This Candle Trick Helps Me Set Boundaries While WFH—And Stay Focused and Productive

I'll be honest: Before the pandemic, I didn't spend much time at home. Although I relish my alone time, I lived my life largely out and about—at work, at concerts, with friends, and doing all the New York things.

But when COVID-19 hit and my apartment became the center of my world, I began making small, cost-effective investments in my space. I thrifted a desk from Facebook Marketplace (any other Marketplace fans out there?) to upgrade my work-from-home setup; I bought new cocktail glasses for Zoom happy hours. However, I still struggled—with things like anxiety and loneliness, definitely, but also because I no longer had a built-in boundary between work and rest. Soon, I found work (or thinking about work, to be honest) bled into my free time more often than not. That is, until I found a surprising solution: candles.

While I've always lit candles to set the mood, I noticed that burning different ones at different times helped me transition into new phases of the day. And, it turns out, there's a reason why switching up my scents was particularly helpful: "The effects of aromatherapy on shifting your mood are well-documented," says Nicola Elliott, a licensed aromatherapist and founder of natural candle brand Neom Organics. "When you inhale the essential oil fragrance, the chemical components in the essential oils bind with the receptors in the limbic system—this is the area of your brain that stores your memory and emotions. After a time, you can start to condition your brain to associate certain scents with certain times of the day."

However, it's important to note that candles may not be quite as effective as pure essential oils, as far as aromatherapy benefits are concerned. Hope Gillerman, a member of Byrdie's Beauty & Wellness Review Board and founder of her own line of essential oils, explains that you'll tend to encounter more synthetic or natural fragrance oils in candles, which last longer when burned but are less powerful: "Essential oils are chemically altered by burning and lose some of their potency," she says. If you want to level-up the aromatherapy benefits, Gillerman suggests scenting a room with an ultra-sonic diffuser or a nebulizer.

Still, though, the benefits of candles are real—they certainly have been for me! If you're looking to dabble, here are some suggestions on where to start, as well as a few of my personal faves for work and play.

For Work

During the workday, Gillerman recommends invigorating oils like peppermint, eucalyptus, and rosemary, as well as anti-microbial citrus oils like lemon, grapefruit, and lime. Personally, during work, I've loved burning the New York City candle from the brand Homesick, which offers candles designed to evoke specific places or memories. This one, which has notes of lemon, grapefruit, and jasmine, makes me feel particularly bright and focused.

For Leisure

On weekend days—or any time during the day when I'm craving a moment of respite—I light my Wine Cabin candle from Kelly + Jones. Its notes of pine, woodfire, sweetgrass, and sage make me feel like I'm curling up on the couch in a sun-drenched cabin in the woods, and I'm very much here for it.

For Grounding

According to Gillerman, conifer oils like spruce, pine, and cypress can help you deepen your breathing. I've done at-home yoga during the pandemic to up my strength and flexibility, and because marrying breath and movement is such an important part of the practice, any scent that helps encourage the breath is one I can get behind. Right now, I'm burning Brooklyn Candle Studio's Catskills Escapist Candle, which has notes of fir balsam, pine, cedar, and sandalwood.

For Winding Down

Settling in for the night? Gillerman recommends oils like ultra-calming lavender, flower oils like rose, geranium, neroli, chamomile, and clary sage, as well as frankincense, myrrh, sandalwood, vetiver, and cedarwood. During times when I'm getting ready for bed or going through my skincare routine, I've been burning Birthday Co.'s August Twenty-Sixth Candle (proud Virgo here!), which has notes of sage, lavender, palo santo, and jasmine. Also in the rotation, currently, is the Another Life candle from the clean and sustainable brand Nette; it has notes of lavender, fresh citrus, ginger, cocoa, cedarwood, vanilla, and patchouli, and comes in a beautiful glass vessel that's handmade in Italy.

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