How To: Use essential oils in your routine to de-stress & calm your mind
Fiona Embleton, Senior Beauty Editor at Marie Claire
Take a deep breath and let these powerful plant extracts relax you.
Most of us probably associate essential oils with fancy spas or that yoga class where the smell from a diffuser makes you feel Zen.
But research shows that when inhaled, essential oils are also good medicine, especially if you’re feeling anxious.
There’s a lot to get your head around with essential oils, though, and no two are exactly the same. Consider this your comprehensive guide to essential oils and how to use them to your advantage…
What Are Essential Oils?
The practice of using essential oils is known as aromatherapy.
These oils are highly concentrated liquids that are extracted either through distillation (via water and/or steam) or manual methods like cold pressing.
Make sure, however, that you always look for blends created with 100% essential oils. Be cautious of vague, unregulated terms on the label like ‘therapeutic grade’ and ‘fragrance oil.’
Benefits of Using Essential Oils
Essential oils work through inhalation or topical application.
They can be diluted and used on the skin, for example, to help with anything from acne to hydration.
But when you smell them, that’s when you really reap the mind-body benefits.
‘Studies have shown that essential oils are absorbed by smell receptors in your nose that are linked to the limbic system – the part of the brain controlling our emotional responses,’ says Dr Anna Persaud, a biochemist and CEO of This Works. ‘This, in turn, impacts heart rate, blood pressure and the nervous system.’
Essential oils are also inhaled into your lungs, where they enter your bloodstream and affect your hormones via the endocrine system, where they can alter your body's stress reaction.
How to Use Essential Oils to De-Stress and Calm Your Mind
Despite being natural, essential oils are still potent and should be used judiciously.
A diffuser is the most common way of releasing them into the air. Close your eyes, drop your shoulders and deeply inhale several times before returning your breathing to normal.
Don’t have one to hand? Just add a few drops to a bowl of steaming hot water and apply the same rules.
But don’t blast your diffuser all day, though. 30 to 60 minutes is the recommended ‘on’ time as the scent can become overwhelming.
A rollerball, which you apply to the temples and pulse points on the wrists, is also a good way to turn your desk into a self-care station.
‘Apply the rollerball to your wrists and on the palms before cupping them over your face and breathing deep for the count of five to help settle a whirring mind,’ says Noella Gabriel, president of spa brand Elemis.
Trouble sleeping? Pour a tablespoon of carrier oil (jojoba, grapeseed or coconut oil), add five drops of your favourite essential oil and swirl the concoction in your bath water.
Or use a pre-blended calming pillow mist. ‘Over time we create a connection in our brains that links the fragrance to the experience of calm and falling asleep,’ adds Persaud.
When you consider that the quickest way to change your mood is through smell, oils are an ideal way to boost relaxation and calm frazzled nerves.
Disclaimer: essential oils should never be used as a replacement for prescribed anxiety medication. If you are taking any medications or suffer from a chronic health condition, ask your doctor before you start practicing aromatherapy.
The Best Calming Essential Oils, According To Research
Each plant oil has a different chemical make-up so the perks you get depend on the essential oil you choose…
Lavender Essential Oil
‘This purple flowering herb contains the compound linalool, which has a sedative effect,’ says Professor Tim Jacob, a neurologist from the School of Biosciences at Cardiff University.
‘Smelling it increases alpha waves in the frontal regions of the brain, encouraging you to relax.’
Numerous studies have shown that lavender has a physical effect, too, by reducing blood pressure and helping the body to produce melatonin, the hormone that promotes restful sleep.
Chamomile Essential Oil
According to the National Cancer Institute, a two-week clinical trial investigated the effects of massage with chamomile oil in people with cancer. The study found that massage with this diluted oil helped decrease anxiety and other symptoms more than massage alone.
Try: Cowshed Sleepy Cow Calming Bath Salts
Frankincense Essential Oil
The resin from which the deep, aromatic essential oil is extracted has a tranquilising effect, according to a study by the University of Life Sciences in Lublin, Poland. Use it to slow down anxious breathing and help you feel more grounded.
Try: Aromatherapy Associates De-Stress Frankincense Pure Essential Oil
Bergamot Essential Oil
If you’ve ever had a cup of Earl Grey tea, you’re already familiar with the soothing floral aroma of bergamot or bitter orange. A study published in the journal Physiology & Behavior found that patients who smelled orange oil while waiting for a dental procedure experiences reduced anxiety and improved mood compared to those who listened to calming music and those who had no stimulation at all.
Try: Molton Brown Orange & Bergamot Radiant Body Oil
What doesn’t this oil do? It’s known to be anti-spasmodic, so will reduce the stress in your muscles for a restful night’s sleep. A study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology also found that clary sage had antidepressant properties and that the effect of the oil was closely linked to the feel-good hormone dopamine.
This isn’t an oil that people automatically associate with stress relief. But in a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine scientists measured an immediate drop in anxiety levels in those who inhaled three to six drops of the scent.
Try: L:A Bruket Hand and Body Wash Lemongrass