Aromatherapy for Anxiety

by Penny Price May 17, 2020 12 min read

Aromatherapy for Anxiety

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a word we use to describe feelings of unease, worry and fear both emotionally and physically. Although we usually find it unpleasant, anxiety is related to the ‘fight or flight’ response. Everyone experiences anxiety at some time or another but many are overwhelmed by strong and long-lasting feelings of anxiety.

Anxiety is a state of apprehension and worry due to a troubled state of mind.  It is often the forerunner of both stress and depressive states.  Anxiety and worry can take two forms:

1) A reaction to a potentially harmful situation – it is perfectly natural and healthy to experience anxiety when faced with danger or risk.   2) A reaction to an ongoing life event – such as work, problematic relationships or illness.

Currently, anxiety affects one-eighth of the total population of the world and has become a very important area of research interest in psychopharmacology. Existing data show that drug treatments have low efficacy for patients and therefore the search for better anxiolytic drugs with fewer side effects still continues (Bradley et al., 2011).

The search for new therapeutic products for the treatment of neurological disorders has led to an increase in medicinal plant research due to the ability of medicinal plants to demonstrate pharmacological effects of different plant species in a variety of animal models (Zhang, 2004).

It is estimated that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 8 men suffer from a wide range of mental health challenges, varying from depression and generalised anxiety to acute stress, panic disorder, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, addictions (like alcohol or gambling), post-pregnancy issues, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, eating disorders (like anorexia and bulimia), personality disorders, and all sorts of generalised non-specific problems. Such challenges impact health not only on a mental-emotional level but can diffuse into the physical body by affecting other things such as sleep and general wellbeing. Drugs prescribed to help these conditions may also have side effects which can be physical or emotional.

Possible Causes of Anxiety
It’s hard to know why some people experience anxiety and others don’t, but some possible factors include:
Past or childhood experiences
Your everyday life and habits, including diet
Your physical & mental health
Any drugs or medication you might be taking
Genetics
Part of your personality

How can we help anxiety?

Complementary therapies combined with conventional medical treatment could offer an effective and holistic approach for anxiety treatment (Jaruzel and Kelechi, 2016). Application of complementary therapy such as aromatherapy for anxiety relief is popular in many countries (Gnatta et al., 2016).
Lifestyle changes can also be a great help in reducing anxiety naturally, these include:

Getting enough sleep
Talking to someone you trust
Breathing exercises
Listening to music
Positive thinking and mindfulness
Physical exercise
Keeping a diary
Eating a healthy diet
Avoiding alcohol, caffeine and smoking
Other complementary therapies

Aromatherapy to Help Anxiety

Aromatherapy is becoming popular in the treatment of mental health due to the ability of the essential oils to balance, relax but also because of the direct effect they can have on the emotional areas of the brain.  The sense of smell is the only sense connected to the limbic area of the brain which controls emotional, physical, and psychological responses. Inhalation is, therefore, a very efficient mode of administration for affecting neurological function.  Studies into aromatherapy and mental health have concluded that aromatherapy may have effects on mood, cognitive performance and relaxation in adults.

Essential Oils for Anxiety

Essential oils have their own unique smell dependant on the flower, plant or tree from which they are taken. It has been said that smell seems ‘plugged in’ to our emotions and it is a well-known fact that aromas can influence our health: there is no doubt that when we smell an aroma it can bring about emotion within us.   To get the full benefit of inhaling essential oils we need to breathe correctly. Breathing properly also carries its own benefits:

Detoxifies and releases toxins
Releases tension
Relaxes the mind and body and brings clarity
Relieves emotional problems
Relieves pain

The essential oils most consistently used for anxiety and depression are lavender, jasmine, ylang-ylang, sandalwood, bergamot and rose (Conrad and Adams, 2012).


One study conducted an eight-year experimental study of 8058 women and explored the use of ten essential oils to ease pain, anxiety, nausea and enhance contractions during labour and childbirth (Burns et al., 2000). Overall, labouring women rated the aromatherapy as helpful, with rose and lavender essential oils as the most beneficial for anxiety. Of these rose was rated the use highly by mothers (rated helpful: 71%); followed by lavender (rated helpful: 50%) and frankincense (rated helpful: 44%).


The effect of aromatherapy, olfactory stimulation, on cardiovascular reactivity has been investigated in the past. Aromatherapy with inhaled essential oils had a positive effect on reducing anxiety, increasing quality of sleep, and stabilising BP in patients in a cardiovascular intensive care unit after cardiac stent insertion. Olfactory stimulation with lavender and grapefruit essential oils has been shown to repress BP responses in rats (Nagai et al., 2014). Olfactory stimulation with essential oils may, therefore, help to stabilise mood or emotions of stroke patients who show symptoms of anxiety, as well as help to repress cardiovascular reactivity associated with MBT.


Shirley Price, an aromatherapist, has stated that anxiety may be reduced be using the following essential oils: basil, bergamot, cedarwood, chamomile, roman, clary, geranium, lavender, lemon, marjoram, melissa, myrrh, neroli, sweet orange, patchouli, petitgrain, rose otto, rosewood, thyme, valerian, vetiver and ylang-ylang (Westerberg, 1996). In another book written by Shirley Price, the following essential oils are referred as balancing, calming, and uplifting: Chamaemelum Nobile, citrus Aurantium, citrus bergamia, Lavandula Angustifolia, Lavandula intermedia, origanum marjoram and pelargonium graveolens (Price 2011).

Copaiba Oil (Copaifera officinalis)

Used for hundreds of years to uplift the mood, its gentle honey fragrance can lighten a heavy mind and help ease feelings of stress and anxiety.  It can also be used in a massage blend to relieve muscular tension and is excellent for the respiratory system, slowing and calming breathing.

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

Lavender is invaluable to those who suffer from widely fluctuating mood states and feelings of emotional instability such as bipolar disorder.  It can also help to calm feelings of anxiety and will assist in getting good night’s sleep.  (Remember though too much Lavender can stimulate so do not use more than three drops)  A lack of sleep can have a profound effect on mood and perception of pain.  
Mojay calls Lavender an ‘aromatic rescue remedy’, it works to calm any strong emotions that threaten to overwhelm the mind’. He goes on to describe it as easing nervous tension and allaying feelings of panic and hysteria.

Bergamot (Citrus bergamia)

Bergamot oil is known for its uplifting qualities and its ability to reduce anxiety, often a quick inhalation of this oil can calm and relax someone in a tense situation.

In her research into treating depression and anxiety with aromatherapy, Katie Lemon chose Bergamot for its ability to lift someone out of depression. ‘It can stimulate or sedate the nervous system according to the individual needs, relieving anxiety and calming fears.’  The result of her study which involved several other essential oils led her to conclude that ‘the holistic use of aromatherapy had a beneficial therapeutic effect on clients who were more than mildly depressed or anxious.’

Price and Price suggest using Bergamot for anxiety, depression, agitation, insomnia and irritability.  They also recommend Bergamot for depression and the immune system, stating ‘it will recharge the central nervous system with energy and therefore indirectly helping to strengthen the immune system’.


Bergamot, more than any other oil been most widely researched for mood effects in humans.  In 2015 Michele Navarra et al looked at recent data from the literature on C. bergamia essential oil and, through critical analysis, focused on the beneficial effects on human health.

They concluded that treatment with bergamot essential oil ‘can be useful to reduce anxiety and stress effects.’

Mojay suggests that Bergamot ‘encourages the release of pent up feelings – feelings that can not only lead to depression but to anxiety and sudden mood swings’.

Rose (Rosa centifolia)

Rose is said to open the heart and soothes feelings such as anger, fear and anxiety.  Mojay states that “Bringing warmth to a soul grown cold through abuse or hurt, rose oil can touch the deepest despair, restoring the trust that makes it possible to love again”

Roman Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis)

Chamomile is said to be effective in calming down annoyance, anger and irritation particularly in small children.

A study by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine on the antidepressant activity in chamomile found that this essential oil “may provide a clinically meaningful antidepressant activity that occurs in addition to its previously observed anxiolytic activity.”

Battaglia states that chamomile is ‘soothing, calming and anti-depressant.  It is particularly beneficial for alleviating anxiety and stress.’

Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens)

Geranium oil uplifts mood and also helps to calm anxiety and nervous tension brought on by stress. It can give a feeling of calm strength and security and therefore, is beneficial for both chronic and acute anxiety, particularly when the stress is due to overwork.

Due to its regulating effect on the endocrine system, it could also be used for pre-menstrual tension and other hormone imbalances that affect the moods.
Battaglia states that geranium oil can be used to ‘relieve stress nervous tension, depression, headaches and anxiety’.

Mojay suggests that it conveys ‘a feeling of calm strength and security …. and is beneficial for both chronic and acute anxiety, particularly where there is nervous exhaustion due to stress and overwork’.

Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum)

This is a very powerful oil when used for the emotions and only a very small dose (1 drop in 5mls of carrier) needs to be used.

Holmes suggests that that Helichrysum is emotionally calming, softening and stabilizing ‘helping one cope with deep frustration and long bottled up resentment’. It is also said to be good for shock, anxiety and intense emotions.

Mandarin (Citrus reticulata)

Mandarin shares the uplifting effect with other citrus oils but has a more pronounced action on depression when it is linked to a feeling of weakness, fragility, poor appetite or other digestive disorders. It's cheering, uplifting and relaxing aroma is ideal for treating negative emotional conditions such as anxiety, nervous tension, stress, irritability, restlessness and tantrums.

Using Hydrolats or Floral Waters to help with Anxiety

Anxiety can be very difficult to treat with orthodox medication - and even with complementary therapies, and usually, the gentle approach is much more effective.  Hydrolats are an ideal method of treatment since they are homoeopathic in their gentle, subtle yet effective powers.  The hydrolats can be used throughout the anxious state even if it is diagnosed as long-term.  Using this gentle approach will ease anxiety gently over a period of time rather than forcing an immediate result that can shock the client and make the state of mind even worse.

Rose

Rosewater has an affinity of the heart and the emotional spheres of the mind, body and spirit.  It promotes balance, aids emotional processing and supports decision making. Rose is calming, soothing and very comforting, making it ideal for times of nervous tension and anxiety.  It is also helpful for balancing hormones and treating anxiety in the menopausal years.

Chamomile Roman

Chamomile is excellent for calming the mind and is considered to be very suitable for relaxation and helps to balance irritated and fragile minds.  With a sweet, honey-like aroma it can be taken as a drink throughout the day to bring peace and calm.  If used as a bedtime drink, chamomile will help insomnia, which is often associated with anxiety.

Cassis

Cassis has a mild, blackcurrant flavour, which makes it a popular drink for anxiety and stress.  Being very balancing to the hormonal system, cassis can be used to calm and relax an overactive mind when in an anxious state.  Useful as a bedtime drink to encourage sleep without vivid dreams, cassis can also be taken throughout the day to promote a feeling of well-being.

Recipes for helping Anxiety.

A few housekeeping points:

Never use essential oils internally, EVER.

Never apply essential oils undiluted to the skin

Use an electric diffuser as these are safer. However, if you are using a water-based diffuser, clean the container daily. Standing water can breed bacteria and mould, and you don’t want to diffuse that into the air your family is breathing

Always buy your oils from a reputable supplier who can offer advice and help along your journey

Do not replace medical treatment with essential oils. If you are taking medication and you would like to try out the impact of essential oils, contact a professional aromatherapist (registered with the International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists (IFPA), or the International Federation of Aromatherapists (IFA), or the Federation of Holistic Practitioners (FHT), as these therapists, will have studied to clinical levels.

Blending chart
Product Number of drops of essential oil  
100mls lotion (for a treatment lotion or the bath) 30 drops essential oils
100ml oil mix (for massage oil do not use in the bath as it could cause you to slip) 30 drops essential oils
Vaporiser or burner Use 4 – 10 drops (maximum) to create the desired effect.  Do not leave candle vaporisers unattended  

 
Recipe for anxiety for 10mls of pure oil

Roman Chamomile3ml
Geranium3ml
Ylang Ylang 2ml
Neroli2ml
Add the drops to your chosen method of use using the chart above.

Vaporization

2 drops rosewood(Aniba rosaeodora)
2 drops ylang ylang (Cananga odorata)

Anxiety & Tension (on-going stress)

5 drops Basil
5 drops Cypress
5 drops Neroli
5ml Hypericum
45ml Almond
Use this as a massage oil, or add the essential oils to honey or lotion base for the bath (do not add the oil mix to the bath).

Massage oil

50 ml sunfloweroil
3 drops geranium(Pelargonium graveolens)
3 drops sandalwood(Santalum album)
2 drops ylang ylang (Cananga odorata)

Using Hydrolats only

Take 250mls of Rose and 250mls of cassis and put into a litre bottle.  Fill the bottle up with cool boiled water, replace the lid and shake well.  Drink 100mls 3 times a day on an empty stomach to feel calmer and more in control of the emotions.

Use 50mls of each of Rose, Chamomile Roman and Cassis hydrolats in a warm bath just before going to bed.  Soak for 10 minutes before using detergents of any kind.  The bath should induce a feeling of well-being and relaxation and bring about calmness and sleepiness.

Use 10mls of Rose, Chamomile Roman and Cassis hydrolats on a candle vaporiser.  Just add to the bowl with no water or essential oil. The aroma will help to calm and uplift.

Ready-Made Blends to help with Anxiety

Penny Price Aromatherapy has a range of essential oil blends to help emotional states which can often lead to feeling anxious. These can be used in a diffuser, or onto a tissue, for inhalation or as a few drops added to a bath foam, or shower gel, for relaxation.

Nurture Clarity

A relaxing, clearing blend, beneficial for hangovers, apathy and confusion, giving a feeling of clarity. Contains essential oils of Lavandin, cornmint, basil and Roman chamomile.

Nurture Courage

This pure essential oil blend is designed to help increase confidence and courage and can be inhaled regularly for a spiritually strengthening effect. Contains lavandin, melissa, cornmint and basil.

Nurture Joy

A beautiful, uplifting blend to help bring joy to the heart and soul. Contains rosewood, bergamot, rose otto and eucalyptus staigeriana.

Nurture Love

A carefully chosen blend of essential oils to warm the heart.  The blend can also be used in the bedroom.  Contains rosewood, ylang-ylang, jasmine and lavandin.

Nurture Meditation

A spiritual blend of essential oils to help promote thought and concentration.  Use regularly for good effect. Blended with frankincense, rosemary, basil and lavender.

Nurture Peace

This popular blend is an invaluable aid to relaxation after a busy or stressful day. It eases feelings of tiredness, leaving you happier and more relaxed. Mixed with lavender, rosewood, juniper and geranium.

Nurture Purification

These essential oils have been chosen to help cleanse and detoxify the mind and spirit to bring newness of thought and being, blended with cypress, bitter orange, basil and sweet marjoram.

Nurture Spirituality

A blend of essential oils to help create mental vision, clarity and peace.  Used regularly the oils can help bring a state of calm and oneness with the world. Contains frankincense, cedarwood, patchouli and eucalyptus staigeriana.

Rollerballs

These are easy to use, perfect for a pocket or handbag, these can be used anytime, anywhere. They are also ideal for children as they can carry them around discreetly at school and use them if they become anxious.

Unwind | Roll on relaxation
For when things become overwhelming. This relaxing blend combines 100% natural pure essential oils in an Apricot and Coconut base, to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety and helps to calm the mind. Unwind is a blend of essential oils which include Lavender, Juniper and Rosewood
Dream | Roll-on Sleep
For minds that can’t switch off after a long day. This blend of 100% natural pure essential oils in an Apricot and Coconut base, will help to relax you, giving you a blissful and refreshing night’s sleep. Dream a blend of essential oils which include Lavender, Sandalwood and Bergamot. Lavender helps with calming and soothing the mind and body, while Sandal Wood is comforting and cleansing and Bergamot is refreshing. Our Dream  Roller Ball is perfect for when you need a good night’s sleep.
Think | Roll-on Clarity
For when your mind is feeling a bit stressed or overwhelmed, this soothing blend is the one for you. It combines 100% natural pure essential oils with a carrier, to help increase concentration and stimulate the mind. Think is a soothing and refreshing blend of essential oils of Lavender, Lemon, Basil and Rosemary.

Roller Ball oil blends are a useful tool in any home and promote well-being in mind, body and spirit.

 

Bibliography
Anxiety and Hydrolats, Todays Therapist Article, Penny Price MEd (Oxon.)

Anxiety Research Project, Penny Price MEd (Oxon.)

Aromatherapy for Mental Health and Wellbeing, Penny Price Academy of Aromatherapy CPD Course

Aromatherapy for Stress and Emotional Wellbeing, Penny Price Academy of Aromatherapy CPD Course

Aromatherapy for the Emotions, Penny Price Academy of Aromatherapy CPD Course

Diploma in Clinical Aromatherapy, module 1, Penny Price Academy of Aromatherapy
Penny Price
Penny Price


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