Stress relief with aromatherapy and essential oils

Feeling tired, anxious or stressed out? Here are some guidelines on how to use essential oils and their wonderful aromas and properties to help you to relax and feel better.

The health benefits of aromatherapy and essential oils are becoming increasingly well known. Using scents or aromas that you enjoy and that make you feel good can really help you to relax and feel more positive.

A scent can be very powerful – a simple smell can immediately trigger a strong memory of a person, place or event. It’s not just a memory that’s triggered, it’s the associated emotions and visceral feelings that go with that memory.

Scientific research has shown that essential oil aromas can directly affect our emotional senses, and in doing so they impact our bodies through our nervous system. This is because the olfactory nerves in our noses – the nerves responsible for our sense of smell – are directly connected to the limbic system which is the centre of instinct, mood and emotion in our brain. It’s located in the core of the brain and includes the amygdala, hippocampus and hypothalamus.

The limbic system regulates our autonomic nervous system, the system that triggers our fight-or-flight response in the face of danger, or relaxes our bodies in response to a ‘safe’ stimulus. This helps to explain why scents and smells can trigger physical reactions so quickly in our bodies and have lasting effects even after the scent is gone.

Aromatherapy taps into the healing power of smell to help bring your body, mind, and spirit back into balance. Essential oils, such as Lavender have even been shown to interact the same way biochemically that many anti-anxiety medications do on neuroreceptors. The essential oils can be added to a hot bath, or diffused into the air, or a few drops of essential oil diluted in a carrier or base, can be gently massaged into acupressure points on the body.

Evidence shows that using aromatherapy and essential oils can be an effective way to provide natural relief from stress and anxiety. By relieving stress you can relax the body, feel better emotionally and improve the quality of your sleep. Some essential oils have the power to soothe us whilst others leave us feeling uplifted and energised.

Here are six of my favourite essential oils for stress relief. These are some of the best for those tough moments –  helping you to  relax and re-centre, to sleep better and to bring your smile back.

Lavender

Lavender, with its fresh, sweet, soft, and floral aroma is one of the most widely used essential oils. It’s an incredibly versatile oil loved for its aromatic quality. With its soothing and balancing actions Lavender will enliven you when you are short of energy, and will calm you down when you are irritable or angry. There are many studies documenting Lavender essential oil’s calming effect on the nervous system – it lowers blood pressure, slows the heart rate, and cools the temperature of the skin.

Put 1 – 2 drops on your pillow for a restful night, or dilute in a base oil for a soothing muscle rub. Its uses are endless and it blends beautifully with so many other essential oils. Try it with any of the following, depending on the desired effect: Chamomile, Helichrysum, Bergamot, Eucalyptus or Sweet Marjoram.

There are many varieties of lavender. When choosing your Lavender, go for Lavender High Altitude (Lavandula angustifolia) variety. This is less stimulating than some of the other lavenders and is much more of value for mental and emotional conditions. And its aroma is stunning.

Add 3 drops of Lavender, 2 drops of Bergamot and 1 drop of Vetiver to a warm evening bath. Allow yourself to soak in the bath for about 20 minutes. A gorgeous way to relax and ease symptoms of stress, tension and anxiety.

Add 2 drops each of Lavender, Rose and Bergamot in to a base oils such as Sweet Almond and apply this blend to the skin to help with sadness, mood swings and depression.

Rose

Extracted from rose petals, this luscious essence is renowned for its calming and soothing effects on the nerves and emotions. Rose acts as a general tonic for the emotions is wonderful for strengthening the heart in times of high stress, grief, anxiety or depression. Its rich floral, sweet fragrance has a refreshing,  uplifting effect on the mind.

The very high price of Rose essential oil is because of the huge amounts of rose petals needed to produce a tiny amount of essential oil. However only tiny amounts of the oil are needed in a blend.  Rose blends well with Bergamot, Chamomile, Clary sage, Geranium, Lavender and Patchouli.

Use 2 – 4 drops to a warm bath for an evening soak. 

Add a drop to a teaspoon of Jojoba oil and apply this blend to the skin to help with PMT, mood swings and difficult or painful emotions.

Caution: do not use in the first four months of pregnancy.

Bergamot

Bergamot is a citrus fruit like a miniature orange, which grows almost exclusively in Calabria in Southern Italy. Its aroma will be recognisable to many as  this is the ingredient that gives Earl Grey tea its signature fragrance. It’s also a key ingredient in eau de cologne.

Bergamot essential oil’s aroma is fresh citrusy, sweet, fruity and slightly floral. Its main features are its cooling and refreshing actions coupled with a relaxing yet uplifting quality. This cheerful essence is wonderfully refreshing and balancing. Studies have shown that the oil effectively balances the activity of the hypothalamus. It soothes the nervous system, yet uplifts the mind. As well as cheering you up, Bergamot can help enhance your sleep quality.

Bergamot combines well with a wide variety of other oils, especially Frankincense, Geranium,Lavender, Mandarin, Neroli and Ylang Ylang.

Caution: Bergamot essential oil is normally produced by cold expression from the rind of the fruit. This version contains furocoumarins, which are photosensitising. You can also get a distilled version which is naturally furocoumarin free – choose this version for skin application if you are planning to go out in direct sunlight.

Into 20 ml or 1 tablespoon of a carrier oil such as Jojoba, add 3 drops Bergamot, 2 drops of Lavender and one drop of Frankincense.

Or add 3 – 6 drops to a a very warm bath and relax in the bath for 20 minutes.

Frankincense

Frankincense has long been associated with meditation, elevated consciousness and spirituality. An essential oil sourced from the resin of the Boswellia tree, it has a scent that’s sweet, resinous, spicy and woody with a hint of citrus. Frankincense essential oil has a soothing yet uplifting effect on the psyche. Considered a tonic for the nervous system, it also calms and centres the mind. Frankincense helps to encourage slower and deeper breathing when inhaled, bringing about the right frame of mind for focused thought and meditation.

Frankincense oil blends well with Bergamot, Geranium, Rose, Orange, Pine and Sandalwood essential oils.

Add one or two drops of the oil onto a tissue and inhale from this to help you calm down and re-centre.

Add 3 to 6 drops to a pre-bedtime bath to help ease stress and let go of the tension and anxiety of the day.

To help clear your head of busy thoughts and deepen the breath, add a couple of drops to a vapouriser or oil burner. Sit quietly for a few minutes and take some slow, deep and even breaths.

Combine two drops each of Frankincense, Sweet Orange and Neroli in to a tablespoon of a base such as Sweet Almond or Jojoba oil to make a lovely relaxing massage oil blend.

Ylang Ylang

Ylang Ylang essential oil is a luscious sweet floral aromatic extracted from the flowers of a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia.

Ylang Ylang, meaning ‘flower of flowers’ has an exceptionally sweet, fragrant, floral aroma. Essential oil of Ylang ylang relaxes the central nervous system and regulates adrenaline flow, making it a wonderfully useful essence for helping to reduce stress and to calm extremes of emotion such as anger, fear and panic. It has quite a tenacious quality so you only need very small amounts of this oil. You can sniff Ylang Ylang directly from the bottle in those moments of extreme stress. But don’t overdo it as too much of this oil could cause headaches or nausea.

. This powerful yet soothing scent is great to use to boost self esteem, lift apathy and ease anxiety, insecurity and depression. It’s also helpful for emotional stress and tension and associated symptoms such as insomnia and high blood pressure

Try it in a blend with Bergamot, Sweet Orange, Rose or Sandalwood.

A few drops on a hanky, inhaled periodically throughout the day, helps overcome nervousness.

Add 2 drops Ylang Ylang, 2 drops of Rose and 1 drop of Vetiver to a pre-bedtime bath. Or make a massage blend using 2 drops each of Ylang Ylang, Rose and Neroli in 20 ml or 1 tablespoon of Jojoba oil. A sumptuous and nourishing blend for the emotions and the skin!

Use 1 or two drops in a vapouriser or oil burner for a soothing and exotic room fragrance.

Sweet Orange

Sweet Orange essential oil is cold pressed from the rind of the ripe fruit. Bright orange in colour, this essential oil has a zesty, tangy, warm aroma – just like the aroma you get when you have just peeled a fresh orange. The scent is joyful, comforting and reassuring.

Sweet Orange helps to ease tension and frustration. For those high achievers with tendancies to perfectionism  and who try too hard and struggle to ask for help, Sweet Orange brings a softness, encouraging adaptability and a more relaxed approach. Its sweet sunny aroma brings joy and positivity, helping dispel the moodiness and irritability that results from prolonged periods of tension and stress.

This essential oil is mildly sedative, making it a useful addition to a bath or a blend for insomnia.

It blends well with Lavender, Lemon, Mandarin and Neroli.

Add 3 to 5 drops to a very warm bath to help with anxiety, stress and insomnia. A nice combination for this is 2 drops each of Sweet Orange and Roman Chamomile and 1 drop of Vetiver.

For a soothing massage add two drops each of Sweet Orange, Bergamot and Neroli into a tablespoon of Sunflower or Jojoba base oil.

Chamomile

There are several species of Chamomile. All have similar properties, look similar to each other and come from the same plant family.

The Chamomiles most commonly used in aromatherapy are Roman chamomile (Anthemis nobilis) and German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita), also known as Blue Chamomile because of its distinctive and rather lovely blue colour.

German Chamomile’s aroma is heavy, bittersweet and herbaceous. It’s cooling in nature and very effective in calming nervous tension and irritability.

Roman chamomile has a sweeter aromatic profile than it’s German counterpart. The aroma is warm, hay-like with hints of apple. It shares the same therapeutic properties, but is milder than German Chamomile, which makes it more suitable for anyone who is especially sensitive.

Chamomile essential oils are great stress relievers, excellent at soothing irritability or nervousness. These essences are deeply calming on an emotional level. Both are incredibly helpful for those who are inclined to be hyperactive, workaholic, worry a lot and overthink things. Also for deeply sensitive people who are especially affected by emotional upsets.

Add 4 to 6 drops to a very warm bath to ease stress and nervous tension along with any related symptoms such as headaches, migraines, insomnia and anxiety. Or combine it with with Lavender – add 3 drops of each to the bath.

Use in a massage blend to help overcome stress and nervous exhaustion. Add 2 drops each of Chamomile, Sweet Orange and Lavender to 20 ml or one tablespoon of base oil.

Some words of caution

When using essential oils, you need to combine them with a base or carrier oil, such as Jojoba or Sweet Almond oil before applying them to the skin. 

You can add up to 6 drops in total to a very warm bath. Wait till the bath is ready and at the right temperature before adding your chosen essential oils. Stir the water vigourously to disperse the oils. Remember less is oftentimes more when working with pure undiluted aromatherapy oils.

Always keep essential oils of out the reach of children. Do not ingest any essential oils. And keep them away from your eyes.

If you are under the supervision of a health care professional, or on medication, please do check with them before using aromatherapy essential oils.