Are you an aromatherapy skeptic? I don’t blame you. The concept is really weird: So you smell something, and suddenly all your problems are solved? Seems unlikely.
If you’ve never heard of it, aromatherapy is the practice of inhaling the scent of essential oils to improve your well-being. This works by opening a bottle, putting it on a tissue, dabbing it on your body, or putting it in a diffuser.
Even though essential oils won’t cure mental illnesses (you’ll need to talk to a therapist, not me, about that), experts have shown that aromatherapy can do wonders to boost mood.
How is that possible? Well, when we inhale the aroma of an essential oil, the olfactory system sends a signal to the nervous system—specifically, your brain. From there, it can affect many bodily reactions and systems, including memory, blood pressure and heart rate, breathing and hormones. It can even trigger the production of feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which can help regulate your emotions.
As a result, aromatherapy is often used as a natural remedy to relieve anxiety and stress. In fact, essential oils have been shown to react the same way biochemically that anti-anxiety medications do with certain neuroreceptors.
Aromatherapy should never replace traditional treatment, but if you’re looking to supplement your standard regimen with something new, consider adding essential oils to the mix. If you’re a beginner looking for scents to try (or already an expert, looking for more), scroll through our list of essential oils below, known to relieve anxiety and high stress.
Lavender is one of the most popular essential oils of all time. According to 2012 research, lavender aromatherapy can subdue anxiety by interacting with the limbic system, the part of the brain that controls emotions.
Valerian is an herb thought to contain compounds that promote sleep and calm nerves.
Jatamansi is in the same plant family as valerian. The scent is used in alternative medicine to calm the mind and encourage sleep. According to a 2008 study, jatamansi may relieve depression by decreasing GABA neurotransmitters and MAO receptors in the brain.
Jasmine oil has a wonderful floral smell to it. According to a 2013 study, inhaling jasmine oil can better your mood and, unlike some other scents used for anxiety, calm the nervous system without causing drowsiness.
Bergamot oil, which gets its name from bergamot oranges, has a refreshing citrus scent. According to a 2015 study, bergamot can help to relieve anxiety and improve mood.
Chamomile is known for its power to relax and sedate.
Rose essential oil is extracted from rose petals and has an exquisite floral scent. According to a 2014 study, using a rose aromatherapy foot bath can reduce anxiety in pregnant women during labor. So if it can relax a woman in labor, it can calm you, too.
Clary sage has a woody, herbal scent and is known for its calming abilities. According to a 2015 systematic review, clary sage can ease tension in the body and lower levels of cortisol, “the stress hormone,” in women.
Floral-scented ylang-ylang is often used to promote relaxation. According to a 2006 study, inhaling a blend of ylang-ylang, lavender, and bergamot can lower stress and anxiety levels, blood pressure, heart rate and cortisol.
You’ve probably come across lemongrass scents at your local spa, and it’s not a coincidence. According to a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, people who inhaled three to six drops of the scent showed an immediate reduction in their anxiety and tension levels.
Although research has shown that aromatherapy may help relieve anxiety, it’s no substitute for seeing a medical professional. But if you’re looking to relax with something new, try out these stress-reducing essential oils.