Essential oils for anxiety

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Can essential oils help anxiety?

The effects of aromas may seem to be subtle. Billy Connolly once joked about how, at the scene of a terrible road accident, someone pushed their way through a crowd saying “stand back, I’m an aroma therapist!” … obviously, there’s a limit to their effectiveness :)

Smells, however, do have a remarkable effect on our consciousness and physiology. We all know how the smell of delicious food can make us suddenly hungry, and other smells will make us feel physically ill. Smells can powerfully bring back memories and, in the case of smelling salts, even bring us back to consciousness.  

So it’s worthwhile using aromas consciously in our environment to help us on our way back to peace of mind.  Whilst they are unlikely to bring about a miraculous recovery, they are another useful tool we might as well take advantage of. 

The idea behind the selection of essential oils for anxiety problems is to choose those that help to counteract the typical anxiety symptoms of chilliness and agitation. So we’re looking for warming fragrances and oils that have been shown to have a settling effect on the nervous system, rather than those that are stimulating.

Sandalwood ...

is probably the incense or oil most worth investing in.  Research suggests that when inhaled, along with many other properties, it has some anxiety reducing actions (1). Traditionally, it is highly prized and said to promote calm and peace with a harmonising and purifying effect on the atmosphere. 

Lavender ...

has been the subject of a significant amount of research which confirms that it can be beneficial in reducing anxiety and importantly is useful in promoting restful sleep – try a few drops on your pillow every night for a deeper, more prolonged sleep (2).

Rose ...

also shows some effectiveness in soothing anxiety and its uplifting qualities make it helpful in cases of depression. It’s a rare person who can inhale the scent of a freshly bloomed rose and not smile (3).

Another easily available essential oil is Bergamot, which may be best known as the oil that gives Earl Grey Tea its refreshing, citrus flavour. I’m a complete addict of Earl Grey and, who knows, maybe I was naturally drawn to it for its ability to help soothe to the nervous system. Its refreshing scent is also wonderful in an essential oil burner (4).

Other oils that may be grounding and useful in helping to settle the nervous system are bitter orange, myrrh, frankincense, musk, basil, and cinnamon, clove, camphor and cedar which are warming and said to be purifying to the atmosphere.

Choose a combination that you enjoy which includes sandalwood.  The more flowery fragrances such as jasmine are said to be cooling (for those situations where you need to “cool it”) and the woodier, spicier fragrances are more warming (anxiety most often makes us prone to chilliness). A favourite combination of mine is sandalwood, rose and lavender. 

How to use ...

These fragrances can be used as incense sticks or in oil burners.  Fill the oil burner container with a little hot water and put a few drops of the oil into the water.

The oil may also be applied to the skin but should be mixed with a bland oil such as almond or olive first as some essential oils are irritating to the skin in their pure form.  

Try applying to the base of the neck at the back or to the temples and add a few drops to your bath and favourite body lotion.


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1 Tadaaki Satou et al, 2014, ‘Prolonged anxiolytic-like activity of sandalwood (Santalum album L.) oil in stress-loaded mice,’ Flavour and Fragrance Journal; Vol 29, Issue 1, pp 35–38

2 H. M. A. Cavanagh and J. M. Wilkinson, 2002, ‘Biological Activities of Lavender Essential Oil’  Phytother. Res. 16, pp 301–308, School of Biomedical Sciences, Charles Sturt University 

3 Reinaldo Nóbrega de Almeida et al, 2004, ‘Anxiolytic-like effects of rose oil inhalation on the elevated plus-maze test in rats’ Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, Volume 77, Issue 2, February 2004, pp 361–364

4 Somrudee Saiyudthong and Charles A. Marsden, 2011, “Acute effects of bergamot oil on anxiety-related behaviour and corticosterone level in rats’, Phytotherapy Research,  25, Issue 6, pp 858–862