Aromatherapy for Anxiety: Does It Work and Which Essential Oils Are Best?

Smells can evoke powerful emotions. Catching a whiff of a particular aroma, like the smell of the perfume your grandmother used to wear, can instantly bring back memories and emotions. If smelling a scent from the past creates an emotional connection, it's not a stretch to think that scent has the power to alter emotions, even anxiety.
 
That's the idea behind using aromatherapy for anxiety and stress. The way most people do this is by using aromatherapy and essential oils. Aromatherapy is the practice of using essential oils to change a person's mood, behavior, physiology, and emotions.
 

What are Essential Oils?

To understand aromatherapy, you must first know what essential oils are. Essential oils are the volatile, chemical-rich oils that give plants their aromas. The scents of these oils make up the "essence" of the plant and contain volatile aromatic compounds. Manufacturers extract them through distillation, often by using steam. Other processes include expression, solvent extraction, absolute oil extraction, and CO2 extraction.
 
Since it takes pounds of plants to produce a single bottle of essential oil, essential oils can be costly. Unfortunately, there's a lot of essential oil fakery too. Some essential oils are diluted with other substances, reducing the benefits of the oil.
 

How Do Aromatherapy and Essential Oils Affect Emotions?

When you smell something or catch the scent of an essential oil, molecules from the oil journey via the olfactory nerve to portions of your brain involved in emotions. Some aromas, such as the aroma of fresh-baked apple pie, bring about happy emotions, while others, like the aroma of something burning, may arouse negative emotions. Using essential oils that positively affect your emotions can help relieve stress, increase focus, or help with sleep. Some essential oils also lessen anxiety.
 

Types of Essential Oils that May Help Anxiety

Although you may prefer the aroma of one essential oil over another, some are better for easing anxiety than others. Let's look at the ones that have the most evidence to support their benefits for stress relief.
 

Peppermint oil

Peppermint oil is known for its calming properties. It can help relax the muscles and reduce stress and worry. Inhaling peppermint oil may also boost your energy and concentration levels, which can help if you're anxious about work-related tasks or other activities that require concentration and focus.
 
One study found that aromatherapy with peppermint essential oil reduced anxiety and pain in people having an IV put into their arms. However, peppermint can also make some people, especially children, feel more energetic. So, it can be activating too.
 
Lavender oil 
 
Lavender is another popular essential oil for anxiety relief. It's often used in aromatherapy to relieve stress and promote relaxation in the body. Several studies show that inhaling lavender reduces feelings of tension and nervousness, while also lowering heart rate and blood pressure. A study in pregnant women found lavender aromatherapy was effective for reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression. Plus, there are small studies showing lavender improves sleep quality, which is beneficial for mood.
 

Rosemary oil

Rosemary essential oil has been shown to interact with GABA receptors in the brain. This interaction blocks signals that trigger anxious thoughts and feelings. A study of nursing students found that those who used sachets filled with lavender or rosemary essential oils experienced less anxiety and lower pulse rates in response to taking tests.
 

How to Use Essential Oils for Aromatherapy

An oil diffuser is the easiest way to add essential oils to your home environment. The oil diffuser releases tiny droplets of essential oil into the air to create a fresh, natural fragrance. Some diffuser models also humidify the air in dry areas. Another way to get the benefits of essential oils is to add them to a bath. Lying in a warm bath itself has benefits for anxiety and stress management.
 

The Bottom Line

There's little scientific evidence that essential oils can cure depression, anxiety, or insomnia, but that doesn't mean they don't have benefits. Certain essential oils may reduce the severity of anxiety symptoms. Certain essential oils have a distinct aroma that creates a feeling of well-being and relaxation. This can reduce your stress levels by calming you down and helping you deal better with stressful situations.
 
It's likely that essential oils are more of a temporary release from stress and anxiety. Just as sitting in a hot bath makes you feel more relaxed while you're in it and for a while afterward, essential oils do the same. They temporarily make you feel more relaxed and centered. While not a cure, aromas that arouse positive emotions can be helpful for managing stress and anxiety. Plus, they lack the side effects that some anti-anxiety medications have.

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  • Elizabeth Peek on

    I have read your article. Which is very helpful content I think. Using essential oils or what is called aromatherapy is a good stress relieving method. I use peppermint oil to help with stress related headaches. For stress relating to my hormones I use a blend of lavender, peppermint and clary sage diluted with carrier oil and I roll it on the back of my neck. I also read a blog post related to this topic on the VINEVIDA website. You can take a look at the following link: https://www.vinevida.com/blogs/our-blog/best-essential-oils-for-anxiety-de-stress-yourself


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