Taking a test, going on a first date, or your first day at work can be filled with a bundle of nerves. Breathing in and out and counting to 10 can help alleviate feelings of fear or worry, but for 40 million adults in the U.S. with an anxiety disorder, telling yourself to stop being nervous or not to panic can make it worse. Essential oils can help decompress and de-stress through the healing power of scent.
It’s not completely understood how essential oils work, but their power may be due to a relationship between smell and the brain. Scent receptors in the nose send chemical messages via the olfactory nerve to the limbic system – a primitive area of the brain that deals with basic emotions, including anger and fear, and memories. A 2013 study in the journal Current Drug Targets found olfactory signals from essential oils are thought to impact brain chemical production, thereby affecting both mental and physical health.
Essential oils are natural, extracted from flowers, leaves, bark, or roots of plants, and can provide much-needed relief and healing for a variety of ailments, including anxiety. Below are the six best essential oils for alleviating anxiety, from lavender to frankincense.
Lavender is considered to be the most common essential oil for its calming, relaxing effect. It helps with sleep, restlessness, panic attacks, and general nervous tension. Patti Lyons, owner of Peace Valley Lavender Farm in Doylestown, Pa., believes “the power of lavender to stimulate and supplement in the body’s healing forces is unmatched by modern pharmaceuticals.”
It can kill pathogens in the air and in nasal sinuses and respiratory airways. Lyons states lavender is also a nerve tonic and an antidepressant, boosting our spirits as well as helping to beat “the blues” that accompany immune stress and illness.
A 2009 study in the journal Human Psychopharmacology found orally administered lavender essential oil led to an increase in heart rate variation compared to the placebo, while watching an anxiety-provoking film. This suggests lavender has anxiolytic effects (also anti-panic or anti-anxiety agent).