Anxiety is a prevalent emotion currently, as in a matter of weeks, we have found our normal routines dramatically altered, businesses shuttered, finances strained, and even the way we shop for groceries a different experience. Self-care becomes vital in times like these, as stress is not only detrimental to our feeling of well-being, but suppresses our immune system, lowering our body’s ability to fight infection. How can aromatherapy and the use of essential oils help us in this difficult period?
Let’s start with some basic lessons on how essential oils absorb in our bodies. Essential oils have a small molecular structure, and volatilize easily. When we smell an essential oil, these small molecules enter our nose, send a signal to the olfactory bulb, which sends messages to our brain, all in the course of 1-3 seconds! The limbic system of the brain is most affected by essential oils, which control instincts, memories, and emotions, all of which lend personal characteristics and define us as humans. Essential oils can influence our emotions in a positive way. But aromatherapy is not simply the inhalation of oils, but applying them to the skin, nearly always diluted! The oils are lipophilic, attracted and dissolved in fat, and their small molecules absorb easily into our skin, and then the other systems of our bodies, to exert a range of therapeutic benefits- analgesic, decongestant, antiviral, sedative; to name just a few.
Oils with specific anxiety-relieving properties include, but are not limited to: lavender, clary sage, the citrus oils, patchouli, and ylang-ylang. Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia) has over 120 documented uses, among them its ability to relieve anxiety due to its sedative properties. Lavender can be beneficial for panic attacks, insomnia, muscle tension caused by stress, and tension headaches. It is also classified as an immune-stimulant due to its tonic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-microbial properties. Consider blending Lavender with Clary Sage, and the citrus family oils, for a more synergistic effect.
Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea) is also calming and sedative, and considered specific for depression. Clary Sage is a good anti-spasmodic, and beneficial to respiratory problems, so is effective for asthma and spasmodic coughs, and the anxiety that may provoke or prolong these attacks.
The citrus family oils relieve anxiety and are also antiviral, as a key component d-limonene stimulates white blood cell count, which helps us fight infections. Their light familiar smell is accepted by most as pleasant, and they blend well with all the oils mentioned in this article. Citrus oils are also anti-bacterial, diuretic, detoxifying, analgesic, and stimulating. They may be skin irritants, especially if used in the bath, and some can increase photo-synthesis, so take care when applying before sun exposure. Examples of citrus oils are: Grapefruit (Citrus paradisis), Orange, (Citrus sinensis), Lemon (Citrus limon), and Bergamot (Citrus bergamia).
Patchouli (Pogostomon cablin) has a wealth of benefits, among them sedative, analgesic, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and skin-healing. Its unique deep odor is grounding and helpful for scattered emotions and lack of focus. Consider it in the bath combined with a small amount of carrier oil for a deeper sleep, a mind-clearer, and to relieve muscle tension.
If hypertension is a problem, Ylang-Ylang (Canaga odorata) is a specific for lowering high blood pressure and lowering heart rate. Too much of this intensely floral oil can cause headaches, and reduce reaction time, but in small doses blended with other oils is a good choice for depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, and rapid heart rate.
Essential oils can be added to a diffusor, mixed with water to spray in the air and on surfaces to utilize their antiviral and antimicrobial effects, added to the bath, and mixed with carrier oils or lotions to apply to the body. Certain safety considerations should be kept in mind. Always dilute these highly concentrated substances to avoid skin irritations. Do not apply to babies and young children without guidance. Diffuse for 20 minute segments with a diffusor, and then take a break, making sure pets can avoid the area if they wish. Do not apply citrus oils prior to sun exposure. Do not ingest the oils unless under the supervision of a qualified health professional.
Nature has provided us these plants to heal and nurture. The science of aromatherapy has proven that these concentrated oils from plants, when used with respect for their potency, have much to offer for our emotional and physical health.