Notice how often you’ll get the advice to “just breathe” when you’re mid-freakout? It sounds beyond simple (and is sometimes annoying). But as it turns out, there’s actual science behind the notion of inhaling and exhaling when you’re experiencing anxiety—and the powerhouses that are essential oils can support this practice in a major way, explains certified aromatherapist (and founder of the New York Institute of Aromatherapy) Amy Galper.
Although anxiety’s causes are varied, it often materializes in overthinking and not being able to quiet your mind. One of the best things to try for it? “Just simple inhalations,” Galper says. “Sniffing essential oils can help quiet that constant chatter that’s in your head, and help you reconnect the mind and body in a healing way.”
“Sniffing essential oils can help quiet that constant chatter that’s in your head.”
Of course, it’s not about replacing Xanax (or L-theanine). “Using essential oils or aromatherapy is a holistic approach to healing,” she says. “If you feel like you might be having a panic attack or are just dealing with an anxious moment, smelling certain scents can help slow down that rush you’re feeling.”
That’s because the nerve endings in your nose have a direct impact on the part of your brain called the hypothalamus that manufactures the hormones responsible for emotional reactions, explains Galper. She notes that a given scent can influence how you respond to, say, a stressful encounter with a coworker or your mom.
“You can use oils and scent to overcome fears thanks to this neurological communication,” says Galper. “Sniff a certain essential oil to help you lower nervous energy and trigger your body to instead go into a state of calm.” Thank goodness for the ol’ olfactory sense.
Keep reading for the best anxiety-relieving essential oils to try when you’re in need of some quick calm.
The earthy green herb is perfect for everything from vegan pastas to DIY pedicures—but it also works wonders for relieving stress and centering an overwhelmed mind. “Rosemary is great for clarity,” explains Galper. “It helps you focus when there’s too much going on, and can bring a tremendous calm to someone who’s feeling scattered.” (Cue everyone raising their hands.)
There’s a very good reason the purple plant’s scent is often used for unwinding in the bath and even spritzing on your pillow—that’s because it’s extremely relaxing. (It’s even been proven to help you catch quality zzz‘s). “Lavender’s really good for shutting down that overactive thinking loop that can happen with anxiety,” says Galper. Basically, it shifts you from busy mode to a calmer one.
3. Clary sage
Clary sage is often used to help balance hormones—but it’s also considered an herbal antispasmodic, says Galper, which means it relaxes your physical body. “Often, anxiety can manifest itself in tight shoulders, a stiff neck, a cramp in the stomach. Clary sage can help relieve that ‘holding-in’ in the body, which helps you relax,” she says. Next best thing to a massage?
The mint relative of clary sage works similarly well in the physical relaxation realm. “Marjoram will aid in reducing muscle stress,” explains Galper. “Sometimes people run around the city all day and their bodies are so wound up that they can’t fall asleep at night. It’s not the mind but the body that’s still buzzing.” Sound familiar? Add some marjoram oil to your diffuser for sweet relief.
Maybe you sip chamomile tea before bed to signal your body it’s time to chill out. But smelling it in essential oil form can help calm your body and your mind (and you don’t have to wait for it to steep). “Chamomile’s a really powerful anti-inflammatory, so I think of it as being great for inflamed emotions. Anxiety that’s coming through from a burst of anger or an emotional encounter, for instance, is something chamomile is good for quieting,” says Galper.
What’s interesting about this fresh tree scent is that it’s scientifically proven to clear out inflammation in your bronchial passageways, says Galper (so it’s not just a gorgeous, cleansing smell that reminds you of the holidays). “Oils like pine, spruce, and fir can help slow down your breath and allow you to take deeper inhalations, which itself subdues your overactive mind.” Thank you, calming forest friend.