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I used to think of self-care as enjoying a sheet mask or deep conditioning my hair on wash day. Now my view has shifted. Don't get me wrong, I value the time I spend taking care of my skin and hair—but I am no longer waiting for specific days to care for myself.
For example, I light a lavender candle every day before work. Every morning, I take an extra fifteen minutes to make my coffee on the stove in a Moka pot and sip it from my favorite Brother Vellies mug. I even stop what I'm doing to apply Klur's Elements of Comfort Botanical Body Oil on my wrists and behind my ears when I feel my anxiety creeping in, which is usually a daily occurrence.
Each time I go through those rituals, though, I wonder if such practices really help to calm me. Or am I experiencing a placebo effect? My budding curiosity led me to reach out to two experts, Renèe Hughes, a nationally certified professional aromatherapist, and Shae Ivie-Williams, LPC, a licensed therapist, and self-care coach. Here I find out just how effective essential oils are at helping remedy stress and anxiety. Keep reading to find out what our experts had to say.
Meet the Expert
The Science of Aromatherapy
"There are studies that show aromatherapy has a significant impact on the reduction of stress and anxiety," says Ivie-Williams. "This makes a lot of sense because of the way that aromatherapy can impact our receptors. Our smell receptors are a part of our nervous system. Our nervous system is connected to and throughout our bodies and is responsible for a lot of our bodily functions."
"As far as stress and anxiety, the way aromatherapy works are that there are parts of our brains that control feelings, so any stress that we feel first comes from a thought," she explains. Hughes says everything from excitement, fear, or sadness can affect our central nervous system, which is why essential oils can have such a positive effect. "The effect is almost immediate for most folks," she tells us.
"Turning to the use of aromatherapy sends signals to our smell receptors, which signals your brain's limbic system," Ivie-Williams says. "The limbic system is responsible for your emotions, memories, and stimulation. Once the signal is received and carried into the nervous system, the calming impact that it has turns down the threat detectors and reduces the stress hormones."
So Which Essentials Oils Are Most Beneficial for Stress and Anxiety?
Hughes shares, lavender, chamomile, clary sage can have a sedative effect on the central nervous system, which Hughes explains can have a calming effect. She says these oils can help with those that experience anxiety and even panic attacks, which especially helpful for someone like me who experiences both.
There are also essential oils that can lift the spirits too. "If you're having low moods, for example, [experiencing] depression, you can use essential oils like peppermint, orange, or bergamot to uplift the mood." She also shares that wood and root oils can add balance for those who experience anxiety and depression in tandem. "There are a few that can have a balancing mood," she says. "Sandalwood, cedarwood, and frankincense are good for grounding us, but also [help] balance for those who might be dealing with anxiety and depression."
Here's What to Keep in Mind Before Your Next Essential Oil-Infused Purchase
Before you run out and add essential oil-based products to your vanity, Hughes' top recommendations for integrating essential oils into your life for therapeutic use are diffusers and massage blends. She typically doesn't recommend candles and body care items unless they are made with organic, wild-harvested, or non-toxic essential oils. Here's why.
"You can smell a batch of chocolate chip cookies and get a psychological response," she explains. "You can smell a lotion that has some diluted lavender in there and still feel good," however you might be breathing in toxins, which she says can do more harm than good. Aside from the essential oils, Hughes emphasizes that all the ingredients in aromatherapy products need to live up to the same standard.
For example, "If they mix [the essential oil] with shea butter, is the shea butter organic? What are they using to preserve it?" she adds. "All of that is really important when you talk about putting it on your skin and being okay with it." As all of these elements can ensure you receive a long-lasting therapeutic response that promotes lasting change.
All and all, both experts agree aromatherapy has a positive impact on stress and anxiety. “Find a scent you like, get comfy, and try it out. Your body will thank you,” Ivie-Williams says.
If you're looking for products with essential oils, here are a few of our favorites.
Products with Essential Oils
Let's face it. Sometimes even our skin needs some stress relief, and a chamomile mask sounds like an ideal remedy.
An hour-long hot bath after a stressful day is proven to provide stress relief. Adding a bath soak filled with lavender and cedarwood essential oils is a nice addition to an already relaxing beauty ritual.
Gentle enough to use on your hands, face, and body. You can take this golden tube on the run, and apply the chamomile and blue tansy-based butter behind your ears or to your temples (a key pressure point) when you need on the spot relief.
When adding essential oils to your routine, non-toxic oils like this one are the way to go.
Need a pick me up on the go? Tata Harper's rollerball treatment can be used at any time of the day. Just apply to your palms, rub your hands together, and inhale.
If you love home decor or are particular about how things look on your nightstand, a stone diffuser is likely just up your alley. With five hues to choose from, you'll find the right match for your space.
Finding non-toxic, organic candles can be a bit of a challenge. Lucky for us, this lavender, coconut wax candle fills that void.
Infused with frankincense and sandalwood oils, your skin will get the grounding and antioxidant benefits of these two well-known essential oils.
If you enjoy burning incense, a sandalwood option could be an excellent addition to your self-care practice.
Blue Tansy can calm the skin and the body and is often used in traditional Chinese medicine as an antihistamine. May Lindstrom's beauty balm comes highly-rated by beauty editors and beauty lovers because of its ability to calm breakouts overnight and its beautiful scent.
Lavender, clary sage, zinc, and hyaluronic acid make this mask a calming, hydrating, and zit fighting multi-tasker.