Essential oils are powerful. Sure, they smell nice in bath salts, perfume, face oils and creams. When used in a diffuser, they can add a lovely layer of scent to any room. But in these uncertain times, essential oils can be used toward a greater purpose.
According to Hope Gillerman, aromatherapist, holistic healer and founder of H. Gillerman Organics, “Essential oils can lower blood pressure, cortisol levels, heart rate/pulse and feelings of stress and anxiety. In truth, any essential oil will work because using them gets you to stop and think about relaxing and breathing.
“Many people choose diffusers as any easy, safe way to affect their mood,” she continues. “And it is true they will have a soothing effect. But to have a more powerful aide to help with anxiety I recommend combining essential oils with a simple breathing technique,” says Gillerman. Please note, if you take medication for anxiety do not stop taking it, please consult your health practitioner.
Breathing, Anxiety and Essential Oils
“Inhalations are the preferred method for relieving anxiety with essential oils,” says Gillerman. “In my holistic healing practice I like to teach mindful inhalations of essential oils,” she says.
Here is what she suggests:
“Many people, when asked to take a big breath in, raise their shoulders and inhale while their lungs are still full of air. This is like going to a gas station with half a tank. You are only going to add half a tank of air if you do it this way. Also, the exhale must be complete for the inhale to happen automatically. Our bodies will always take the inhale. Where we go wrong is cutting off the exhale before we are empty. This is extremely common with asthma and people with breathing difficulties.
The goal of any breathing exercise is to give you the greatest amount of oxygen with the least amount of effort. I teach a slow, relaxed breathing style to achieve this. I tell my clients “Taking in a big breath” isn’t required.
Instead, think of inhaling essential oils as therapeutic breathing in. The exhale serves to empty the lungs so that your breathing deepens and becomes fuller. Once you have emptied your lungs the inhale will come more naturally and you will be able to gradually slow your breath. With a slow inhale you can savor and deeply sense the feeling of the essential oil in your mind and body.”
Example of breathwork with essential oils
Here is an example of a mindful breathing technique from Gillerman:
- Exhale slowly with your mouth open, and keep your jaw relaxed as you let out a slow sigh making the sound of “Ah,” but as a whisper.
- When your exhale comfortably stops, close your mouth and wait for the inhale to arrive. Do this three to four times as a preparation for inhalation.
- Now you are ready to inhale essential oils. Again start with the exhale, and when you feel the reflex of the inhale starting, hold a tissue or cotton ball soaked with 3 drops of the essential oil up to your nose and very slowly breathe in. It’s as if you were sipping the oil in through your nose. You can turn your head slightly side-to-side to get the full 3-D experience of the aroma in both nostrils. If it feels too strong, simply move the oil farther away. You can always dilute the oil first in a carrier oil if you are sensitive to strong scents.
Inhaling by applying topically
You also inhale essential oils when you apply topically to the areas close to your nose. Here’s how:
- First dilute the essential oil at 2 percent carrier oil: put 3 drops of essential oil in a teaspoon of carrier oil in your palm and rub your hands together.
- Then apply this dilution to your neck, shoulders, chest, jawline, behind the ears, temples. (not the soles of your feet!). Or pour into a running bath and get in right away.
- Enjoy feeling cocooned in healing, calming, soothing aromatic vapors and let go of all your tension.
Here is a suggested list of essential oils, linked to studies on each one:
- Lavender Studies show that lavender can reduce cortisol in the bloodstream just with inhalation. A 2019 review of 22 clinical trials on lavender inhalation were found to have favorable effects in relieving anxiety and decreasing systolic blood pressure, heart rate and salivary cortisol levels.
- Bitter Orange is from the peel, neroli is from the flower, and petit grain from the leaf. Sweet Orange is the MOST popular scent and works well also.
- Roman chamomile, blue chamomile. The essential oils are much more powerful than the tea (at least 20 times more). This oil calms the mind and relaxes the body while it grounds you and helps your mind stop racing.
- Clary Sage is a hormone balancer, especially when you are going through hormonal swings, PMS, pregnancy, menopause etc. It is shown to lower cortisol and has an antidepressant effect.
- Rose is often used for emotional stress and for women in labor, and has been shown in a series of studies to reduce pain and anxiety during first state of labor.
- Vetiver is the best oil, along with Chamomile, for fear and panic.
- Ylang Ylang (except for lower blood pressure), is also an antidepressant and sleep aid and appeals to kids (dilute at 2 percent before giving to them to inhale, see below for how to dilute).
- Bergamot is also an antidepressant and can prepare you for sleep. To be safe, use the bergaptene-free bergamot if applying topically. Bergamot is normally photo-toxic. Without the bargaptene, you avoid sun damage.
- Frankincense is the premiere mediation oil, used in many religions and cultures. It has many healing uses including immune support and a powerful skin healer. It has an affinity with the nervous system and many people are drawn to it. Myrrh works similarly but for much lower cost.
- Spikenard, a truly ancient oil especially for anxiety around sleep issues (used in ayurvedic medicine and chinese medicine and even cited in the bible).
- Rose geranium, like clary sage, balances hormones and is used for depression.
- Sandalwood is traditionally used for mediation and mindfulness because it relaxes the breath and the muscles while awakening and clearing the mind.
- Peppermint is mostly used as a memory stimulant or for mental fatigue and brain fog. Like sandalwood, it physically relaxes the muscles while stimulating. I always recommend for anxiety accompanied by fatigue or overwork or when you need a burst of energy. Rosemary is another wake up and focus oil and there is a lot of research on its effects as well. I prefer peppermint because you need very little and everyone loves it.