It’s no secret that aromatherapy has been on the rise in recent years and shows no sign of slowing down. With its self-care products like rollerballs, diffusers, and bath bombs, it’s been getting a lot of buzz in the wellness world for promising quality sleep, less stress, and deeper focus.
But although it’s officially hit the mainstream, many are still left wondering what exactly aromatherapy is and how it can benefit them. Keep reading to learn the ins and outs of aromatherapy, how it can help with daily stress, plus advice on DIY essential oils.
What is aromatherapy?
Although aromatherapy may feel like a new trend, cultures all over the world have been using it for centuries. It’s an ancient practice—used by priests, who were also doctors, for magical and religious ceremonies. Fast forward to today, and it has evolved into a thriving component of herbal medicine.
Aromatherapy is the therapeutic use of essential oils, which are extracts of natural compounds derived from aromatic plants that are highly volatile, meaning that they easily evaporate at room temperature. Once the aromatic oil is captured, it is combined with a carrier oil to produce the final product.
“There are thousands of different plant compounds captured in essential oils,” says Dr. Kara Fitzgerald, ND. “When they enter our bodies, these volatile compounds have biological effects such as antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and more.”
The most common way to use essential oils is by inhalation via an oil diffuser, or “topical application of single or combination essential oils that have been appropriately diluted in a carrier oil,” explains Dr. Fitzgerald.
How does aromatherapy help with stress?
Several essential oils have proven beneficial effects for stress and anxiety, a popular example being lavender. “Lavender essential oil has some of the most robust scientific data behind it,” says Dr. Fitzgerald. “One particular type of lavender essential oil preparation called Silexan™ has been shown in multiple human studies to significantly reduce anxiety.”
Aromas are intricately connected to our emotions through olfaction (our sense of smell) by direct neural pathways to emotional processing centers in our brains. In addition, essential oils do more than just offer an aroma. “Some of the ways that we know lavender exerts its effects are by gently toning down the activity of a particularly stimulatory neuron receptor called the NMDA receptor,” says Dr. Fitzgerald. “This helps turn down any over-stimulation of the nervous system.”
It also supports healthy serotonin levels, the neurotransmitter responsible for a calm, stable mood, as well as feelings of well-being and happiness. It does this via the same mechanism of several anti-anxiety medications—by slowing how quickly the body eliminates serotonin, explains Dr. Fitzgerald.
DIY aromatherapy for stress relief
Interested in making your own essential oils? You’re in the right place. Along with lavender, other essential oils that are known to help with stress include rosemary, cedarwood, and German chamomile.
Two of Dr. Fitzgerald’s go-to aromatherapy recipes include:
- Adding 4 drops of lavender essential oil, 2 drops of German chamomile, and 2 drops of rosemary essential oils to a diffuser.
- Adding 8 drops each of lavender and cedarwood essential oils to 6 tablespoons of a carrier oil like jojoba for an effective, relaxing massage oil.
If interested, you can even make your own essential oils from plants by using a still or oil press. However, there are plenty of ready-made oils available in shops or online. “Remember that purity and authenticity matter hugely—the market for essential oils isn’t well regulated and many products (especially cheaper ones) can be adulterated or synthetic,” says Dr. Fitzgerald, which is why she recommends doing some basic due diligence on the company that’s selling the essential oil.
“Ask about their raw material sources, as well as how they test for purity and potency,” she says. “It’s through this process that I have come to trust certain brands such as Young Living and DoTerra.”
The takeaway? If used correctly, aromatherapy can be hugely beneficial to your daily stress and anxiety levels.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.