When it comes to anxiety, there are all kinds of different tactics people use to quell it, from going to therapy to meditating to practicing breathwork. But another simple — and affordable — way to lessen stress is through your sense of smell. If you’re wondering what the best aromatherapy tools to help combat anxiety are, you’ll be happy to note they’re readily available and more accessible than you may realize.
Aromatherapist Amy Galper is the founder of New York City's first aromatherapy school — the New York Institute of Aromatherapy — and author of the bestselling book, The Ultimate Guide to Aromatherapy. She says that our sense of smell is directly linked to our unconscious mind: our limbic system. This is responsible for controlling the production and output of all of our hormones and other physiological chemicals that control our bodily systems and emotions. “So when we smell something pleasurable, it literally triggers the production of hormones and other physiological chemicals that, in turn, triggers what is known as our ‘relaxation response,’” she tells TZR in an email. “The same happens when we smell something that we associate with fear, or a negative emotional response — the body then triggers the release of ‘stress hormones.’ So by using scent to trigger calm, we are combatting our body’s response to stress.” As far as aromatherapy tools, Galper and another aromatherapy expert have a few ideas to get you on your way to feeling more calm and at ease.
Inhale An Essential Oil (Or Two)
Galper says that essential oils (versus ordinary scented oils, which are manufactured in a lab and not made from natural materials) are the primary way to use aromatherapy to curb your stress and anxiety. “The best and safest way to use them is to smell them,” she says. “Just sniffing them periodically throughout the day — either directly out of the bottles or by using a personal inhaler — can have a tremendous effect on our frame of mind. And when I say ‘sniff’ them, I literally mean opening the bottle and smelling them. So carry the bottle around with you throughout the day, uncap it, and sniff.” While some people recommend applying essential oils onto your skin — like your wrists or neck — Galper says it’s a no-no. “I would not recommend direct application to the skin.” This is because the oils are heavily concentrated, so you’d need to dilute them with a carrier oil, like coconut oil, first. (You can use a dilution chart for help with creating the perfect ratio.) Plus, others can cause photosensitivity if your skin is exposed to sunlight after applying the oil.
Valerie Oula, director of vibrational energy healing at THE WELL, agrees that essential oils can help relax you if you’re feeling anxious, as well as aid with sleep and insomnia (and more sleep can make you feel less anxious, too). “They work through the olfactory system upon inhalation and target the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain,” she tells TZR in an email. “And when you are more relaxed, you actually have more energy available in your system.” As far as which scent to use, she says it’s highly personal, so you’d have to smell various essential oils and see what resonates for you. She suggests trying lavender, clary sage, or — her favorite — frankincense. “They are nervines, meaning they have a relaxing effect on the nervous system,” she says. “Frankincense is a grounding oil, as well as palo santo and THE WELL Relax Essential Oil Blend with Buddha Wood. Essential oils extracted from woods like these have a grounding, stabilizing energy like the trunk of a tree firmly rooted in the earth.”
Galper, too, has some essential oil scent recommendations to try when it comes to reducing anxiety and feeling more grounded. She agrees with Oula on the relaxation benefits of lavender essential oil and frankincense, and also recommends trying sweet orange, black spruce, and vetiver.
And when it comes to buying essential oils, Oua stresses to do your research and buy from trusted companies. “Unfortunately, there are no regulations when it comes to essential oils, and some are diluted with less expensive ingredients,” she explains. “Essential oils should not be inexpensive when you consider how much plant material goes into producing a small amount of oil. For example, it takes approximately 60 roses to produce a single drop of oil.” She says since they are an extremely concentrated plant material, treat them as sacred. “A small bottle of high-quality pure essential oil will last you quite some time.”
Use — Or Create — A Diffuser
Galper says diffusing essential oils is another opportunity to enjoy their stress-relieving benefits. Whether you use a stand-alone or one that you plug into the USB port of your laptop, a diffuser will disperse the scent throughout the room, so it’s a passive — yet effective — way to get your aromatherapy fix. It can help keep you calm while you work and be an asset to your morning and bedtime routines, too.
And if you don’t have an official diffuser on hand — yet — Galper has a simple solution. “Squeeze a few drops on a cotton ball, and then put that cotton ball in an empty small jar or bottle, then open and sniff it,” she says. “You can think of it like smelling salts — which you can create, too! Just put a tablespoon of unscented bath salts in a small jar, then add a few drops of essential oil, and sniff.”
Make A DIY Essential Oil Mist
Another way to reduce your anxiety is by creating an aromatherapy mist… and it’ll only take you a few minutes. Tara Rochford Nutrition has an easy DIY recipe for one. In a 4-oz. glass bottle, combine:
- 2 oz. water
- 1 oz. alcohol (plain rum or vodka)
- 20 drops of jasmine essential oil (which promotes inner strength and grounding)
- 10 drops of orange essential oil (which is energizing and uplifting)
She says you can use 10 to 40 drops of any essential oils, but she prefers the combo above.
Use Aromatic Candles — But With A Caveat
Scented candles also seem to be an aromatic rage from season to season. While pumpkin spice ones were predominant in October, now pine tree- and gingerbread-scented varieties are taking over as the winter holidays kick in. Although Galper says they can be a good source of aromatherapy, there is a caveat. “Ninety-nine percent of the candles sold on the market use fragrance oils, not essential oils, so someone could potentially get headaches since the aroma is not natural,” she says. She recommends using a brand of candles that uses pure essential oils, so be sure to read the fine print before purchasing any.
Now if you want to get started using aromatherapy to decrease your anxiety, you may want to check out the products below.
We only include products that have been independently selected by TZR's editorial team. However, we may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.