If you regularly feel stressed or find it difficult relax, but don’t want to rely on medication to help ease your symptoms, you might consider turning to aromatherapy as an alternative form of stress relief.
Aromatherapy is the overarching term for the use of essential oils to promote health and wellbeing. It is an age-old practice that is still very popular today with all sorts of massage treatments, home fragrances and shop-bought remedies now including some element of aromatherapy.
The essential oils used in aromatherapy are extracted from natural flora and fauna, including the petals, bark, leaves or roots of certain plants. Different oils trigger different responses in the body and can therefore be used to treat a whole variety of ailments, including stress and anxiety.
Here is a rundown of the top 5 essential oils that can be used for stress:
Lavender is probably the most commonly used essential oil because it is a bit of a cure-all. Aside from its unmistakable scent, lavender is best known for its calming and anti-depressant qualities, which is why it is the number one oil for stress relief. This multi-purpose oil is particularly good at promoting relaxation because it targets the nervous system, helping to reduce restlessness, irritability, feelings of anxiousness and nervous tension.
As well as helping to restore inner peace, lavender is also a powerful antioxidant and antiseptic, which means it has great natural healing properties. This is one essential oil you definitely want in your everyday first aid-kit.
Like lavender, rose oil is an easily recognisable scent and it comes a close second for stress relief. This is considered to be an uplifting essential oil that is good for balancing hormones and emotions. Research has shown that rose oil can be effective in reducing the levels of stress hormone (cortisol) and it is commonly used for the relief of anxiety, grief or shock. Rose oil is also thought to boost mental strength and confidence.
Chamomile has been known through the ages for its sedative and calming properties. Chamomile tea is a popular herbal brew that is used to encourage a sense of calm, so if you’re prone to feeling stressed at work, consider swapping your usual caffeine fix for a warm cup of chamomile tea instead. Similarly, a cup of chamomile tea before bed can help with insomnia. Chamomile oil itself has a gentle, calming scent that can help to reduce overthinking and worry, which is why it’s a good stress-buster.
Like the other oils in this list, Frankincense is a multi-purpose oil that has several known benefits, including being a powerful anti-inflammatory. This makes it useful for the treatment of stress-related headaches or tension. The oil is an aromatic tree resin with a sweet, woody smell that is deeply relaxing and a natural mood booster. It is particularly good for use during meditation or mindfulness to combat shallow quick breathing and decrease anxiety.
You might associate vanilla with cooking, but it actually has several benefits outside of the kitchen. In fact, vanilla essential oil is much stronger than the vanilla extract used in cooking. The oil has a calming, sweet and sensuous aroma, which makes is good at enhancing mood and encouraging relaxation. The oil has calming effects on the brain and nerves, providing relief from anxiety, anger and restlessness. It is also known to act as a sedative and can lower blood pressure, so this is a useful scent to use at night.
How do essential oils relieve stress?
Every essential oil contains microscopic molecules that are quickly absorbed into the body usually via the nose (from smelling the aroma) or skin.
Our sense of smell is closely linked to our emotional responses and mood. Breathing in the aroma of an essential oil will stimulate the olfactory nerves in your nose. These nerves connect with the limbic system in your brain, which controls your emotions, heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, hormonal balance and stress levels.
Absorption through the skin
Essential oils can be mixed with cream or carrier oil and applied to the skin. This is a quick way of getting the oil into the bloodstream where it can be carried through the body to relieve the general aches and muscle tension caused by stress.
Note: essential oils shouldn’t be applied directly to the skin.
If you want to try using one, or several, of the stress-busting essential oils listed above, there are lots of ways you can do this at home or even on the move.
For quick, calming relief, add a few drops of essential oil to a tissue and inhale the aroma. Or, mix the oil with water in a spray bottle so that you can add a calming spritz to a scarf or handkerchief. These are both good ways of taking the benefits of aromatherapy with you to places that you find stressful, such as work, presentations or exams.
At home, you can add a few drops of essential oil to a warm bath, for a relaxing soak and then before bed, you can spritz some essential oil onto your pillow for a restful night’s sleep. You can also add essential oils to a carrier oil (such as almond or coconut) and then use it for massaging tense muscles.
Essential oils can be used in an electric diffuser if you want to scent an entire room or add a general air of calm to your house.
All of the oils listed in this top 5 can be mixed with each other to boost the calming effects, or you can choose your favourite and work with that. If you’re not sure which essential oil is right for you, go with your nose. If you pick the scent you like the most, that’s your body’s way of telling you that it’s the right one for you.
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Share your experience
Do you use essential oils to beat stress or reduce anxiety? Have you found certain scents work better than others? Are you an aromatherapy expert who can share some extra tips on stress-relief and the benefits of essential oils? We’d love to hear your thoughts, so pop your comments into the box below.