability either react, reflect, or do both.  

We often think about how our brain communicates to our bodies, but our bodies also have the ability to communicate to our brains; and we can train our bodies and brain with signals especially through our senses.  

Smell is a sense that I have found much refuge in.  Something as small as making a cup of grounding tea and breathing it in before I drink it, has given me the ability to ground myself and be more reflective before reacting.  One of my favorite grounding teas is Tea India’s Cardamom Chai, check it out, and let me know what you think.

Essential oils have also been extremely helpful for me.  There are medicinal blends that can be used for specific kinds of stress.   Here is a list of helpful essential oils that might guide you to grounding yourself in the classroom.  If kept on your desk, you can simply dab it on while walking around, and kids either won’t notice or will smell this grounding, which can help ground them too. 

Type of Stress    

Environmental Stress: caused by bright lights, noise, or cramped space

Oils:    Cedarwood, Coriander, Geranium, Cypress ,Chamomile, Basil, Bergamot    

Chemical Stress: caused by too much coffee, too much junk food, to many drugs- like aspirin or antibiotics    

Oils: Lavender, Patchouli, Pettigraine, Geranium, Clary-sage, Grapefruit, Lemon, Rosemary

Physical Stress: caused by pushing your body to the limits, driving long distances, working out too much    

Oils:  Rosemary, Chamomile, Marjoram ,Lavender, Bergamot Thyme, Geranium, Fennel 

Mental Stress: caused by trying to achieve, anguish over uncompleted jobs, financial worries

Oils:   Gernaium, Lavender, Sandalwood, Basil, Bergamot, Grapefruit, Cardamom, Patchouli  

Emotional Stress: caused by relationship problems, parental guilt, inability to give or receive love, grief.

Oils: Geranium, Sandalwood, Palma rosa, Bergamot, Vetiver, Rose, Cardamom

There are also blends that can be made that are specific for burn out: when you have worn yourself out and are finally moving into distress.  This blend is for when you are no longer able to feel empowered in trying to multi-task 5 things at once, waking at 5 and working until 10, when you are incapacitated and overwhelmed in your tiredness.  This is often the hardest time to relax, and you may feel like you are just spinning in circles.  

Your energy is probably completely depleted. Sometimes when I am in this stage I wonder, "How  am I going to make it out the door?" When you feel like you have nothing left, it is vital to build up your energy stores again.  Exercise and breathing are needed but starting that can be hard.  Scent is a great way to start your breath.  You can use these blends in your classroom or at home.  You can put them in the shower, use them as a massage oil, or you can also just rub in your hands and inhale.

Burnout Exercise Blend    

Grapefruit (5 drops)
Cypress (4 drops)
Geranium (2 drops)
Burnout Relaxation Blend    Sandalwood (8 drops)
Palma rosa (5 drops)
Lemon (9 drops)

Burnout Reviver Blend    

Lavender (5 drops)
Eucalyptus/Peppermint (8 drops)
Grapefruit (7 drops)
Rosemary (4 drops)

I hope this helps you ground yourself and fill YOUR well, so you can give to your students in a sustainable way.

With love and gratitude,


Kelly Knoche