How to Use Aromatherapy to Help Ease Anxiety

November 6, 2020

Clinical Contributors to this Story

David C. Leopold, M.D. contributes to topics such as Integrative Health and Medicine.

Aromatherapy, the therapeutic practice of using essentials oils extracted from plants, has been around for centuries. Recently it’s become more accepted in mainstream medicine as a supportive approach to promoting health and well-being, including managing anxiety.

“There are multiple small and some larger studies that look at lavender in particular for the relief of anxiety. I think the evidence tilts toward aromatherapy being of benefit in the right circumstances and when used appropriately,” says David Leopold, M.D., network medical director for Hackensack Meridian Integrative Health & Medicine.

The risk of any negative side effects from aromatherapy is low, he says. The biggest concern is using aromatherapy as an alternative to essential medical care. It’s important to talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing a high level of anxiety or stress to discuss options and check for any underlying medical conditions.

But for someone who is looking for help with everyday stressors, aromatherapy can help. Here are four tips to keep in mind:

  1. Use a good product. There’s debate within the aromatherapy world if oils need to be an actual extraction or if a synthetic version is just as effective, but Dr. Leopold prefers a natural extraction and a true essential oil. Because essential oils are not regulated by the FDA, it’s important to buy from a reputable supplier. Things to look out for include:
    • The right price: In this case, expect to pay a higher price for a true essential oil, as they are expensive to produce.
    • Stored in dark colored glass bottles: Ultraviolet rays degrade the product.
    • A label with the plant’s botanical name and where it was sourced from
  1. Use aromatherapy with smell or skin absorption. You can use the oils with a number of different products, such as diffusers, inhalers, bathing salts or massage oils. One of the most popular ways is to put a couple of drops of oil in a diffuser to scent the room. Or you can simply put a few drops on a cotton swab and place that in your room.
  1. Prepare for a stressful situation or in response to one with aromatherapy. “You might be anxious about giving an important presentation, so you take an inhalation before it starts. Or maybe you had a disagreement with your boss and when back in your office you take out your room therapy, your diffuser, and breathe it in and calm yourself,” says Dr. Leopold.
  1. Make aromatherapy part of a larger toolbox. As useful as aromatherapy can be in aiding anxiety, it’s just one tool in a comprehensive toolbox. “Aromatherapy, in my opinion, is not really meant to be standalone but is meant to be used in conjunction with other interventions,” says Dr. Leopold. He recommends adding integrative therapies such as meditation, psychological counselling, physical activity and acupuncture to your toolbox. Good nutrition also shouldn’t be overlooked. “There’s now ample evidence that what we eat affects our levels of stress, our levels of anxiety and even our levels of depression. Multiple studies correlate a Western-type diet with high levels of depression,” he says. “When people switch to a more Mediterranean diet or plant-based diet, their level of depression and anxiety can decrease.”

Dr. Leopold notes that while some level of anxiousness might be expected in our high-stress modern world, you can use aromatherapy and other therapeutic approaches to take control of your well-being. “It’s OK to be anxious or stressed, but when it’s persistent, it’s important to do something about it,” he says.

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The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.