Essential oils have been used for centuries to soothe, heal, and de-stress. You can also use them as a natural way to relieve anxiety. Don't let the stress of your busy day get to you. Turn to the soothing fragrances of aromatherapy.
Stress and anxiety are a normal part of life, but sometimes negative or unforeseen events throw us into an unbalanced state where stress can feel unending and anxiety may be paralyzing. Many natural health products, including essential oils, can help tone down stress and make it more manageable. De-stress with the delights of aromatherapy.
What are essential oils?
Powerful plant extracts
Essential oils are highly concentrated, aromatic plant extracts generally derived through steam distillation. They are much stronger than the flowers, herbs, or trees they come from. Hundreds or even thousands of pounds of a plant can go into making just one pound of its essential oil.
Limbic system activators
Minute essential oil molecules activate the primal part of our brain that is responsible for our emotions, called the limbic system, likely by stimulating the olfactory system. What we smell affects the body, mind, and spirit: this is the premise of aromatherapy.
Treatments that require caution
Essential oils have naturally occurring chemical compounds, and although they have a low toxicity profile, it’s important to exercise some cautions when using these oils. Each essential oil may come with its own warnings, so it’s important to be informed and to speak with your local aromatherapist or natural health care practitioner before using essential oils, particularly where children and pregnant women are concerned.
How do I use essential oils?
Inhalation of essential oils can be done by using an essential oil diffuser, which causes the oils to vaporize into the air (see sidebar, “Essential oil diffusers,” below). Essential oils can also be inhaled directly from the bottle. A few drops can be placed on a tissue and wafted under the nose, or added to a bowl of hot water; the steam rising off the water can then be inhaled.
Massage is another effective method. Be sure to dilute the essential oils in carrier oils such as almond, grapeseed, or jojoba, or in a lotion. The rule of thumb for mixing essential oils for massage is 3 percent dilution, or 20 drops of essential oil per 2 Tbsp (30 mL) of carrier oil.
Bathing in aromatic waters is an age-old ritual that is very beneficial for cleansing and relaxation. Using sea or Epsom salts, carrier oils, or even powdered milk as a base for your aromatic oils will ensure good dispersion throughout the water. Use 8 drops of essential oil per one cup (250 mL) of carrier of your choice.
Which essential oils soothe stress?
Bergamot (Citrus bergamia)
Smells uplifting yet earthy.
Derived from cold-pressing the rind of the bergamot, an Italian citrus fruit (rather than by steam distillation).
Helps balance anxiety and stress—feelings that can cause tension, agitation, and sometimes depression and insomnia. A 2013 study of more than 100 patients awaiting same-day surgery found that those exposed to bergamot aromatherapy experienced less anxiety than the control group.
Lemon (Citrus limonum)
Smells just like freshly squeezed lemon juice— a clean, fresh scent.
Derived from the rind of the bright yellow fruit.
Helps uplift your mood and stimulate your mind. Animal studies have shown lemon fragrance has restorative effects on stress-induced suppression of the immune system. In addition, research suggests that a key component of citrus essential oils, limonene, has sedative effects.
Neroli (Citrus aurantium)
Smells highly aromatic and floral.
Derived from the spring blossoms of the bitter orange tree.
Helps soothe nervous tension by acting as a mild sedative. A study of postmenopausal women found inhaling neroli for five minutes twice a day for five days helped lower blood pressure and showed promise as a stress reliever. Another study found neroli reduced pre-procedure anxiety among colonoscopy patients.
Gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides)
Smells sweet, floral, exotic, and intoxicating.
Derived from gardenia blossoms whose scent is very close to that of Jasminum sambac, which is also very beneficial when used therapeutically. The oil is captured through solvent extraction methods, making it more viscous than steam distilled oils.
Helps reduce anxiety and promote a state of calm. In a recent German study of Gardenia jasminoides, researchers found that inhalation of this oil acts as strongly on the brain as common pharmaceutical sleeping pills and mood enhancers.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Smells floral and earthy.
Derived from the fresh flowers of the lavender plant.
Helps decrease the symptoms of stress, among many other benefits. Research has shown lavender can help treat insomnia and reduce anticipatory anxiety.
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)
Smells bright and lemony.
Derived from the leaves of the lemon balm herb, a member of the mint family.
Helps with symptoms of stress, anxiety, and sleeplessness. Try using Melissa in a blend with other nervine and uplifting oils to help bring you into a relaxed and calm state.
Atlas cedarwood (Cedrus atlantica)
Smells earthy and woody.
Derived through steam distillation from the wood of the Atlas cedar tree.
Helps balance nervousness, anxiety, and stress. A study of women from three different countries suggested that cedrol, a major component of cedarwood essential oil, had a sedative effect despite differences in the women’s ethnicity and living environments. An energetically grounding oil, like most tree oils, cedarwood can help to focus the mind.
Many plants that yield inedible essential oils are used to make teas.
Bergmaot is used to scent and flavour the tea leaves of Earl Grey Tea.
Lemon balm is used as a tea to help with the symptoms of stress, anxiety, and sleeplessness.
Essential oil diffusers
There are many different types of essential oil diffusers available. Here are three.
These traditional essential oil burners facilitate the most common way of using essential oils. A candle or other heat source heats a bowl containing oils so that they evaporate and diffuse into the air.
Small, inexpensive, electrically driven units that plug into a wall for the home or into the lighter in your car are easy to operate and use a fan to quickly transport scents into your space.
These modern diffusers are beneficial because they use ultrasonic vibrations, not heat, to break the essential oils into micro particles and disperse them in a cold mist.