Essential Oils to Reduce Stress and Anxiety
This article is going to try to address some of the key things that you need to know to get started using aromatherapy for anxiety. We list the most popular essential oils for help with symptoms of anxiety and depression. Much of the research related to essential oils has been about their potential ability to help people reduce stress and anxiety, mostly through aromatherapy, massage, or a combination of both.
What Are Essential Oils
Essential oils are highly concentrated extracts from plant matter. Essential oils have been around for use as perfumes for thousands of years because concentrated plant juices mean concentrated plant smell. That’s also why it’s used for aromatherapy today.
Concentrated plant juices also mean concentrated plant chemicals and nutrients. For these reasons essential oils are also increasingly being explored for their use in health and wellness.
Most essential oils are alcohols. When we hear “alcohol” many of us will jump to the kind that people drink, but the term actually refers to a molecular structure that has a wide variety of properties. That’s why it’s not safe to drink some essential oils – but that will be covered in greater detail below.
Other chemical terms used to describe essential oils are “esters” and “aromatics.” Ester, like alcohol, just refers to a molecular structure. This article won’t go quite in-depth enough to require a further understanding of this term. (Source)
The term aromatic – think “aroma” — has to do with the molecular structure as well but for our purposes just means that the chemical is easy to smell. The term “aroma” tends to have positive connotations, which shouldn’t necessarily be carried over to the term “aromatic.” Most of the essential oils discussed in this article – and most essential oils in general – have smells that most people enjoy. That does not mean that the chemistry of essential oils and aromatics somehow mean that everyone enjoys the smell of every essential oil.
How are essential oils extracted?
Most essential oils are extracted from the plant through distillation or expression, according to the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA).
Distillation involves using water and heat in a closed container to allow liquid to evaporate out of the plant. This vapor is then collected and condensed back into a liquid. While essential oils may seem like the hot new thing, they have been extracted this way for thousands of years.(Source)
Not only fruits or fruit-bearing plants have essential oils, however. This creates a huge variety in essential oils. One a given plant, a fruit’s skin, seeds, and leaves may all be put through different extraction methods to extract different essential oils. In the case of flowering plants, the petals, the bud, and the roots may all have their own essential oils and methods of extracting. (Source)
This is one of the many reasons that you should be careful of how you use essential oils. The essential oil may have completely different properties than you might think of when you hear the name of a familiar plant depending on how the oils were collected and from which part of the plant.
So why go through all of this trouble? That depends on the essential oil. Some of the oldest known essential oils were used as perfume – a fate not different from those of plants pressed for aromatherapy today. Essential oils also contain a high concentration of beneficial chemicals, especially antioxidants.
While antioxidants are most known for preventing cancer or maintaining a youthful glow, they have other wide-ranging applications including keeping away bacteria, viruses, and mold – which is why essential oils are often used to flavor and preserve some foods.
Essential Oils Healing Properties
As mentioned above, essential oils have all of the healing properties that we associate with the plants that they come from – and some that we don’t.
Depending on what plant the oil is drafted from, what part of what plant, and what method of extraction, essential oils can be antiviral, antimicrobial, rich in antioxidants, and\or soothing and relaxing properties for the mind and body.
While there are lots of resources our the for all of the healing properties of essential oils, this article is going to stick to the aromatherapy for anxiety and stress reduction.
Essential oils are primarily used to reduce stress and anxiety through aromatherapy, massage, or a combination of both. Until recently, it was thought that aromatherapy only helped people to relax because the smells are enjoyable.
As we’ve learned more about the way that our sense of smell is related to our emotions, however, some researchers have started to consider aromatherapy in a somewhat more sophisticated sense.
In 2013, researchers in China suggested that aromatherapy helps to combat stress by activating serotonin pathways in the brain. Serotonin carries out many important functions in the body, including changing the diameter of blood vessels and regulating digestion. According to WebMD, many scientists also believe that low serotonin levels can contribute to depression. (Source)
It is also worth mentioning that some researchers think that positive results from essential oils used in massages may be from the massage rather than from the essential oils, but essential oils proponents aren’t convinced. Furthermore, a 2009 study published in the Journal of PeriAnesthesia Nursing found that while treatment of participants with lavender and ginger essential oils didn’t significantly decrease stress levels, participants said that they regarded the treatment as favorable. The take away is that whether you think essential oils, massage, or just good smells and the placebo effect are making people feel better, essential oils tend to make people feel better. (Source)
Aromatherapy for Anxiety: 12 Oils To Reduce Your Stress
Listed below are brief entries about recent studies conducted on essential oils that can be easily bought from health and wellness stores, or sometimes even big-box stores. Most of the entries will also give you some information on how best to use the essential oils – whether through aromatherapy, message and others.
The entries do not include dosage information, as this can vary based on how and where you want to use the essential oils. For doping information, look for instructions on the packaging, consult an expert, or do further research.
Orange Essential Oil Improves Mood and Reduces Anxiety
A 2018 study conducted in Brazil found that mice who were exposed to orange essential oils as a mist in the atmosphere showed more social tendencies than a control group. This study suggests that orange essential oils, especially in mist form, may decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression. It is difficult to suggest a dosage for humans to potentially experience the same effect, however. (Source)
Orange essential oil was tested in a dental office to understand if it improves mood and reduces anxiety. It was diffused in the waiting room and appeared to have less stress, better mood, and more calmness to the patients compared to a control group without odor in the air, except for the typical dentist office smell. The orange did appear to have an anxiety-reducing effect. (Source)
Sweet Orange EO Worry-Reducing and Uplifting Properties
Slightly different from regular orange essential oils, essential oils from sweet orange diffused through a mister showed to calm study participants better than a control group according to a 2012 study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. While the authors of the study point out that they recommend further research, this study – unlike the previous study – was conducted on humans. (Source)
Sweet orange essential oil benefits our mental and emotional state. It has worry-reducing and uplifting properties, simultaneously calms, This oil is ideal as an overall mood enhancer and relaxant. His balancing effect on the mind and body benefit people of all ages. (Source)
Aromatherapy for Anxiety using Linalool from Basil
Linalool is a chemical found in some plants and essential oils, but which can also be isolated from those oils. Linalool is a key chemical in Basil, and a 2008 study published in the journal Food Chemistry said that other chemicals in Basil had a synergistic effect on linalool, meaning that it may be more beneficial to get your linalool from a more complex source – like basil essential oils. (Source)
Lavender Essential Oil Help Relieve Anxiety and Fear
According to a 2008 meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Critical Care, studies involving lavender essential oils used in massage have often yielded positive results regarding anxiety management, but only when used for massage – studies involving lavender aromatherapy showed no changes in anxiety symptoms. (Source)
As mentioned above, some people are skeptical of the role that essential oils play in the benefit of massage – after all, maybe the massage is doing all of the work.
Fortunately, lavender is one of the most studied essential oils out there, and they don’t always use the massage. A 2009 study conducted in the United Kingdom found that taking lavender essential oils in a pill helped to sooth participants who were watching the anxiety-inducing footage. This study also had a control group who took a placebo and did not experience the same anxiety reduction. If it wasn’t a massage and it wasn’t a placebo, it must’ve been the lavender. (Source)
Shell Ginger Essential Oil Decrease Anxiety Symptoms
Another plant that sounds like a familiar food but isn’t quite the same is shell ginger. According to a 2010 study published in the journal Natural Product Communications, essential oils from this plant helped to decrease anxiety symptoms in mice when taken as a mist. (Source)
While this essential oil is available on the market, it is not one of the more common selections, and the authors of the 2010 study pointed out that we still don’t know as much about how this essential oil is distributed through various tissues as we perhaps should. (Source)
Effects of Damask Rose Essential Oil on Depression, Anxiety, and Stress
A 2012 study conducted in Iran on over 100 women suffering from anxiety due to pregnancy found that aromatherapy and the use of damask rose essential oils for foot baths significantly decreased anxiety symptoms. That is compared to a control group who did not receive aromatherapy, and who got footbaths with water not treated with essential oils. (Source)
Depression, anxiety, and stress are very common among hemodialysis patients. The aim of the 2017 study was to investigate the effects of aromatherapy using the damask rose oil on depression, anxiety, and stress in these patients. The study concludes that inhalation aromatherapy using the damask rose oil decrease anxiety, depression, and stress in hemodialysis patients. (Source)
Therapeutic Effects of Propolis Essential Oil on Anxiety
A 2010 study published in the journal Human and Experimental Toxicology found that propolis essential oils reduced symptoms of anxiety in mice.
This study has some setbacks when it comes to propolis and humans. For one thing, it was conducted on rats. It was also injected, which isn’t how humans take essential oils. The study did do one exciting thing, however: it measured the levels of stress hormones in the blood of the mice to quantifiably prove that the oil was working. (Source)
Lemongrass EO Relieves Stress and Anxiety
Interestingly, a 2011 article published in The Journal of Ethnopharmacology found that lemongrass essential oils decreased symptoms of stress and anxiety in mice and also monitored levels of neurotransmitters in their blood. Neurotransmitters aren’t the same as hormones, but they carry out similar functions.
This is interesting because they found that the blood levels of neurotransmitters in their blood didn’t change. While this raises interesting questions about exactly how lemongrass helps to relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression, it may also suggest that lemongrass essential oils can be used in addition to other essential oils for a compound benefit. (Source)
While this article looked at the effects of lemongrass essential oil vapor, a study conducted two years earlier and published in the journal Phytomedicine studied a tea made with lemongrass essential oils had a calming effect and also increased sleep time. Unfortunately, this study was also conducted on mice.
Lemon essential oil is described below, though lemon and lemongrass essential oils are not the same things. Be aware that while most people enjoy the smell of lemon, not everyone enjoys the scent of lemongrass.
Lemon Essential Oil Healing Properties
Not to be confused with lemongrass, lemon essential oils have their healing properties.
According to a 2011 study conducted in Brazil, essential oils from the leaves of the lemon plant have the rare quality of decreasing symptoms of both anxiety and depression. This study, conducted on mice, involved an oral application of the essential oils.
While some people do take a drop of lemon essential oil in a glass of water, many people are skeptical of this practice. Fortunately, lemon essential oils can also be used in aromatherapy. There are also special topical products made from lemon essential oils, and lemon essential oils are used in many cleaning products.(Source)
Lippia Alba Help to Decrease Symptoms of Anxiety
This plant may be new to many readers, but in parts of South and Central America it is widely known and is used as a tranquilizer.
A 2012 study conducted in Brazil, however, found that small volumes of an essential oil made from this plant don’t act as tranquilizers but do help to decrease symptoms of anxiety.
Unfortunately, this study was conducted on mice and via injection. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try this essential oil, however, as it can be made into a tea. (Source)
The Calming Effects of Yarrow Essential Oil
There are a number of yarrow plants used for essential oils, though all of them have the same key chemical, fragranol. According to a 2012 study published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, this chemical reduces symptoms of anxiety.
Interestingly enough, the study also points out that rather than positively influencing our brain chemistry like other anxiety fighting essential oils, the calming effects of yarrow may be more similar to intoxication. While the authors of the study may have a negative view of yarrow essential oils, they are still widely available.
Yarrow oil works best when used in vapor therapy. Simply add a few drops to a diffuser or vaporizer, or add a few drops to your handkerchief, and inhale its fragrance. Yarrow oil can also be added to your bathwater or added to a massage oil. (Source)
18 More Great Oils For Stress Management and Aromatherapy for Anxiety
- Cinnamon Leaf
- Ylang Ylang
- Clary Sage
- Tea Tree
- Bitter Orange
As the popularity of essential oils has grown, however, an increasing amount of research has gone into them. There is a shocking amount of research out there on essential oils that are not yet commercially available, but which show promise in alternative medicine practices, alongside well-known essential oils like lavender, chamomile, and lemon. (Source)
Far from being the new fad that it is easy to mistake them for, essential oils have been around for thousands of years and most people using them properly never have a bad experience with them.
The fact that they are becoming popular only means that we are learning more about them every day making them even more enjoyable, safe, and beneficial to use.
The greatest threat of essential oils and their greatest promise both come from variety. With so many plants, different oils from different parts of plants, and different extraction methods, it can be a lot of information to keep straight though there is also so much promise – especially with new essential oils being tested and discovered all the time.
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