Anxiety, stress, tension, depression. Words that we throw around too lightly sometimes and without a real understanding of what they are and how badly they can affect your life. Those who suffer – and the word “suffer” is apposite here – are sometimes quite desperate to find a cure or, at least, some relief. And many ask, “Do essential oils work for anxiety?” or “Are there essential oils for anxiety and depression?”
The good news is that the answer to both questions is “yes” – and there are plenty of research findings to support this.
We’ll have a quick look at what anxiety is and some of the research, and then give you some ideas about how to use essential oils, which are the best essential oils for anxiety, and some tips for mixtures and blends that are the most effective.
What Is Anxiety?
The dictionary definition of anxiety is, “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome”.
There are some key features of anxiety in this definition:
- It is characterized by overwhelming worry and fear
- There are concerns about bad things that might happen in the future
- It may be worry or fear of unspecified things, not related to your circumstances
Quite often, anxiety is experienced as a “panic attack” or an episode of extreme anxiety, leaving the person feeling exhausted and hopeless. There may also be flight or fight responses, including shaking, sweating, wanting to run. Your heart may be beating too fast, or you may hyperventilate.
Some sayings that describe anxiety include, “Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow”, and “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength”.
Anxiety vs. Depression
Depression is about a feeling of sadness rather than worry about the future, as there is the belief that nothing positive will happen in the future. There are often suicidal thought patterns. Depression is also a pervasive feeling, leading to constant fatigue and listlessness.
Unfortunately, many people have co-morbidity, with both depression and anxiety. In fact, anxiety has come to be termed “the new depression”, with nearly half of those diagnosed with depression also having an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety vs. Stress
Stress can feel very much like anxiety, but should not be confused with it, as the treatments are very different.
Also, stress is your body’s reaction to a change or a challenge. It is the result of external pressure – for example, heavy workloads, high expectations, financial strains. This can vary in strength and duration, but it is generally a temporary experience. It has been defined as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances”.
Anxiety, on the other hand, is a sustained mental health issue. It may be triggered by stress, especially sustained stress. It is about worried about the future, some of it not specific at all, whereas stress is about specific circumstances in the present.
Stress can usually be dealt with on a practical level, by doing something to change your circumstances. Anxiety, on the other hand, brings with it a sense of helplessness and may need medication, counseling or other professional psychological interventions. Unfortunately, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 40 million adults in the USA are affected by anxiety at some point in their lives, but only 37% of them will receive any treatment. And in developing countries, where 1 in 13 people will suffer from anxiety, up to 75% receive no treatment.
Types of Anxiety
There are a some types of anxiety, including
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- Panic Disorder (PD)
- Social Anxiety Disorder
Anxiety also occurs together with other disorders, and all of them should be treated, to have a lasting result:
- Depression, including Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD)
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). These are closely related to anxiety disorders, and can be experienced at the same time, together with depression
- Bipolar disorder
- Eating disorders
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Sleep disorders and insomnia
- Substance abuse
- Chronic pain
Types of Anxiety Are Named
People give names to their own anxieties too. Some of these include
- Dental anxiety
- Driving anxiety
- Flying anxiety
- Health anxiety
- Menopause anxiety
- Nervous anxiety
- Performance anxiety
- PMS anxiety
- Postpartum anxiety
- Pregnancy anxiety
- School anxiety
- Test anxiety
- Travel anxiety
They also describe the intensity of anxiety that they feel: bad anxiety, high anxiety, extreme anxiety.
Childhood anxiety disorders are a growing concern. According to the ADAA, up to 25% of teenagers will experience some form of anxiety, often social anxiety disorder, and often associated with substance abuse and poor school performances. Younger children also suffer from various forms of anxiety. Separation Anxiety Disorder is a pervasive feeling of homesickness and misery in older children, together with worries about something terrible happening to loved-ones if they are away. Selective mutism can occur from about age 5. Many have phobias – irrational fears of objects or situations.
Even animals suffer from anxiety. People want to know what to do to for pets with anxiety – cats, dogs and horses.
Do Essential Oils Help for Anxiety?
As noted above, anxiety is a mental health issue that requires treatment. Fortunately, it is a treatable disorder.
Medications include SSRIs, SNRIs, Benzodiazepines, Ketamine and Tricyclic Antidepressants. Some common names include Prozac, Valium, Librium, Ativan and Serax. These can be very effective, although they may take some time to work. Unfortunately, all of them have fairly significant side effects, including the risk of dependency.
Many people, therefore, prefer to use natural forms of medication, including essential oils, for treating anxiety.
Aromatherapy is an ancient healing system, used for over 6000 years in China, India, Greece, Egypt and the Roman Empire. It is increasingly being recognized by Western medical institutions, and there are thousands of research studies about essential oils.
Emotions and mood are regulated largely from the hippocampus and amygdala in the brain. They are part of the limbic system. Your sense of smell is linked to the same areas. It is thought that this is the reason for the strong impact of fragrances on mood and emotion, including anxiety.
A few relevant research findings are included here.
1. Smells Can Alter Physiological Vital Signs Associated With Anxiety
- The Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia found that certain smells changed physiological measures such as blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature.
- A mixture of lavender and bergamot essential oils were rubbed onto the abdomens of 40 patients. Vital signs improved, and the patients recorded feelings of calmness and relaxation.
- Ylang-Ylang rubbed onto the skin increased skin temperature and reduced pulse rate, breathing rate and blood pressure. Patients also reported feeling more calm and relaxed than the control group. The finding from this study was that “Ylang-ylang can cause a relief of depression and stress in humans.”
2. Some Essential Oils Are as Effective as Drug Treatments, Without the Side Effects
- Lavender is just as effective as lorazepam (Ativan) for treating Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
- Bergamot essential oil and jasmine essential oil are just as effective as diazepam (Valium) for depression.
- Turmeric oil is just as effective as fluoxetine (Prozac) for Major Depressive Disorder. (Of interest, is that turmeric that has been fermented is more effective than dried turmeric. A standardized turmeric supplement may also be more effective than the powdered form we have in our kitchens.)
- Citrus fragrance (from lime, lemon, grapefruit and orange essential oils) restores homeostatic balance and is more effective than anti-depressants for depressive states and immune function.
3. Postpartum Depression
- Lavender together with rose water essential oil, in a dilution of 2% in water, is a safe way to deal with postpartum depression.
4. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
- In a study to treat patients with posttraumatic stress disorder, lavender was found to decrease depression by 33%, to improve mood and to regulate sleep patterns
5. Chronic Stress and Anxiety
- Frankincense (Boswellia carterii or Boswellia sacra) contains incensole acetate (IA) which lowers the stress hormone cortisol and activates channels in the brain associated with the modulation of emotions.
The Best Essential Oils for Anxiety
Besides the essential oils already mentioned, other essential oils known to relieve anxiety, promote relaxation, reduce nervousness and promote sleep, include:
Angelica (BUY FROM HERE)
Basil (BUY FROM HERE)
Cedarwood (BUY FROM HERE)
Clary sage (BUY FROM HERE)
Neroli (BUY FROM HERE)
Palmarosa (BUY FROM HERE)
Patchouli (BUY FROM HERE)
Peppermint (BUY FROM HERE)
Rose (BUY FROM HERE)
Rose geranium (BUY FROM HERE)
Roman chamomile (BUY FROM HERE)
Rosemary (BUY FROM HERE)
Sandalwood (BUY FROM HERE)
Sweet marjoram (BUY FROM HERE)
Vetiver (BUY FROM HERE)
How to Use Essential Oils for Anxiety and Depression
An essential oil diffuser is a device that allows essential oils to evaporate and distributes the oil molecules in a mist through the air. When you inhale them, they link directly to your brain.
Add a few drops of essential oil to the water in the diffuser. The character of a room can be almost immediately transformed.
A good diffuser will have a big enough water tank and will cover an area of 500 – 1,000 sq. feet for up to 10 hours. This means that you won’t have a diffuser beeping in the middle of the night because it has run out of the water. Remember to empty it out completely and dry it if you are not using it so that you don’t have mildew forming.
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You can get a similar effect if you add a few drops to water in a humidifier. Diffuser reeds are a simple way to diffuse fragrance into the air.
Use the diffuser during the day to raise your spirits and calm your mind. Use it in the evening to help you sleep easily or clear your mind.
To reduce feelings of stress, depression or anxiety, pour 1 – 2 drops of oil on palms and rub them together to spread the oil. Cup your hands over your nose and take 4 – 6 deep, slow breaths.
Add 1 – 2 drops to a dish of hot water and breathe in. Or mix water and essential oil into a spray bottle and spray into the air.
Carry some oil with you. Carry a small bottle, or add 2-4 drops of essential oils to a cotton ball, and zip into an airtight bag. Take a sniff when needed.
Leave a few drops or a sachet on your pillow. This helps you to breathe easily while you sleep.
If you are going to use essential oil for massaging, it is best to dilute it first with a carrier oil such as sweet almond, grape seed or jojoba. Essential oils are very concentrated, and some people may develop skin allergies. Lavender oil is one of the few essential oils that can be used undiluted.
Mix 8-10 drops of essential oil to 3 ounces of carrier oil.
For immediate relief, rub onto trigger spots: neck, chest, feet, wrists, ankles and ears.
Add 5-10 drops of essential oil to 2 tablespoons of carrier oil (or unperfumed lotion).
Add 5-10 drops of essential oil to bath water (dilute with 1 tablespoon of carrier oil if you have sensitive skin). Alleviates feelings of stress, anxiety and depression.
Don’t add while water is running as this can cause the oil to evaporate. Add when the tub is filled, and move gently in the water. Use tepid to warm water.
There are balms, mists and roll-ons that contain anti-anxiety ingredients. You can buy them to carry with you.
The Bottom Line – Essential Oils for Anxiety Really Do Work
There is a significant scientific basis to show that essential oils are effective for reducing anxiety. Unlike herbs, where certain herbs shouldn’t be used with others, you can mix and match essential oils as you like. It’s worth experimenting with mixtures and also with ways to use them, to get the best anxiety treatment for you. The longer you use them, the more effective they become.
I hope that you will try some of the methods and essential oil blends that I have recommended, and that you will experience the relief and relaxation that they promise.
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