I've tried everything I can to help me stay focused at work, from adaptogens to getting more sleep to removing each-and-every distraction around me to no avail. So, I figured that I might as well give essential oils a go to see what they were able to do. The power of aromatherapy is legit, after all.
"Our sense of smell can have a profound effect on our mind," says Amy Galper, a board-certified aromatherapist and founder of the New York Institute of Aromatic Studies. "When we smell something, the aromatic molecules trigger an electrical impulse that then sends a signal to the part of our brain called the limbic system, which is responsible for our ability to learn and remember, our behavior, conscious and unconscious, and is also responsible for manufacturing the enzymes and proteins that make up our hormones, which regulate and control all the actions in our body." And so, according to Galper, when you smell an essential oil that contains a particular set of molecules, it can then trigger behavior, moods, and emotions—like aiding you with focus, concentration, and alertness.
This is why each different essential oil out there is used for a plethora of things. "Each essential oil has a unique chemical profile, which means it comes with its own potential benefits," says Damian Rodriguez, DHSc, MS, doTerra's health and exercise scientist. "When using essential oils to promote focus, you'll want to look for oils that have calming and balancing properties, such as vetiver or basil, or energizing properties, like spearmint or grapefruit."
To reap that focus-inducing benefit, you've got options: Galper notes that you can use them in a diffuser to dispel the scent throughout your room or office, or try a few drops on a cotton ball to sniff when your need to focus calls.
Try these focus-enhancing essential oils
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis): Rosemary is not just an herb to sprinkle onto your gluten-free pasta: It can also help you focus. "It's an evergreen flowering shrub that is part of the mint family of culinary herbs, and the essential oil is distilled from the flowering tops," explains Galper. "This oil is rich in molecules that are shown to be very protective and supportive to our overall wellbeing. The aroma offers an experience of profound clarity and purification, and can energize our thoughts and exercise our memory. It's supportive to breathing, circulation, detox, and inner strengthening."
Peppermint (Mentha piperita): You know when you can smell peppermint. It's a very distinct scent that holds powers behind it: "Peppermint is the perfect oil to reach for when feeling stuck and lethargic and in need of a stimulating boost to keep awake and focused," says Galper. Yes, please. She adds that it's an antimicrobial, antiseptic, antibacterial, and helps with clearing inflammatory pain. "Peppermint is extremely uplifting, clearing, and opens your breath to help clear your mind, as well as works to get you moving and focused." Bonus points for relieving nervous tension and a nervous tummy.
Grapefruit (Citrus paradisi) You might turn to grapefruit in the a.m. for a healthy boost to your day. The acidic fruit can do the same for your senses, according to Galper. "Grapefruit essential oil is very uplifting and energizing, and disperses stagnancy and negative thoughts and feelings," she says. "It offers clarity and focus, and is great to add to all kinds of topical body care or in aromatic mists or diffusers." The fruit extract is also antibacterial, an astringent, and is known as a joyful scent.
Vetiver (Chrysopogon zizanioides): Chances are you've been introduced to vetiver in a fragrance with its intoxicating scent. But it's a useful essential oil when it comes to focus. "Vetiver oil is composed of multiple sesquiterpenes, giving it a grounding effect on emotions," Dr. Rodriguez explains. "When experiencing anxious, unnerved, or stressed feelings, use vetiver oil topically—such as on the bottom of your feet or back of your neck—with a carrier oil or diffuse it to help provide a calming and grounding effect on your emotions."
Basil (Ocimum): It's great on pizza, sure, but in essential oil form, basil can also help you with concentration. "Basil oil provides great benefits to both the mind and body due to its high linalool content, making it an ideal application to help reduce feelings of tension when applied to the temples and back of the neck," says Dr. Rodriguez. "You can also use it in a diffuser to promote a sense of focus while studying or reading."
Spearmint (Mentha spicata): Another minty fresh essential oil can also be used to help you focus: spearmint. "The main chemical component of spearmint essential oil is carvone, which contains energizing properties that strongly contribute to the oil’s mood-enhancing abilities," says Dr. Rodriguez. "When diffused, the cleansing and energizing aroma of spearmint oil encourages a sense of focus while simultaneously uplifting mood."
If you're looking to use magical EO extracts for other purposes, these are the best essential oils for sadness (seriously). And these are essential oils that help with PMS symptoms. What can't they do?
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