Why do essential oils work to relieve stress and anxiety?

Why do essential oils work to relieve stress and anxiety?

August 28, 2019

Essential oils have been used for thousands of years for ceremonial, culinary, and religious purposes, but more recently they've evolved into a more therapeutic remedy than anything else. The question is, why do they actually work? Today, we're going to explore some of the reasons behind their effectiveness and how they can be used to bring out their best characteristics.

The Power of Your Olfactory Nodes

Your nose is far more powerful than just being able to tell you when something will be delicious or whether to stay away - it can be one of the most effective triggers for altering your mood or emotions. If you've ever gone home to your parents after a long week at work and were welcomed with the smell of a warm pie or your favorite meal, you know what I mean when I say your nose can legitimately trigger feelings of happiness and relaxation. This is part of why essential oils can be so effective in helping you to feel less anxious and stressed. Just like it can relax you to take a deep sniff of a bouquet of flowers, essential oils like lavender and frankincense are known to increase the release of different neurotransmitters like dopamine. 

Your olfactory system is the prime reason this phenomenon exists. Without getting too "sciency", your nose communicates with the rest of your central nervous system in a similar way that your other senses do. Just in the same way your hand immediately pulls back when you touch a hot pan without you even having to think about it, you don't have to consciously think about how a smell appeals to you before you already notice signs that you enjoy the smell just by how your body reacts. You might notice a calming tingle down your spine or notice that your eyes immediately close; both of these are central nervous responses to positive triggers from your olfactory system. 

These Oils are Made for Smelling

Believe it or not, the chemical composition of many essential oils in their natural state is similar to the chemical composition of many of the anti-anxiety remedies that are produced in a lab. In fact, many of those lab-created remedies were derived in such a way that they deliberately mimicked the chemical composition of natural essential oils! For example, lavender essential oil contains some very aromatic notes that interact with the brain in such a way that they inhibit your GABA receptors. These receptors respond to the presence of a specific amino acid that can, in turn, spike your anxiety. However, because of the way lavender inhibits those receptors, you're actually prone to feeling less anxious!

On top of the actual science, a more "subjective" reason could also play a role in how these oils can calm you down and make you feel less stressed. You know when you smell a freshly washed blanket and you almost feel a sense of security, calmness, and relaxation? I'd wager a bet that essential oils can make us feel the same way. If you're feeling down or stressed, smelling your favorite essential oil just might be the trigger you need to relax and set aside those negative feelings. 

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