Essential Oils For Anxiety
Suffering with anxiety is no joke and can make any number of everyday tasks incredibly challenging – from speaking in public, to even just going out to the shops. If you’re particularly unlucky, you might find that nearly every waking moment is spent in a state of perpetual anxiety that can prevent you from enjoying time with your family, or from focusing (essential oils for focus) and performing well at work.
What’s more is that anxiety can also lead to any number of other problems if left unchecked, with close connections to depression, bipolar disorder and panic attacks.The problem is that many of the treatments recommended by doctors are incredibly harsh and have a number of very serious side effects.If you have anxiety attacks for instance, then you might be prescribed with benzodiazepines or barbiturates. These can help to reduce symptoms almost immediately but that comes at a serious price. Both these medications can lead to constant tiredness and lethargy, a chronic lack of motivation, headaches and even addiction (via processes called tolerance and dependence).
In short, it’s much better to avoid medication for anxiety if possible.
And that’s where essential oils may come in handy.
How do Essential Oils Treat Anxiety?
Essential oils can do essentially the same thing as many anti-anxiety medications prescribed by your doctor, except that they do this in a much more natural and mild way with none of the serious side effects. This can then provide the temporary relief that you may need in order to focus on therapy that can address the root cause of the problem for longer-term solutions.
To understand this, it will be helpful to first look at how anxiety occurs and how medications attempt to treat it.
With that in mind, understand that anxiety of any kind is the result of certain chemicals being released in the brain. Specifically, these chemicals are: cortisol (the stress hormone), norepinephrine and epinephrine (analogous to adrenaline). Together, these chemicals have profound effects on both our body and our brains. In terms of our thought processes, they can lead to a kind of ‘tunnel vision’. Here, we are focused purely on what’s right in front of us with no ruminations. It also leads to a sense of dread and seriousness. At the same time, the brain starts firing much more rapidly and we become far more ‘sensitive’ to sounds, thoughts and more – allowing us to respond quicker.
Meanwhile, the hormones can also have a strong impact on the central nervous system. They increase blood flow to the brain and the muscles, while directing it away from less urgent tasks like digestion and the immune system (this leads to butterflies). The heart rate increases, breathing speeds up and blood becomes thicker so as to clot in case of a wound.
This is ‘fight or flight’ and it preps us for action in life-or-death scenarios. This is very useful if you need to run away from a lion but less so if you need to give a speech, or if you’re just trying to relax for an evening and can’t stop thinking negative thoughts.
When you use anti-anxiety medications, these work to reduce the production of these key neurotransmitters and hormones. In particular, they do this by increasing the production of another neurotransmitter called ‘GABA’. GABA is an ‘inhibitory’ neurotransmitter, meaning that it prevents the brain from firing as quickly. It’s actually one of the chemicals that is responsible for us getting drunk when drinking alcohol! Anyway, as GABA increases, brain activity decreases and this causes us to become tired and less anxious, leading to a subsequent drop in norepinephrine and cortisol.
But this is also what causes a lot of problems, because anxiolytics impact on GABA so strongly that they lead to structural changes in the brain. What’s more, GABA makes us feel drowsy and confused in high quantities.
But essential oils such as lavender and bergamot can have a similar effect to a much lesser degree. When these molecules reach the brain, they lead to the release of neurotransmitters in much the same way but it’s a far milder effect that doesn’t have anywhere near the same number of unwanted side effects.
So while this isn’t going to help you feel quite so immediately calm, it can nevertheless be the perfect aid to healthy self-talk in order to help you gradually lessen your anxiety symptoms.
The Best Essential Oils for Anxiety
With that in mind then, which essential oils are best for anxiety? Let’s take a look…
Valerian Root Oil
Valerian root is often used in order to relax the muscles and to aid sleep. As well as helping to relax smooth muscle tissue, one of the big advantages of valerian root for sleep is that it helps to increase GABA. This means it works exactly like an anxiolytic and is especially effective at promoting calm and drowsiness when inhaled.
Lavender oil is particularly useful for increasing serotonin, which can help to improve the mood. This won’t quieten the activity of brain cells in quite the same way that increasing GABA can but can nevertheless have numerous positive effects on the mood which include anti-anxiety.
What’s more is that the brain will eventually convert serotonin to melatonin (it is a natural precursor). This is relevant because melatonin is the brain’s primary sleep hormone. When you combine the two together, what you get is a concoction that will help you to feel drowsy and happy – rather than anxious!
Lemon oil is also another essential oil that can help to increase serotonin and at the same time decrease dopamine and norepinephrine. This also has a nice refreshing smell which is great for waking you up and helping you to get a grip on reality!
Bergamot oil is one of the very best oils for improving the production of serotonin. This is especially useful when used for depression but also works very well when treating anxiety.
Frankincense essential oil doesn’t impact on GABA or serotonin in the same way but many people find it especially relaxing just in terms of the way it smells. For these reasons, it will often be used around the home and especially in the evening to promote sleep. If you’re lying awake with your mind racing, burning a little frankincense might just be what the doctor ordered.
Ginger oil is another serotonin-increasing essential oil. The great thing about ginger oil in particular is that it works well when massaged into the skin. So while you might want to burn or inhale most of these oils, this one can be massaged into your body by a friend or partner. And what is more relaxing than a nice calming massage with a little Enya?
A Note: Often when it comes to altering moods and reducing anxiety, a lot of sources will cite dopamine promoting essential oils as a good choice. These include cacao essential oil, oregano oil, peppermint oil etc.
This is because dopamine is often considered the ‘reward hormone’ and thus must be associated with happiness. But before you get carried away with these options, note that dopamine is actually what the brain releases in anticipation of reward – not upon receiving a reward.
What this means, is that dopamine makes you more alert and tense because you think you’re getting a reward! Dopamine is actually what makes caffeine so potent, so as you can imagine, raising it is not really a good idea if you’re struggling with anxiety.
What’s very important to recognize is that no essential oil is a ‘cure’ for anxiety on its own. Rather, the cure lies in understanding what is causing the anxiety and changing the way you think. It’s possible to do this with certain forms of therapy such as CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). Meanwhile, you can overcome panic attacks with practice by learning not to try and ‘fight’ the attack but rather to ‘allow’ it to happen and to get on with what you would normally be doing. Ironically, trying to suppress attack can actually just make you more stressed and include the likelihood of you fainting.
But using a tissue with a few drops of valerian root oil or lavender oil can help with this greatly. Inhale for a few moments and then just try to get on with your usual activities. Likewise, keeping some oils burning around the house can help you to feel generally more at ease and prevent a potential bout of anxiety.