Most of us probably associate essential oils with fancy spas or that yoga class where the smell from a diffuser makes you feel Zen.
But research shows that, when inhaled, these plant extracts are also good therapy. This is especially true if you’re feeling anxious.
Used correctly, they make for one heck of a tonic to alter your body’s physical and emotional stress reaction.
That may prove helpful in the current climate as mental health charities, including MIND, are warning of increased stress levels over the Covid-19 outbreak.
With no two oils exactly the same, there’s a lot to get your head around.
Consider this your comprehensive guide for how to use them to your advantage…
What Are Essential Oils?
The practice of using essential oils is known as aromatherapy.
They are highly concentrated liquids that are extracted either through distillation (via water and/or steam) or manual methods like cold pressing.
Just make sure that you always look for blends created with 100% essential oils. Be cautious of vague, unregulated terms on the label like ‘therapeutic grade’ and ‘fragrance oil.’
Benefits of Using Them
Essential oils work through inhalation or topical application.
They can be diluted and used on the skin to help with anything from acne to dehydrated skin, for instance.
But it’s when you smell them that you really reap the mind-body benefits.
‘Studies have shown that essential oils are absorbed by smell receptors in your nose that are linked to the limbic system – the part of the brain controlling our emotional responses,’ says Dr Anna Persaud, a biochemist and CEO of This Works. ‘This, in turn, impacts heart rate, blood pressure and the nervous system.’
The molecules are also inhaled into your lungs, where they enter your bloodstream and affect your hormones via the endocrine system.
How to Use Essential Oils
Despite being natural, essential oils are still potent and should be used judiciously.
A diffuser is the most common way of releasing them into the air. Don’t blast it all day, though. 30 to 60 minutes is the recommended ‘on’ time as the scent can become overwhelming.
Aromatherapy Associates Home Fragrancer, £49, Liberty London
Don’t have a diffuser to hand? Just add a few drops of oil to a bowl of steaming hot water. Then apply the same rules.
Likewise, a rollerball will immediately turn your desk into a self-care station.
‘Apply the rollerball to your wrists and palms before cupping them over your face. Breathe deeply for the count of five to help settle a whirring mind,’ says Noella Gabriel, president of spa brand Elemis.
Trouble sleeping? Pour a tablespoon of carrier oil (jojoba, grapeseed or coconut oil), add five drops of your favourite essential oil and swirl the concoction in your bath water.
Or use one of the best calming pillow mists. These are pre-blended flower waters, herbs and essential oils that you mist onto your bed linen for a better quality night’s sleep.
An independent brain imaging study found the lavender, chamomile and vetiver in This Works’ Deep Sleep Pillow Spray activated specific brain areas related to feelings of trust and calmness. Both of which are conducive to relaxation and sleep.
This Works Deep Sleep Pillow Spray, £19.50, John Lewis
‘Over time we create a connection in our brains that links the fragrance of a pillow mist to the experience of calm and falling asleep,’ adds Persaud.
Disclaimer: essential oils should never be used as a replacement for prescribed anxiety medication. If you are taking any medications or suffer from a chronic health condition, ask your doctor before you start practicing aromatherapy.
The Best Calming Essential Oils, According To Research
Each plant oil has a different chemical make-up so the perks you get depend on the essential oil you choose…