Is aromatherapy useful for anxiety?

Posted by Jo Harris on

Anxiety is a feeling of worry or fear about real or imagined events. The Oxford Dictionary defines anxiety as a “feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome” in a more severe state, rather than just a temporary feeling, it is defined as a “nervous disorder marked by excessive uneasiness and apprehension, typically with compulsive behaviour or panic attacks”.

Everyone suffers from anxiety sometimes. But in its healthier state, it is more of a feeling that usually disappears with reassurance, good support, or some other appropriate behaviour according to the cause of the anxiety. In its less healthy state, it is more than a fleeting feeling and may become a disorder which affects a person’s day to day life.

Anxiety is a healthy and normal emotion. It prevents us from doing things which may not be in a our best interest or warns us about dangerous situations, for example we may feel anxious when there is someone following us at night down a dark street. In this instance, the anxiety produces adrenalin, which produces many reactions in our body including the ability to run fast and hopefully escape the danger lurking behind us. In other situations, anxiety may help us to perform better. Think about the anxiety we feel before an important event, such as an exam, in this case the anxiety we feel, which maybe fear of failing, may cause us to prepare better for the exam so as not to fail. Or it may motivate us to prepare for a situation, for example we feel anxious about birth, so we respond by analysing or talking about our fears about birth or parenting. In its heightened state, anxiety may cause behaviours such as avoidance of situations where we feel anxious. We may feel overly anxious about new situations, such as interviews. In this situation, we may keep doing a job despite being unhappy, purely because we react by avoiding anxiety-inducing situations such as interviews for a new job even though it may make us happier.  

There are many symptoms or manifestations of anxiety. They may include rapid and irregular heartbeat, sweating, stomach upset and digestive issues, panic attacks, insomnia, breathing problems, constant worry and obsessons, inability to relax or concentrate. These are all symptoms of adrenalin being produced which allows the body to respond to the perceived danger (i.e. run). The blood is being pumped faster by the heart (faster heartrate) to the large muscles of the legs and arms to enable or body to respond quickly. Of course, as we have already acknowledged, not all anxiety is about danger, but our brain does not necessarily understand this and so when we feel anxious, it reacts as if there is danger.

There are 3 types of diagnosed anxiety disorders; general anxiety disorders; panic attacks and anxiety causing phobias (http://psychcentral.com/disorders/anxiety/). Additionally, not only are there physical symptoms but there are also thoughts and behaviours associated with the appearance of anxiety. The important thing is being able to recognise anxiety when it is experienced, in order to manage it. One step to awareness is completing these 2 sentences:

    My anxiety stops me from…

    When I am not anxious, I will be able to…

Another way is to take slow deep breaths, or breathe in to the count of 5, hold for 5 and exhale to the count of 5 or a way to calm the nervous system is to inhale and then exhale for double the count of the inhale (if the inhale is to the count of 4, then the exhale is to the count of 8). You can also journal about your feelings or do regular exercise especially in a group.

An affirmation taken from Louise Hay & Mona Schulz 2013 book 'All is well' is I love and approve of myself and I trust the process of life. I am safe' (p.185). It is great to use this affirmation while meditating, or even just saying it with your eyes closed when you wake up in the morning, and every time you feel anxious.

Aromatherapy can also help in the treatment of anxiety, be it general anxiety of everyday life, or a more chronic type of anxiety. Aromatherapy is a great way to deal with emotional issues. Inhaling scents hits the olfactory bulb immediately which sends signals to the brain. The olfactory bulb is a part of the limbic system of the brain, which is also the seat of emotions, which is why many believe in the efficacy of the treatment of emotional issues with essential oils. Published research studies have shown that essential oils do decrease anxiety without any side effects. Some of these studies have used bergamot essential oil, orange essential oil, lavender and have found a decrease in pre-surgery anxiety.

In the next part of this blog I will write about some useful essential oils for anxiety including bergamot, neroli, vetiver, ylang ylang, clary sage, lemon, jasmine, rose, geranium, Roman chamomile and frankincense. You may also like to have a look at the new de-stress roll-on, it is very useful for feeling joyful, inspired and decreasing negativity.

I would really love to hear your comments on which oils you use for anxiety or if you have another method of dealing with it.


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