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Aromatherapy has so many benefits, and stress relief is a big one. While no essential oil can solve all your problems, it might be able to help you take a moment to relax, unwind, breathe, and put your troubles aside for a few minutes. Sounds pretty good, right?
"Aromatherapy stimulates the olfactory system, the part of the brain responsible for our sense of smell," explains Denise LaPalm, brand founder of L'Beauxtique and certified professional aromatherapist. "When we inhale essential oils, the molecules travel through the nose and into the olfactory system, triggering a response in the limbic system, the part of the brain that controls our emotions. By stimulating the limbic system, essential oils can help reduce stress and anxiety levels by empowering our parasympathetic nervous system (our rest-and-digest response) to counter our sympathetic nervous system (our fight-or-flight instinct)."
To reap the stress-relieving benefits of essential oils, you can try different methods. You can use them topically (paired with a carrier oil), in a mist, and with a diffuser. LaPalm suggests mixing a few drops with a dispersant like milk or honey and adding them to your bath.
Of course, some are better for unwinding than others. We asked the experts to share their favorite essential oils for stress relief. Keep reading for their recommendations.
"Bergamot essential oil is a citrusy, floral oil with calming and anti-depressant properties that ease anxiety and promote relaxation," says LaPalm. It's also emotionally uplifting.
LaPalm says clary sage is an anti-stressor, antidepressant, nervine, and central nervous system sedative thanks to its chemical component, linalyl acetate. "Clary sage is said to help emotionally uplift, nourish, and manage situational anxiety and depression," she adds.
"When I'm feeling anxious, I reach for frankincense. Distilled from the resin of the Boswellia tree, this oil is known to ease the worries of the mind and encourage a meditative state—something we all need during times of stress," says Trevor T’úýtemken Ellestad Van Somer, herbalist, aromatherapist, and Saje Natural Wellness's director of PR, communications, and social media.
LaPalm adds that it can encourage healing, support reflection and introspection, and bring peace and calm.
"Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) has been found to have a calming effect on the nervous system, improve sleep quality, and reduce anxiety levels due to the chemical components linalool and linalyl acetate (derived from linalool) found within it. Linalool has been well studied concerning sleep and anxiety reduction," LaPalm explains.
"Bright and citrusy, orange essential oil is wonderful for both uplifting the spirit in times of stress while also being incredibly soothing," Ellestad Van Somer says.
"Palo santo (Bursera graveolens) comes from the same plant family that produces frankincense and is steam-distilled from wood," LaPalm says. "Rich in D-limonene, palo santo essential oil is said to have a calming effect on the nervous system and can be used to relieve stress and anxiety."
Ellestad Van Somer says sweet-smelling essential oil Roman chamomile is well-known for its ability to induce deep relaxation and calmness. He recommends incorporating this oil into your bedtime routine.
"Known as the 'queen of all essential oils,' rose has a rich yet delicate aroma that is known to soothe worries, ease tension, and encourage feelings of self-love," says Ellestad Van Somer.
LaPalm says that ylang-ylang is best known for its aphrodisiac qualities and originates from Southeast Asia. "This essential oil has a sweet, floral scent that can help calm nerves and ease anxiety," she explains. "Ylang-ylang is one of the most popular essential oils for reducing stress and promoting relaxation."
A citrus plant and fruit of East Asian origin, yuzu is D-limonene rich (which is a significant component found in citrus essential oils). "[It's] a bright, refreshing, citrusy scent and is known for boosting energy and mood," LaPalm says. "Yuzu essential oil is also said to be helpful in treating anxiety, depression, and stress."