Did you know that stimulating your sense of smell is one of the fastest ways to affect your mood and ease anxiety? Fun Fact: King Louis XIV of France had all his courtiers wear orange essential oil because he felt it was a mood booster!
Aromatherapy has been used for centuries as a tool to help treat a wide range of emotional issues like anxiety, depression, PTSD — you name it. But of course, aromatherapy is just one tool in the toolbox and shouldn’t be a substitute for any more in-depth treatment for mood disorders. Think of aromatherapy as having similar boosting benefits as doing a guided meditation, going for a short run, or listening to a few of your favorite songs.
How do essential oils help with anxiety?
There are actually chemical reactions in the brain when you’re exposed to certain scents that induce you to feel a variety of emotions. For example, Chamomile, Valerian, Sandalwood, and Patchouli, have a calming and soothing effect on the nervous and endocrine systems. When those bodily systems are on “alert”, the person experiences feelings of anxiety and restlessness. When exposed to those scents, the brain sends a signal to the nervous system to slow down and take a chill pill.
When using essential oils to treat emotional issues finding the right combination of ingredients is very personal. In fact, chemistry is only part of the equation.
But the most important thing — and this is something I rarely read online — is that everyone is different and responds differently to essential oils. There are no essential oils that work the same for everyone. For example, lavender is usually the absolute “go to” for relaxation. But, I know someone who hates the smell of lavender because it reminds him of a bathroom!
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Everyone is different and responds differently to essential oils. For example, lavender is usually the absolute “go to” to calm the central nervous system. But, you might not like the aroma of lavender and that’s ok! Don’t be afraid to experiment and give one of the options listed below a try.
If you’re looking for a natural, healthy way to relax and unwind, here are 10 essential oils known for their calming effects on the brain and nervous system.
1. German Chamomile
Best essential oil for heavy-duty relaxation
German chamomile is the closest thing I have found to a universally calming essential oil. Not only does it smell amazing, but it has a beautiful blue color due to the high level of azulene. I diffuse this oil a lot before bed, especially after a stressful day. Usually, within 30 minutes, my mind mellows out and I don’t have a care in the world.
2. Ylang Ylang
Best essential oil for anxiety caused by personal or family issues
Ylang ylang comes from a flower native to Indonesia. The scent is similar to what you’d expect a tropical flower, with a slight hint of banana.
According to vibrational theory, it is said to be good for people dealing with heartache. Ylang Ylang is a sedative by nature, so it’s effective in reducing anxiety, nervous tension and sleeplessness. It’s also great for getting in touch with your senses.
Best essential oil for all-around anxiety relief
French, or True Lavender is the grandmother of essential oils. The modern field of aromatherapy was started by French perfumer Rene-Maurice Gattefosse after wrote extensively about the therapeutic benefits of lavender. Because of this, true lavender is possibly the most recognizable of all essential oils.
Because of this, some people might already have memories attached to the scent of true lavender. Yes, it’s beautiful but other lavenders are lovely as well. Be bold and try another variety.
If you have a negative association with lavender, try another variety of lavender to get similar benefits. My personal favorite versions are lavender from South Africa, and Spike Lavender, which is similar to the lavender we’re familiar with but with a more eucalyptus-like aroma.
Best essential oil for anxiety at work
When jasmine perfumes the air, all things seem possible. Therefore, it’s no surprise that jasmine has been used to help to counteract depression, stress, and even lack of confidence.
Chemically, jasmine absolute is complex with over 100 constituents but is dominated by esters. I know I hear you: “ Drew, what the heck is an ‘ester’?”. An ester is a group of molecules that act as a sedative. They’re said to have a direct effect on the central nervous system and help release muscular and nervous tension.
Fun fact: a 2007 study showed that the aroma of jasmine improved bowling scores by 26%. Watch out, Grandpa!
The researcher suggested this is because jasmine helps with mood regulation, enhanced alertness or concentration, anxiolysis, increased self-confidence, and improved hand-eye coordination. A similar effect of jasmine may be observed in other sports or activities requiring precise hand-eye coordination or precision in execution.
Best essential oil for anxiety when you have stuff to do
If you’ve ever had earl grey tea, you’ll immediately recognize the scent of bergamot. Bergamot is hands down my favorite citrus. I could easily smell it all day long and never tired of it. Most commercially produced bergamot comes from the Province of Reggio Calabria in Southern Italy. The scent is bright, uplifting, and recognizably citrusy, yet a little more green than lemon or grapefruit. Since bergamot is phototoxic and shouldn’t be used in large amounts on the skin, inhalation and diffusion is the perfect way to incorporate it into your day.
6. Mandarin oil
Best essential oil for anxiety when you need a happy boost
Mandarin is the scent of joy, happiness, and the feeling of being “in the flow”. You know #tfw you are in the zone and time just sort of passes? Like THAT.
Mandarin oil is a wonderful choice when you need to concentrate and want to keep a wandering mind at bay. It has similar benefits to other citrus oils, but mandarin is a more modern and unique scent.
Best essential oil to embrace your inner hippie
If time could have a scent, I image the 70’s would be patchouli. (Just go with it). If you were coming of age in the 70’s, you either love this smell, or you hate it. This scent is very polarizing and reminds some people of the hippie era or head shops — which might be a good or bad thing. I prefer the light version, sometimes combined with another oil to avoid the heavy-ness that some describe they feel with patchouli. Mix it up and give it a try!
Best essential oil for use during meditation or a spiritual practice
Sandalwood in its tree form is a very special wood with a sophisticated warm and creamy color. Its oil is used a lot in high-end perfumes as well as in Eastern religious ceremonies and may trigger memories for some. If you have a meditation practice, add some sandalwood to a diffuser and let the aroma help you find your inner peace.
Best essential oil to embrace your inner child
Vetiver is native to India, but the best vetiver is actually produced in Haiti. The oil is used in a lot of perfume, but prior to working with essential oils, I had no experience or association with vetiver. Out of the bottle, it smells like playing outside when you were a childhood — very earthy and rooty, a little like damp soil. But when a tiny amount is diffused, it smells almost creamy. It pairs beautifully with bergamot, lemon, or any citrus.
Vetiver it a very thick essential oil and takes a while to come out of the bottle, but a little goes a long way. I add two drops to a diffuser to fill my office with it’s creamy, earthy scent.
Best essential oil to detox your living space
Bright, grassy scents like lemongrass are thought to be great for relieving anxiety and inducing a feeling of lightness.
An added bonus: because of Lemongrass’ antibacterial properties and relatively low cost, I like to add a few drops of lemongrass oil to DIY cleaning products! Not only will my home be clean, but the high amount of citral relieves any sense of nervous exhaustion, stress and even headaches.
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Many of these essential oils are expensive, but it’s important to buy the highest quality you can from reputable suppliers. Since you will be using these for inhalation, a little goes a long way. Not an ad, but if you’re wondering, my favorite suppliers are Stillpoint Aromatics and Florihana.