Updated: Aug 4, 2021
Anxiety disorders are said to affect 40 million Americans per year and yet, only 36.9% people receive any treatment for this highly treatable condition. Extremely high costs and lack of accessibility could be just some of the reasons many are not getting the help they need. But did you know that there are alternatives to your traditional therapy session?
Aromatherapy has been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years. With the persisting pandemic and its impact on various factors of people’s lives, it’s good to have alternatives to manage stress and anxiety that don’t also burn a hole through one’s pockets. Today, we’re going to talk about the best oils used in aromatherapy when it comes to relieving symptoms of anxiety and stress.
What is Aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils extracted from the different parts of a plant to alleviate physical/mental ailments. Various essential oils have specific purposes they are used for and come in a wide range of scents and benefits. Oils maybe combined in treatment to achieve specific outcomes and are therefore quite versatile. Aromatherapy has been used for centuries to help with physical as well as mental health conditions however, only small scale studies have been done so far about the benefits of aromatherapy. However, more interest around this therapeutic method has been peaking and more studies are also emerging regarding the effects of different oils on different conditions.
How does it work?
Aromatherapy works by targeting smell receptors in the nose which then transmit messages to the limbic system, which is responsible for controlling emotions. Topical application, diffusers, candles and oil burners are just some of the ways used to administer aromatherapy.
Aromatherapy can be administered in various methods. It depends on the condition that is being targeted as well as the severity of it. It also depends on the type of oil you are using. So, what are some of the most effective oils in treating anxiety related issues?
Lavender oil has been used in traditional medicine for centuries. It is attributed with managing conditions such as anxiety and is often used to treat insomnia thanks to its calming and soothing properties. Derived from the lavender plant, lavender oil smells floral, fresh and herbaceous.
Lavender oil is one of the most widely studied essential oils and various studies have been conducted which showcase its effectiveness in reducing anxiety, stress and depression. A study published in Physiology and Behavior in September 2005 investigated the impact of lavender on anxiety, mood, and alertness of 200 dental patients while they were waiting for their appointments. The findings of this study support the claims that lavender played an important role in relieving anxiety.
Another study published in the Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research conducted in 2016, investigated the effects of lavender on mothers in preventing stress, anxiety and postpartum depression. The study found that inhaling the scents of lavender for 4 weeks prior to delivery could prevent anxiety, stress and depression after child birth.
Add a few drops to a carrier oil (such as grapeseed oil) and mix well. Do not directly apply essential oils to the skin as they are too strong on their own to be applied topically and always remember to patch test. If your patch test does not lead to skin irritation, gently apply the oil to the back of your ears, nape of your neck and your wrists. You can even have it massaged on to your back, shoulders and forehead.
Oil burners are also great for this comforting scent. Simply add a few drops to your oil burner and let the oil do its magic.
Lemon essential oil is derived from fresh lemon peels. The zesty refreshing sent is said to have mood elevating properties and can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Lemon scented products often leave you feeling refreshed, possibly why so many household cleaning supplies are lemon scented. A study published in the Iranian Journal of Rehabilitation Research in Nursing in 2016 concluded that Aromatherapy conducted with lemon essential oil was able to relieve anxiety in patients after surgery due to fractures.
Another study published in 2006 conducted on mice also determined lemon essential oil to have had a calming and mood lifting effect on the subjects.
The other benefits of this oil include alleviating symptoms of morning sickness, healthier skin as well as acting as a pain reliever.
Pour 3-5 drops into an oil diffuser and let it disperse the refreshing scent in your room but make sure to limit your sessions to around 30-45 minutes. Remember to use a carrier oil for topical application and remove any oil residue from the skin before heading out into the sun.
Patchouli Essential Oil is extracted from the leaves of the patchouli plant and is said to have a woody, sweet and spicy scent. Patchouli oil has been used in traditional medicines such as Ayurveda for thousands of years. Attributed with the ability to ease pain, patchouli oil is often used to promote relaxation and ease symptoms of anxiety .
A November 2020 study conducted on emergency nurses investigated how patchouli oil affected them in terms of stress, compassion, satisfaction and burn out. The study concluded that inhaling patchouli is effectively reduced the subjects’ stress and also increased their compassion satisfaction.
Apply a few drops to your pillow to lay down and relax or add a drop or two to a dab of cotton, napkin or tissue and inhale. You can even draw a warm bath and add a few drops for a relaxing soak.
4. Sweet Orange
Citrus Sinensis is the scientific name for the variety of oranges that you are most commonly consumed. This is also the variety from which Sweet Orange essential oil is derived from. The usage of sweet orange essential oil is commonly for treating skin conditions and as a flavoring agent in food.
However, sweet orange oil is also very effective in easing symptoms of anxiety.
A 2012 study demonstrated this by testing the anxiolytic effect of sweet orange extract in 40 subjects exposed to an anxiogenic condition. The study found that the usage of sweet orange extract in aromatherapy was effective in soothing and calming the mind.
Add about 8-10 drops in bathwater for a calming bath or mix a few drops in carrier oil to massage your worries away. Make sure to focus on your shoulder and neck!
Chamomile is quite a versatile herb. The flowers resemble daisies and have been used to cure a variety of ailments since time immemorial. From menstrual cramps, to insomnia, stress and digestive issues, this fairly easy to grow herb has certainly withstood the test of time.
Chamomile essential oil is extracted from the flowers of the chamomile plant. Many studies are being done to investigate the effectiveness of chamomile extract in treating anxiety. A December 2017 study conducted on 179 subjects with moderate to severe GAD ( Generalized Anxiety Disorder) concluded that there was a significant reduction in GAD symptoms with the use of Chamomile extract.
Another study conducted in 2018, concluded that the use of chamomile extract therapy increased the salivary cortisol levels of the subjects in the morning. Lower cortisol levels often cause symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression.
Pour a few drops as per bottle instructions in to your diffuser for a quiet aromatherapy session or you can get creative DIY your very own chamomile room spray.
5. Clary Sage
Native to the Mediterranean Basin, clary sage is commonly grown for use as a tea flavoring. It has a refreshing and clean scent. The oil is extracted from the buds and leaves of the clary sage plant.
As mentioned before, aromatherapy works by triggering smell receptors in the nose which then send signals to the limbic system through the nervous system. The limbic system is the region responsible for controlling memory and emotions. This is why some scents can dig up memories long forgotten and have the ability to trigger different emotions. Clary sage is said to have a soothing effect when administered through aromatherapy.
A study published in the journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that clary sage proved to be highly effective in lowering the stress levels of women undergoing a strenuous medical examination.
Add a few drops of clary sage to an oil burner and pair with other soothing scents like Levander, jasmine or lemon for maximum effect.
Who doesn’t love a bouquet of freshly cut roses? Roses are a universal symbol of love and romance and have been used in traditional medicine, food and beauty for a very long time. Rose oil is extracted from rose petals through a process called steam distillation.
Rose oil has a beautifully floral, charming sweet scent and is used a lot in treating skin conditions such as eczema, minimizing the appearance of acne blemishes, rosacea, clearing acne and hydrating the skin. It is also very effective in relieving anxiety, tension and uplifting the mood.
A 2014 study published in the Iran Red Crescent Med Journal investigated the effects of Aromatherapy with Rose oil on women in the first stage of labor. The study concluded that Aromatherapy with rose oil and footbath was successful in reducing anxiety in the laboring women.
Another study published in Natural Product Communities in 2009 demonstrated the effectiveness of rose oil to relax and calm the subjects through topical application alone.
Mix a few drops of rose oil with a carrier oil such as coconut or almond oil before topical application or add a few drops to your diffuser for a refreshing, sweet smelling aromatherapy session which is very likely to transport you to an English garden. Do not hesitate to mix with complementary scents such as chamomile, jasmine and patchouli to curate your very own scent.
This luscious and floral smelling oil is extracted from the jasmine flower through solvent extraction method. Jasmine is popular in Asian culture, where the flower is said to have originated from. Not only is it used to brew a nice warm cup of tea, but you can also observe jasmine flowers being weaved into the hair or garlands worn as a hair adornment in many parts of Asia, specifically the South.
The oil extracted from these tiny fragrant flowers is coveted for its therapeutic properties. It is said to have antidepressant and anxiolytic properties and is also used as an aphrodisiac. An April 2013 study published in the journal of Health Research found that inhaling Jasmine oil was effective in increasing feelings of romance and left the subjects feeling fresh and with a sense of well-being.
Oil burners are great for dispersing the lovely scent of jasmine oil but if you are on the go, pocketsize oil bottles are your best friend. Taking a few sniffs directly from the bottle is just as good when you are out and about.
The gaining popularity of Aromatherapy as an alternative therapeutic method is paving the way for larger and broader scale scientific studies. Though all natural, remember to patch test and research before using essential oils and always follow instructions for maximum benefit.
Lehrner J, Marwinski G, Lehr S, Johren P, Deecke L. Ambient odors of orange and lavender reduce anxiety and improve mood in a dental office. Physiol Behav. 2005;86(1-2):92-95. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2005.06.031