I am sharing with you an article I wrote that was published in the July issue of Aroma Culture Magazine. I have modified it slightly from how it originally appeared.
Many, if not all, of the clients I have, experience some form of anxiety or stress. Anxiety and stress are common ailments in our society, and include physical and psychological symptoms. Anxiety often involves an increase in sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activity, including an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, among others. It can cause restlessness, fatigue, irritability, panic, and difficulty concentrating. However, symptoms vary from person to person.
In my experience aromatherapy can provide a great support in the relief of stress and anxiety, and I have found many studies that provide evidence of how essential oils can help decrease some of the symptoms.
A study conducted on rats and mice indicated that the most effective essential oils in reducing anxiety symptoms were bitter orange Citrus aurantium var amara, lemongrass Cymbopogon citratus, lavender Lavandula angustifolia, and bushy lippia Lippia alba (de Sousa, de Almeida Soares, Hocayen, Andrade, & Andreatini, 2015).
But, I also found studies conducted on humans, and I am sharing the results here. These studies highlight four essential oils that can support anxiety relief.
1. Bergamot, Citrus bergamia
Bergamot is a citrus plant belonging to the Rutaceae family. The fruit is not edible because it is too sour, and the plant is cultivated mostly for essential oil production. In fact, the essential oil is a component of Earl Grey tea. Four studies indicated that bergamot reduced symptoms of anxiety.
In a study conducted on 54 elementary school teachers in Taiwan a 2% dilution of bergamot helped slow down the SNS activity in the teachers after they were given two 10-minute aromatherapy sprays. The teachers experienced a reduction in blood pressure and heart rate (Chang & Shen, 2011).
Another study included 116 patients that were waiting for surgery, and inhalation of bergamot was found to reduce anxiety, heart rate, and blood pressure (Navarra, Mannucci, Delbo, & Calapai, 2015).
The third study was conducted on a group of 42 healthy women who saw a reduction of anxiety and other negative psychological symptoms after receiving a vapor inhalation of bergamot essential oil (Watanabe, Kuchta, Kimura, Rauwald, Kamei, & Imanishi, 2015).
In the last study, 44 adults aged 65 or older were given an aromatherapy spray to be used at home for a 4-week period, and they experienced a reduction in depression, stress, and anxiety. This aromatherapy spray had diluted bergamot and lavender or Lavandula angustifolia essential oils (Tang & Tse, 2014).
2. Lavender, Lavandula angustifolia
Because of this last study I included lavender on the list. Lavender belongs to the Lamiaceae family, which is the family with the largest number of plant species from which essential oils are produced. Lavender essential oil is commonly adulterated, and thus it is important to use true lavender.
Lavender essential oil has been found to reduce symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, which includes tension, insomnia, muscle tension, and dry mouth, among others (de Sousa et al., 2015). In a study conducted in 1995, 122 patients in an intensive care unit experienced less anxiety after massage with lavender (Buckle, 2003).
3. Orange, Citrus sinensis
Orange is the third essential oil that I included, and is of course another citrus plant. Orange essential oil comes from different plants, including sweet orange or Citrus sinensis, bitter orange or Citrus aurantium var. amara, and blood orange or Citrus sinensis. The latter shares its botanical name with sweet orange, but is rarely found in essential oil form.
The study I found used sweet orange. It was conducted on women going through labor, and found that 50 women who received 2 drops of sweet orange essential oil on a napkin attached to their clothing had a reduction in anxiety and tension during labor. They experienced reduced blood pressure and heart rate (Rashidi-Fakari, Tabatabaeichehr, & Mortazavi, 2015).
4. Neroli, Citrus aurantium
Neroli is another essential oil extracted from a citrus plant. Mostly commonly neroli is produced from the flowers of orange plant varieties, but this is a difficult process and results in an expensive essential oil.
A study found that neroli essential oil extracted from bitter orange reduced anxiety, and acted as a sedative and anti-depressant in mice. Although this study was not conducted on humans, I thought it important because it identified that the constituent limonene, which is also found in bergamot essential oil, was likely the source of the anxiety-reducing effects. Limonene additionally acted as a vasorelaxant (Choi, Kang, Lee, & Seol, 2014).
Anxiety is a common symptom of women in labor. A study using neroli essential oil reduced symptoms of anxiety during labor on 64 women (Namazi, Akbari, Mojab, Talebi, Majd, & Jannesari, 2014). Neroli also reduced stress and anxiety in a study conducted on 63 women experiencing menopause, who saw a reduction in stress, blood pressure, and heart rate after using the essential oil (Rashidi-Fakari, Tabatabaeichehr, & Mortazavi, 2015).
There are many other substances that are effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety. For instance, rose water, although not an essential oil, was found to reduce anxiety. A 2016 study on 46 patients undergoing kidney dialysis found that when they received rose water while they were receiving their dialysis treatment, they experienced a reduction in anxiety (Barati, Nasiri, Akbari, & Sharifzadeh, 2016).
Other essential oils used to reduce anxiety include cypress Cupressus sempervirens, frankincense Boswellia carterii, Roman chamomile Chamaemelum nobile, sandalwood Santalum album, and vetiver Vetiveria zizanioides, although there are still others.
Identifying the best essential oil to use is a matter of finding the essential oil that best suits the symptoms, needs, and senses of the person ailing from anxiety.
This article was originally published in the July 2017 issue of AromaCulture Magazine and has been adapted for use here with permission from the publisher.
Barati, F., Nasiri, A., Akbari, N. & Sharifzadeh, G. (2016). The effect of aromatherapy on anxiety in patients. Nephro-Urology Monthly, 8(5), 1-7. doi:10.5812/numonthly.38347
Buckle, J. (2003). Clinical Aromatherapy: Essential Oils In Practice (2nd ed.). London, United Kingdom: Churchill Livingstone.
Chang, K. & Shen, C. (2011). Aromatherapy benefits autonomic nervous system regulation for elementary school faculty in Taiwan. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2011(946537), 1-7. doi:10.1155/2011/946537
Choi, S.Y, Kang, P., Lee, H.S., & Seol, G. H. (2014). Effects of inhalation of essential oil of Citrus aurantium L. var. amara on menopausal symptoms, stress, and estrogen in postmenopausal women: a randomized controlled trial. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2014(796518), 1-7. doi:10.1155/2014/796518
de Sousa, D. P., de Almeida Soares Hocayen, P., Andrade, L. N., Andreatini, R. (2015). A systematic review of the anxiolytic-like effects of essential oils in animal models. Molecules, 20(10), 18620-18660. doi:10.3390/molecules201018620
Namazi, M., Akbari, S. A. A., Mojab, F., Talebi, A., Majd, H. A, & Jannesari, S. (2014). Aromatherapy with Citrus aurantium oil and anxiety during the first stage of labor. Iranian Red Crescent Medical Journal, 16(6), 1-6. doi:10.5812/ircmj.18371
Navarra, M., Mannucci, C., Delbo, M., & Calapai, G. (2015). Citrus bergamia essential oil: from basic research to clinical application. Frontiers in pharmacology,6(36), 1-10 . doi:10.3389/fphar.2015.00036
Rashidi-Fakari, F., Tabatabaeichehr, M., & Mortazavi, H. (2015). The effect of aromatherapy by essential oil of orange on anxiety during labor: a randomized clinical trial. Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research, 20(6), 661-664. doi:10.4103/1735-9066.170001
Tang, S. K. & Tse, M. Y. M. (2014). Aromatherapy: does it help to relieve pain, depression, anxiety, and stress in community-dwelling older persons? BioMed Research International, 2014(430195), 1-12. http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2014/430195
Watanabe, E., Kuchta, K., Kimura, M., Rauwald, H. W., Kamei, T., & Imanishi, J. (2015). Effects of bergamot (Citrus bergamia (Risso) Wright & Arn.) essential oil aromatherapy on mood states, parasympathetic nervous system activity, and salivary cortisol levels in 41 healthy females. Forschende Komplementärmedizin, 22(1), 43-49. doi:10.1159/000380989