Reduce stress, improve quality of sleep, soothe sore muscles, and calm nerves.
by Mary McGowan and Jessica Toscano Dec 14, 2020
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The holidays can be a stressful time for anyone, but this year has especially been a hellish one for the best of us. Since the stay-at-home order was first enacted, you’ve likely experienced a jarring change to your daily schedule and as a result, may have undergone episodes of anxiety, depression, insomnia, or a combination of all three. Although there may not be a magical cure-all, there are approaches you can take to re-establish a relaxing routine.
“Aromatherapy is the therapeutic use of plant-based essential oils — usually through topical application or inhalation — to promote physical and psychological well-being,” Teri Verner, DNP, RN, AHN-BC, a graduate faculty member for the Earl Bakken Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota, tells Intrigue. Studies show that just one session can reduce stress, improve quality of sleep, soothe sore muscles, and calm nerves. Not to mention, with a variety of methods, it’s super simple to incorporate into your everyday life.
In fact, you’ve probably already dabbled in aromatherapy practices without even knowing. If you’ve used an oil diffuser, received an aromatherapy massage, or incorporated bath beads into a soak sesh, you’ve likely experienced the benefits of essential oils.
Before you get started...
There are numerous ways you can benefit from essential oil use, and each method depends on what goal you’re trying to achieve, says Raghda Abdelmaksoud, an advanced clinical certified aromatherapist and the CEO and founder of Ebers Consulting in New Jersey.
Because very few essential oils can be applied directly to the skin, says Verner, you have to first dilute them in carrier oils — plant-based oils like coconut, olive, jojoba, and hempseed — to lessen their potency. This applies to undiluted essential oils you plan to incorporate into massage oils, lotions, and creams or salt soaks. “Most dilution charts are measured in milliliters, and because dilutions are so small for essential oils, they are measured by drops,” she says. “The ratios depend on the essential oil but generally represent the amount of essential oil per one ounce of base oil.” (An extension of recommended dilutions is listed on the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) website.)
Another factor to consider is the amount of time you have to practice. If you’re on the go, you may want to use a personal inhaler with a cotton wick or a roll-on blend. Conversely, if you have a 30- to 60-minute window, you could consider an essential oil diffuser, which can be used for up to 60 minutes at a time, per the Tisserand Institute.
Know what you're buying.
When shopping for essential oils, there are a few factors to take into consideration to ensure what you’re purchasing is pure and unadulterated.
Synthetic oils are not true essential oils, says Verner. They mimic the scent but don’t offer the same medical benefits and natural compounds. They also bear the potential to cause side effects, like headaches and skin irritation, with prolonged use, she adds.
True essential oils are typically sold in dark bottles with tight lids and list the oil’s botanical name, country of origin, and method of extraction, says Verner. If diluted, the bottle will also list the carrier oil. Any additional ingredients should be researched to learn what they are and how they can potentially affect you, she says.
Another easy way to ensure you’re buying pure essential oils, as well as other products intended for aromatherapy, is to purchase from businesses featured by trusted sources, such as the NAHA and Aroma Web, says Abdelmaksoud.
When using essential oils, it’s important to follow product guidelines and warnings, says Abdelmaksoud. Otherwise, you could compromise your safety as well as the safety of others.
To avoid potential side effects when trying oils for the first time, Verner recommends beginning with the lower ends of the range for dilution recommendations for any essential oil and carrier oil combos. “You can usually get the positive therapeutic effects at the lower dilution with less risk of side effects or sensitivities,” she says. “Undiluted and improperly used pure essential oils can cause eye irritation, burning of the skin, and in some instances, respiratory issues.”
The same applies to anyone in your vicinity while you’re practicing aromatherapy. Those who are pregnant, have epilepsy or asthma, are currently taking prescription meds, or have certain skin conditions might be more susceptible to sensitivities, according to the Tisserand Institute. To limit essential oil exposure to yourself only, Abdelmaksoud recommends using a personal inhaler with a cotton wick.
When applied topically, essential oils can also lead to an allergic reaction like contact dermatitis. With each oil, Verner suggests first applying a small amount on your inner arm and monitoring for any skin sensitivities for at least 48 hours after application before continued use.
Without further ado, here are five essential oils to boost your mood ASAP.
1. Lemon (Citrus limon) for a mood boost
A 2014 study on lab rats, published in Phytomedicine, discovered that limonene, a main compound in lemon essential oil, regulates serotonin and dopamine levels aka two feel-good hormones that increase focus, emotional stability, and all-around happier feels. For a morning boost or midday pick-me-up, add lemon essential oil and the carrier oil of your choosing (following NAHA-recommended ratios) into a glass roller, and apply on your wrists.
2. Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) to lessen anxiety
When it comes to alleviating anxiety, lavender is your best bet. In a 2017 meta-analysis, published in Mental Health Clinician, researchers found that inhaling this widely popular essential oil can produce a calming effect without sedation, making it perfect for day or night use. Before bed, add 2-4 drops of lavender essential oil to a cotton ball, and place it in your pillowcase for a restful night’s sleep, followed by a relaxing morning.
3. Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea) to reduce stress
According to a small 2013 study, published in Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, women who inhaled clary sage while undergoing a urinary incontinence medical assessment experienced lower blood pressure and respiratory rates. Waft clary sage from an essential oil diffuser, following manufacturer guidelines, to combat stress and induce relaxation.
4. Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) for congestion relief
Ever wonder why Vicks VapoRub is so effective at relieving congestion? Thank ingredient eucalyptus oil and one of its main components, 1,8-cineole, which contains anti-inflammatory and immune-stimulating effects and relieves coughs, opens lung airways, and breaks down mucus, according to a series of studies published in Alternative Medicine Review. For a congestion-clearing rinse, hang a eucalyptus bundle in your shower.
5. Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) to soothe sore muscles
When met with your skin, the menthol in peppermint oil activates what’s known as your “menthol receptor” (properly referred to as transient receptor potential melastatin 8) and triggers a cooling sensation that can help alleviate pain. Soothe sore muscles with a topical like J.R. Watkins Rejuvenating Peppermint Foot and Body Lotion.