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All About Essential Oils for Anxiety Relief About Essential Oils for Anxiety Relief By Deane Alban

Essential oils as used in aromatherapy are an effective, side effect-free way to treat anxiety. Learn how to use them to reduce stress and depression too.

essential oils

Essential oils may bring to mind scented candles and spa massages.

They may sound “new age” but in fact are ancient.

They’ve been used for over 6,000 years in Egypt, Greece, China, India and the Roman Empire and are frequently mentioned in the Bible.

They may also sound lightweight as serious remedies, but their use is recommend by such prestigious institutes as the Mayo Clinic and the National Cancer Institute. (12)

The US National Library of Medicine, a database of scientific research, lists over 15,000 studies that have been done on essential oils. (3)

They’ve become so mainstream, they are even being extolled in business magazines as a “secret weapon” for a healthy and happy workforce. (4, 5)

If you are looking for a natural, side effect-free way to address anxiety, here’s why essentials oils are definitely worth considering.

How Essential Oils Affect the Brain Aromatherapy is a healing technique that uses essential oils — concentrated fragrant extracts taken from the roots, leaves, seeds, or flowers of medicinal plants. (6)

Essential oils are extremely concentrated.

It takes a whopping 220 pounds of lavender flowers to make 1 pound of lavender essential oil. (7)

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It’s not completely understood how essential oils work, but they seem to work by tapping into the powerful relationship between smell and the brain.

Scent receptors in the nose send chemical messages by way of the olfactory nerve to the limbic system, a primitive area of the brain that deals with basic emotions (like anger and fear) and memories. (8)

Olfactory signals from essential oils are thought to impact brain chemical production thereby affecting both mental and physical health. (9)

The Connection Between the Brain and the Sense of Smell Here’s a real life example of how the surprisingly strong connection between smell, emotion, and memory works.

smelling flowers affects memoryYou’ve probably experienced “olfactory deja vu,” where a smell elicits a powerful memory and corresponding emotion.

The trigger can be any smell that’s associated with an emotionally charged memory — your dad’s aftershave, cookies in the oven, or the smell of pine trees.

For a moment you’re transported back in time.

You may be surprised at the clarity of your memory.

You may actually experience the same emotions you felt at that time.

This kind of deja vu is associated more strongly with your sense of smell than any of your other senses.

And it’s this connection between smell and your brain that may be the underlying reason aromatherapy works as a useful emotional healing tool.

The Best Essential Oils for Anxiety Now that you have an idea of how they work, let’s take a look at which essential oils are the most effective for calming the anxious mind.

There are dozens of essential oils that are used for stress relief and anxiety.

If you are new to aromatherapy, I don’t want to overwhelm you!

So I’ve narrowed the list down to my three personal favorites for their proven effectiveness, safety, and versatility.

Versatile Lavender — the Most Popular Essential Oil Lavender is the most studied and the most widely used essential oil. (10)

Lavender is so versatile I like to call it the “Swiss army knife” of essential oils — there are few things it isn’t good for!

It’s also one of the most gentle essential oils and is safe to apply to the skin directly. (11)

Lavender is widely appreciated for its ability to calm and relax and is often included in personal care items such as soap, lotions, shampoos, and massage oils.

A few drops on lavender oil on your wrist or on a cotton ball tucked into your pillow can help you sleep.

But lavender isn’t just about relaxing baths and massages.

It’s a serious and effective treatment for anxiety.

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Research has found lavender to have anti-anxiety, antidepressant, mood stabilizing, sedative, and neuroprotective properties. (12)

Unlike most essential oils, lavender can be taken internally, provided you are using “food grade” oil.

One study found that when compared to prescription tranquilizers, oral lavender oil capsules worked just as well to relieve generalized anxiety disorder, but without the side effects and risk of addiction. (13)

If you try only one essential oil, make it lavender.

Shopping Tip: There are many species of lavender. When buying an essential oil, make sure you are getting Lavandula angustifolia. (14)

Uplifting Bergamot for Anxiety and Depression Bergamot is a type of orange grown mainly in Italy.

The fruit is not considered edible but bergamot essential oil is extracted from its skin.

You may be familiar with bergamot as the unique ingredient in Earl Grey tea.

Bergamot essential oil has been proven as effective as Valium for anxiety. (15)

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Most citrus-based essential oils are good for improving mood, but bergamot is a standout for depression. (16)

All citrus-based essential oils including bergamot can cause photosensitivity.

Unlike lavender, bergamot should not be applied to the skin in its undiluted form.

So if your skin is sensitive, to be on the safe side, don’t apply topically before spending time in the sun.

Calming Gentle Chamomile You probably are familiar with chamomile as a relaxing herbal tea for insomnia and stress relief. (17)

But you may not be as familiar with chamomile as a relaxing essential oil.

There are many species of chamomile. (18)

The two most popular ones used as essential oils are:

  • German or wild chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
  • Roman or English chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile)

Both offer similar health benefits. (19)

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Chamomile essential oil is so gentle it’s even safe to use with irritable babies (in a very diluted concentration).

Besides treating anxiety and insomnia, it’s commonly used for stress-related skin conditions like eczema.

Other Essential Oils for Anxiety, Stress, and Depression Lavender, bergamot, and chamomile aren’t the only essential oils to consider for stress, anxiety, or depression.

If you’re looking for other choices or want to expand your repertoire, here are some other relaxing essential oils you can try: (20, 21)

Note that some serve a dual purpose and will be found on both the anxiety and the depression lists.

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Essential Oils for Stress Relief and Anxiety basilcedarwoodclary sagegeraniumfrankincensemandarinmarjoramnerolisandalwoodylang ylangessential oil bottle and rosemaryEssential Oils for Depression basilclary sagegeraniumgrapefruitjasminelemonlemongrassmandarinneroliorangepatchoulipeppermintroserosemaryrosewoodsagesandalwoodthyme

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Ever use them? I've never tried aromatherapy so I'm wondering if you have firsthand experience. 

Yes.  I make this stuff for me and will give out as gifts.  I got little roller bottles and I cut the essential oils with something--apricot, coconut, jojoba oil, and I have a few for different purposes.  I have a lavender, bergamot, bergamot mint that I use for sleep, and a grapefruit, lemongrass one that I like for the day.  

I've used essential oils on my pillow for sleep.  I think for me the association with bergamot and night was always the Earl Grey tea I drank before bed, but now the oil makes me relax. 

I use lavender for migraines as well.  

This ties in with herbs--many of these things have an herbal form that's good for teas, too.  Not all;) But the bottom line is getting away from the urge to pop pills all the time requires a little knowledge of plants and natural remedies--this is a good place to start. 

Wow that's a lot of knowledge. Where did you learn the specifics of these oils?

I don't know... maybe a million years of failing to get off the grid... I used to have books.  Now I have Google.  I made my mom a mosquito spray for Christmas... lets see if that one works. 

Googling seems less optimal than a website or book with it all spelled out. 

I hope your mosquito spray works!

I thought it was a fad... okay, it is a fad.  But I bought 3 to make a non-toxic bug spray for my dog.  It worked so well I started looking at other research, as part of a quest to make many of my own household products (e.g. spray disinfectant, mouthwash, many others).  Then started using some medicinally with great effects... I often get flare ups of bronchitis and breathing certain oils knocks them out.  Made a foot salve that knocks out athlete's foot. 

I was not at first that interested in the "aromatherapy", but after having several oils I made a cheap diffuser rig out of a coffee warmer, a belkin socket timer, and a 4 oz jelly jar.  Now we do some kind of scent almost nightly here and enjoy it very much. 

So it sounds like the oils work well for you after some experimentation. 

I guess our mileage may vary but they're worth experimenting with. 

Here's an oil I've had some success with for breathing through my nose:

This is not random experimentation, it's all science... because we can get this stuff and it's not well regulated, there's an illusion that it's not science.  I'll give you an example.  I had a friend experimenting with OTC aminos, and combining a bunch created a steroid effect.  Also, I've had friends get sick from  herbs, OTC supplements, and things, because every concentration and origin is different--people spend their careers studying the combos and uses of plant-based products.  Makes sense because most pharmaceuticals came from somewhere in nature (bastardized or pure) anyway... 

I guess that's my "be careful/research" disclaimer. 

I wonder why it's not well regulated. Because you're right, that makes it seem more random to me.

This stuff, and Traditional Chinese Medicine supplements are not well regulated.  It's really important to know the stuff you're taking and whether it was produced with contaminant free ingredients.  I've seen TCM remedies test out with some horrific stuff.  It's no different than my philosophy of food sourcing... know thy sources and be educated.  It's tough to regulate supplements... there's just so much out there... I'd stay stick with some simple teas and remedies/aromatherapy unless you really want to learn.  The other side of the accidentally make yourself sick are the practitioners that'll charge you a million and really don't know much... that's a big side of this too. 

What simple teas and aromas should I start with?

The ones mentioned in the original article above? Chamomile and lavender?

Interesting product -- looks like it's not an essential oil but rather a 'regular oil' aka fixed oil (as opposed to volatile) with one ingredient that is an essential oil (peppermint oil).  The other herbs have oil soluble constituents, so the net product is an "infused oil".  Infused oils tend to have the same properties as essential oils just much more dilute. 

For anyone getting into essential oils I would advise some careful research.  Lots of these new companies are advocating that people use *whatever* oil topically (sometimes undiliuted) and even internally.  While judicious use of any of these is possible, the oils can be very damaging.  Remember we are talking about what plants have primarily used as a chemical defense mechanism. 

Some of the oils are extremely phytoestrogenic.  One hospital had 12 or 13 cases of boys with breast development symptoms... all were found to be using home products using either tea tree or lavender oil.  These were not uses "straight" but heavily diluted, and the hormonal condition reversed itself in all cases after the products were discontinued.  Many supposed "debunkings" of this study leave out those details.

Other oils are photosensitizing.  Use them topically and go into the sun, you could have some real problems. 

Many others have constitutents that may be treated as toxins by the body -- potentially leading in extreme cases to kidney failure or dysfunction.  So rubbing them on your feet or putting just any oil in your bath product or what have you is *not* something I'd advise, without doing your homework.  There are good sources of info amidst the many bad ones.

Normally even when oils are safe for topical use the concentration of essential oil should be no more than 1% or 2%, with the rest being a "carrier oil".  But this can vary with the oil, preparation and use.  A few oils are said to be usable "neat" in some situations -- for example, I think lavender oil is actual can be used neat as first aid for severe burns; true cedarwood oil is an effective stypic. 

One should be even more careful about internal use... I have read that one drop of pepperment oil has the same amount you'd get from 200-300 cups of peppermint tea, so even though some people recommend "just one drop" in your water, I wouldn't.  However I have used multiple drops of oregano oil (with carrier) internally medicinally, and there is a tradition of doing this.  One method of "micro dosing" is to dip a toothpick in a drop of essential oil, and then touch that toothpick to a fluid.  A single drop of basil oil would overwhelm even a large pot of spaghetti sauce, but I'm going to try the toothpick method at some point.  I hear there are several companies who are now marketing essential oils for seasoning food so it will be interesting to see how they handle dosing. 

Can you tell us more about the dog spray?

bug spray notes edited

Thank you!!  My dogs and I are in the mosquito/heartworm AND flea capital.  Extended warm weather is not helping!

bug repellent spray for dogs edited

I'm a huge fan of rosemary - thanks so much! 

Your doggy must have had a wonderful life.  

Rosemary is wonderful in food. I never realized it has other uses. 

I wonder what makes Three Pipe's potion bad for cats. 

Adam, predator species often lack the ability to detoxify plants, since they eat very few in nature.  Meat is relatively toxin free (as long as it's alive) whereas plants, lacking claw and teeth, contain a lot -- it's their main defense mechanism.  Sure, wild dogs (and wolves) are carnivores who eat plenty of meat.  But they are much closer to omnivores than cats... known as "opportunistic omnivores" I think -- whereas cats are "obligate carnivores".  So dogs' livers and kidneys can filter out more stuff.  Everything I have read is to keep the oils away from cats 100%. 

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