Anxiety refers to the mental and physical signs experienced in response to perceived danger. When events, people, or even our own thoughts threaten us, our bodies experience a physiological and mental arousal that helps us cope with the threat. Some of the physical and mental symptoms of anxiety—such as nausea, rapid breathing and heart rate, trembling, fear, dread, and worry—can be soothed using aromatherapy or essential oils.
Which Essential Oils Help Anxiety?
A number of essential oils are used individually or in blends to relieve anxiety. Several essential oils appear to have an effect on the neurotransmitters in the brain that play a role in anxiety. Sampling includes:
- Bergamot: This essential oil is best at relieving stress and depression that can accompany anxiety.
- Clary Sage: It alleviates the stress and exhaustion that often accompany anxiety.
- Lavender: Commonly found in massage products, it has a calming effect on the mind as well as muscle tension that can accompany anxiety.
- Patchouli: This oil also relieves stress and fatigue.
- Roman chamomile: It is often used in an herbal tea, but is also commonly found in massage products due to its calming effect. Like lavender, it is helpful when anxiety is accompanied by insomnia. It also helps relieve nausea.
Other essential oils used to soothe anxiety include cedarwood, frankincense, geranium, mandarin, neroli, rose, sandalwood, and vetiver.
Using Aromatherapy/Essential Oils to Relieve Anxiety
Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils from plants for psychological and physical healing. Essential oils are concentrated extracts taken from the roots, leaves, or blossoms of plants. These oils, also called essences, can be used as inhalants, applied topically to the skin, and, in some cases, ingested to relieve symptoms of a variety of health conditions including anxiety.
Essential oils can be used in a number of ways. They can be added to massage oils or creams, or to a carrier oil. A carrier oil is a cold-pressed vegetable oil derived from the fatty portion of a plant, usually from the seeds, kernels or the nuts. Examples of carrier oils are olive oil, sweet almond oil, grapeseed oil, and apricot kernel oil. After an essential oil is mixed with a carrier oil, it can be applied directly to the skin or added to a bath. The hot water of a bath complements the relaxing effects of the essential oil, providing additional benefit to someone suffering from anxiety.
You can also inhale essential oils by the process of diffusion. To diffuse essential oils, you disperse them so that their aroma fills the area with natural fragrance. Many methods exist for diffusing oils into a room, such as sprinkling a few drops of an essential oil on a tissue or adding drops of oil to a bowl of boiled water. Commercial products for diffusion include lamp rings, clay pots, candles, and electric diffusers.
How Do Aromatherapy and Essential Oils Work?
Essential oils are the pure essences of plants. They contain the plant’s own mix of active ingredients, which determines the healing properties of the oil. The naturally occurring chemicals found in essential oils work in synergy with one another. A synergistic essential oil blend, or one in which the healing properties of one oil complement the properties of another oil, is considered to be greater in total action than each oil used independently. Because essential oils are volatile substances, meaning they evaporate quickly, their molecules are easily inhaled. The oils provide triggers to our brain. These triggers affect our emotions and also provide physical benefit.
Is Aromatherapy Safe?
Essential oils are highly concentrated and can be harmful if not used carefully. By following the guidelines listed below, you should be able to safely use aromatherapy to treat anxiety.
- Essential oils should never be used undiluted on the skin due to potential allergic reactions (there may be exceptions made by experienced aromatherapy users and practitioners). To test the oil, dilute only 1 drop of the essential oil with the carrier oil and apply the mixture on your skin, and cover with a bandage. Wait at least 24 hours to see whether irritation occurs.
- Some essential oils, particularly those from the Citrus family, may cause skin sensitivity to sunlight. These oils include lemon, lime, bitter orange, grapefruit, and neroli, mandarin and bergamot listed above. Therefore, wait at least 5 hours after using them and before exposing your skin to ultraviolet sun rays, otherwise, your skin might redden and burn.
- Some essential oils should be avoided during pregnancy or by those with asthma, epilepsy, or other health conditions. People with asthma and other respiratory conditions should avoid inhaling essential oils. Those with high blood pressure should avoid various essential oils, including sage, rosemary, eucalyptus, thyme, and rose, which is listed above to address anxiety.
- When using essential oils, use the smallest amount of essential oil needed to soothe your senses and reduce anxiety. Only a few drops are needed for the oil to bring about a balance to body tissues and emotions.
- Not all essential oils are suitable for aromatherapy. Wormwood, pennyroyal, onion, camphor, horseradish, wintergreen, rue, bitter almond and sassafras are some of the essential oils that should only be used by qualified aromatherapy practitioners due to their toxic effect if used excessively.
- Keep essential oils away from children, and never let children use essential oils without adult supervision. Treat the oils with the same caution that you would use with medicine.
- Essential oils should only be taken internally after receiving a detailed consultation and prescription from a trained aromatherapy practitioner.
- Essential oils are flammable. They should never be stored near fire or an open flame, or burned in a diffuser without water. They maintain their therapeutic effect if kept out of direct sunlight in cool, dark places or in a refrigerator.
The U.S. government does not regulate the use of the word “aromatherapy” on product packaging, labeling or in product advertising, so any product can be marketed as a product suitable for aromatherapy. There are many products on the market that contain unnatural ingredients, including fragrance oils, which claim to be aromatherapeutic. It is important to look at the ingredient label when seeking true aromatherapy products.