A Quick and Easy You Can Decompress
from the Stress and Anxiety of our Day-to-day Routines
Essential oils – concentrated oils extracted from plants – are a pretty big conversation topic right now in just about every field that touches on human health and wellness. From food packaging and preparation to sanitization and sports medicine, but perhaps
mostly mental wellness, there is a huge and growing body of research on how to
essential oils benefit human health.
For all of their other amazing properties, much of the research – and most of the marketing – related to essential oils has been about their potential ability to help people reduce stress and anxiety, mostly through aromatherapy, massage, or a combination of both.
There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to essential oils, and this article is going to try to address some of the key things that you need to know to get started using essential oils for help with symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Essential oils are highly concentrated extracts from plant matter. Essential oils have been around for use as perfumes for thousands of years because concentrated plant juices mean concentrated plant smell. That’s also why it’s used for aromatherapy today. Concentrated plant juices also mean concentrated plant chemicals and nutrients. For these reasons essential oils are also increasingly being explored for their use in health and wellness.
Most essential oils are alcohols. When we hear “alcohol” many of us will jump to the kind that people drink, but the term actually refers to a molecular structure that has a wide variety of properties. That’s why it’s not safe to drink some essential oils – but that will be covered in greater detail below.
Other chemical terms used to describe essential oils are “esters” and “aromatics.” Ester, like alcohol, just refers to a molecular structure. This article won’t go quite in-depth enough to require a further understanding of this term.
The term aromatic – think “aroma” — has to do with molecular structure as well but for our purposes just means that the chemical is easy to smell. The term “aroma” tends to have positive connotations, which shouldn’t necessarily be carried over to the term “aromatic.” Most of the essential oils discussed in this article – and most essential oils in general – have smells that most people enjoy. That does not mean that the chemistry of essential oils and aromatics somehow mean that everyone enjoys the smell of every essential oil.
Most essential oils are extracted from the plant through distillation or expression, according to the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA).
Distillation involves using water and heat in a closed container to allow liquid to evaporate out of the plant. This vapor is then collected and condensed back into a liquid. While essential oils may seem like the hot new thing, they have been extracted this way for thousands of years.
Expression involves perforating the skin of a fruit, usually a citrus fruit, and extracting the juices before letting them separate into oils and water.
Not only fruits or fruit-bearing plants have essential oils, however. This creates a huge variety in essential oils. One a given plant, a fruit’s skin, seeds, and leaves may all be put through different extraction methods to extract different essential oils. In the case of flowering plants, the petals, the bud, and the roots may all have their own essential oils and methods of extracting.
This is one of the many reasons that you should be careful of how you use essential oils. The essential oil may have completely different properties than you might think of when you hear the name of a familiar plant depending on how the oils were collected and from which part of the plant.
So why go through all of this trouble? That depends on the essential oil. Some of the oldest known essential oils were used as perfume – a fate not different from those of plants pressed for aromatherapy today. Essential oils also contain a high concentration of beneficial chemicals, especially antioxidants.
While antioxidants are most known for preventing cancer or maintaining a youthful glow, they have other wide-ranging applications including keeping away bacteria, viruses, and mold – which is why essential oils are often used to flavor and preserve some foods.
Listed below are brief entries about recent studies conducted on essential oils that can be easily bought from health and wellness stores, or sometimes even big-box stores. Most of the entries will also give you some information on how best to use the essential oils – whether through aromatherapy, message and others.
The entries do not include dosage information, as this can vary based on how and where you want to use the essential oils. For doping information, look for instructions on the packaging, consult an expert, or do further research.
A 2018 study conducted in Brazil found that mice who were exposed to orange essential oils as a mist in the atmosphere showed more social tendencies than a control group. This study suggests that orange essential oils, especially in mist form, may decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression. It is difficult to suggest a dosage for humans to potentially experience the same effect, however.
A 2010 study published in the journal Phytomedicine found that inhaling mist containing linalool reversed symptoms of anxiety in mice.
Linalool is a chemical found in a number of plants and essential oils, but which can also be isolated from those oils. Linalool is a key chemical in Basil, and a 2008 study published in the journal Food Chemistry said that other chemicals in Basil had a synergistic effect on linalool, meaning that it may be more beneficial to get your linalool from a more complex source – like basil essential oils.
Slightly different from regular orange essential oils, essential oils from sweet orange diffused through a mister showed to calm study participants better than a control group according to a 2012 study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine. While the authors of the study point out that they recommend further research, this study – unlike the previous study – was conducted on humans.
According to a 2008 meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Critical Care, studies involving lavender essential oils used in massage have often yielded positive results in terms of anxiety management, but only when used for massage – studies involving lavender aromatherapy showed no changes in anxiety symptoms.
As mentioned above, some people are skeptical of the role that essential oils play in the benefit of massage – after all, maybe the massage is doing all of the work.
Fortunately, lavender is one of the most studied essential oils out there, and they don’t always use massage. A 2009 study conducted in the United Kingdom found that taking lavender essential oils in a pill helped to sooth participants who were watching anxiety-inducing footage. This study also had a control group who took a placebo and did not experience the same anxiety reduction. If it wasn’t a massage and it wasn’t a placebo, it must’ve been the lavender.
Another plant that sounds like a familiar food but isn’t quite the same is shell ginger. According to a 2010 study published in the journal Natural Product Communications, essential oils from this plant helped to decrease anxiety symptoms in mice when taken as a mist.
While this essential oil is available on the market it is not one of the more common selections, and the authors of the 2010 study pointed out that we still don’t know as much about how this essential oil is distributed through various tissues as we perhaps should.