Essential oils are aromatic substances that are extracted from plants through a distillation process. They can be obtained from the leaves, flowers and even the roots. In addition to taking advantage of its aroma in different natural products, some are beneficial for health. In this case, reference is made to aromatherapy, which involves using these oils to promote well-being.
In fact, smell is one of our most underrated senses, even though it can have healing power. It’s also one of the least-researched of the senses, although receptors in the nose are known to send chemical messages via the olfactory nerve to the limbic system, a primitive area of the brain linked to emotion, fear, and memory. That is the reason why some smells awaken such vivid memories in us and generate very intense emotional experiences.
In 2013, researchers from Xiamen University discovered that the olfactory signals generated by essential oils have an effect on the production of neurotransmitters, especially serotonin and dopamine. This means that smelling these scents actually has an impact on a physical level, not just a psychological effect. For this reason aromatherapy is used for anxiety. In fact, there is more and more scientific research on the use of different essential oils to calm anxiety and stress.
What are the best essential oils for anxiety?
1. Lavender essential oil
Lavender oil is one of the most popular in aromatherapy, mainly for its pleasant smell, but also for its healing properties. In fact, lavender oil is not only used for anxiety and stress, but also to fall asleep as it has a sedative effect.
A study carried out at the University of Central Lancashire found that the oral administration of lavender decreased the heart rate of people while they watched a movie that generated fear and anxiety.
A larger review by researchers at the University of Parma revealed that the smell of lavender can significantly reduce anxiety levels, as giving yourself a lavender oil massage. It is thought that this essential oil acts directly on the limbic system, which is the part of the brain that controls emotions and triggers the anxiety response, to calm those feelings.
2. Valerian essential oil
Valerian infusion is relaxing and induces sleep, but it is also used in aromatherapy. In fact, the properties of this plant have been used for centuries. Valerian essential oil comes from the roots of the plant and has a bold aroma of woody and earthy notes, that’s why some people may find it unpleasant, but it does contain compounds that calm anxiety and promote sleep.
A meta-analysis conducted at the universities of Westminster, Nagasaki, and Chiba revealed that it has a mild sedative effect on our body that promotes a drowsy and relaxed state. In fact, it is one of the most effective essential oils for anxiety. These researchers noted that its routine use “may induce immediate and long-lasting effects on anxiety-associated brain activity” and is even valid for treating symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
3. Spikenard essential oil
Called nardostachys jatamansi, this plant grows in the Himalayas of Nepal, as well as in the northern region of India and China. It belongs to the same family as valerian and its essential oil also comes from the roots of the plant, which is why it has a peculiar aroma with earthy and woody notes.
Spikenard has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine to calm the mind and promote sleep. According to a study with animal, exposure to this essential oil for just 7 days had significant anti-anxiety effects, almost as effective as diazepam.
In fact, Spikenard caused a significant increase in monoamine neurotransmitters, the ones that drugs like Prozac and Ritalin focus on, as well as GABA, one of the most important neurotransmitters for achieving a state of calm and relaxation.
4. Jasmine essential oil
If you like the smell of jasmine, you’re lucky because its essential oil also helps fight anxiety and stress. Its floral aroma, very common in cosmetic products, also has a positive influence on our nervous system.
An experiment conducted in Thailand found that the scent of jasmine oil can promote a sense of well-being. By monitoring the changes that occurred in the brain using an electroencephalogram (EEG), it was observed that the power of the beta wave (13-30 Hz) increased both in the anterior center and in the left posterior region, which reveals a relaxed but attentive state.
That means that unlike other essential oils for anxiety, the scent of jasmine can calm the nervous system without causing drowsiness, making it ideal for those who just want to relieve tension but need to stay alert and attentive.
5. Clary sage essential oil
This plant, common in Mediterranean areas, is also known as sage and is one of the most relaxing, calming and balancing essential oils that exists. Its essential oil, which is obtained from the leaves of the plant, has a purple color.
A meta-analysis conducted at Buraydah College revealed that clary sage helps relieve stress and helps control cortisol levels in women. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone, which is why its high levels are associated with anxiety.
This essential oil for anxiety helps to relieve tension, apprehension and anguish effectively. It has even been proven to have cholinesterase-inhibiting properties, so it also improves memory and mood.
6. Rose essential oil
Rose essential oil is extracted from the petals of this flower and its pleasant sweet and floral aroma is known to relax the senses. In fact, a massage with rose essential oil can relieve menstrual pain, anxiety, and irritation. Its effectiveness on the central nervous system is thought to be due to two compounds: sytrinol and 2-phenylethyl alcohol, known as anxiolytic agents.
An experiment carried out at the Iran University of Medical Sciences looked at the use of rose aromatherapy on pregnant women during labor. They found that those exposed to rose essential oil reported lower levels of anxiety. In fact, the use of rose oil reduced anxiety in labor by 71% and only 14% of them required anesthesia.
This essential oil for anxiety, which has been used for centuries, has also been shown to be particularly helpful when experiencing panic attacks, shock, or intense suffering.
7. Geranium essential oil
Geranium oil is distilled from the plant and has a sweet, floral aroma. It is often used as a scent in soaps, cosmetics, and perfumes, but it also has sedative properties, which is why it is used in aromatherapy for anxiety, stress, and distress.
In fact, its use has been shown to not only reduce anxiety during childbirth, but also significantly lower diastolic blood pressure. Research conducted at the Lorestan University of Medical Sciences in Iran also found that geranium oil is effective in calming anxiety in people who had been hospitalized due to a heart attack.
How are essential oils used?
Essential oils can stimulate the olfactory receptors found in our nose, which then send messages to our nervous system. Another theory about how they work suggests that they may have a subtle effect on our body’s chemical and energy systems.
They are generally used through topical applications or inhalation. In fact, essential oils are not ingested as some are toxic. However, you can use them in different ways. Add a few drops to bath water for a relaxing soak, or use in a diffuser in the room before bed, while reading, or practicing a relaxation technique.
You can also give yourself a relaxing massage with essential oils. You don’t even need a professional masseur, you can give yourself a hand massage using these essential oils, especially on the palms of your hands as it helps calm anxiety.
It is recommended to follow this “treatment” every day, at least for 10 minutes, for a month.
Keep in mind that it is convenient to use pure essential oils, which are not mixed with chemical additives. However, some of these oils are very powerful, so the manufacturer recommends diluting them with other oils. Always follow the instructions for use.
What is the best essential oil to calm anxiety? Is it really effective?
It all depends on the level of anxiety. If it is a state of specific anxiety, such as the one we experience before a job interview, the presentation of an important project or an exam, essential oils can be of great help as they will help us relax and regain confidence. They are also very effective in relieving stress that accumulates day after day and that can end up triggering an anxiety disorder.
However, when it comes to anxiety that has dragged on for years or panic attacks, aromatherapy should be a complement to psychotherapy. It is important to be aware that there are no magic formulas for anxiety to disappear.
Essential oils for anxiety help to find peace of mind at specific times, but it is necessary to work psychologically on the traumas, problems and beliefs that generate or aggravate that anxiety. In any case, the best essential oil to calm anxiety is one that makes you feel calm. So you have to like the scent of it, which means you may have to try different types of essential oils for anxiety until you find one that works.
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