For centuries various cultures, especially those in India, China, Southern Europe and Egypt, have used herbs and essential oils. A popular and more contemporary use of essential oils is in the form of aromatherapy.
How essential oils can help relieve anxiety
Aromatherapist Malak Sherif Ahmed, who is based in Alexandria, Egypt, says that essential oils can work like magic to help relieve anxiety. “When inhaled, the scent molecules in essential oils travel from the olfactory nerves (nerve that translates information related to smell) directly to the brain, and especially impacts the amygdala, which is the emotional centre of the brain. That is when the oil works on relieving anxiety and stress,” she explains.
While anxiety is known to affect mental health, it can also manifest in the body in different ways. Some may experience stomach-related issues, while some have headaches or difficulty in breathing. Speaking on how essential oils can address these issues, Kaur says, “If someone with anxiety cannot control their emotions, they can use essential oils to calm themselves down.”
A holistic way to calm nerves
“If someone is feeling anxious, they can diffuse some essential oil in their room or put some essential oil in their temporal lobes (behind the ears). If used with correct indications, it works as a much safer alternative to quick-fix pills,” she adds.
Catherine Lee, aromatherapist and founder of MyENSY, an aromatherapy service platform based in Malaysia, says there are numerous benefits of using essential oils. “It is an effective way to reduce anxiety, promote relaxation, and improve sleep quality. The use of essential oils can also be combined with other therapies such as meditation or yoga to further enhance the effects of the treatment,” she adds.
A 2020 clinical study (randomised controlled clinical trial) conducted at Iran’s Shahroud University of Medical Sciences evaluated the effect of essential oils (lavender and chamomile oils) on depression, stress and anxiety among the elderly. The study found that inhalation aromatherapy with both the oils helped to reduce the symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress.
The many ways of using essential oils
Essential oils are commonly used with a diffuser, in which a few drops mixed with water and heated. “This is a great way to get the benefits of the essential oil quickly. You can also add essential oils to your bathtub, which helps with relaxation and to relieve tension. Another option is to apply essential oils directly to your skin. You can do this by adding a few drops to a carrier oil like coconut or jojoba oil, and then applying it to your skin,” says Lee.
The aromatherapist also suggests a skin test – first apply it on a small patch of your skin – before applying it to other areas. This helps you avoid allergic reactions.
Essential oils come with a disclaimer from experts. Kavneet Kaur, an aromatherapist based in Rishikesh, says that these oils are often confused with scented oils. “Essential oils carry the essence of the plant, herb or flower and is not just about the fragrance,” she explains. The essence of a plant means that it constitutes its fragrance along with its healing qualities. “If you are using one drop of lavender essential oil, there must have been hundreds of lavender buds that came together to make that one drop. You can imagine the amount of healing strength that the single drop carries,” she adds.
Other do’s and don’ts to keep in mind
- Essential oils are concentrated plant oils and must be blended in base oils such as vegetable oils, before direct skin application
- They should never be applied neat, nor should it be blended with baby oil
- Essential oils should never be consumed orally
- Essential oils should never be applied in or around the eyes
- These oils should not be used on broken or cracked skin or on any skin infection
- Essential oils should not be used by pregnant women, those who have epilepsy, and children below 12, without proper supervision
- Breathe deeply after using the oil to make it more effective
- Lack of sleep often aggravates anxiety, so it is important to get sufficient sleep
(As suggested by Deepa Narayan, aromatherapist and founder of Breathe Aromatherapy, Mumbai.)
Essential oils that can be used to relieve anxiety
- Clary Sage
- Sweet orange