What Can Aromatherapy Do For You?

Aromatherapy uses essential oils—concentrated plant extracts that contain the scent-producing cells—to promote mental and physical well-being. They can be inhaled or diluted and applied to the skin.

Clinical aromatherapy can be beneficial in the inpatient and outpatient settings for pain, nausea, vomiting, preoperative anxiety, critical care, and symptom management including anxiety, depression, stress, agitation with dementia, insomnia, and respiratory issues.

1. Calming scents

Whether you are trying to calm your mind, body or emotions, aromatherapy may be the answer. Generally, people use essential oils with carrier oils (like coconut or olive oil) to ensure the skin can absorb the scents. The most popular calming scents are lavender, chamomile and vanilla.

Lavender is a popular choice because it’s known for its soothing and relaxing properties. It contains a natural relaxant called linalool, which helps reduce anxiety and lower your heart rate, according to Verywell Mind.

Other popular calming scents are ylang-ylang, roman chamomile, neroli and sandalwood. Ylang-ylang, for example, boosts serotonin levels in the brain, which can help improve mood and relieve stress.

Using aromatherapy during meditation or at the end of your day can promote relaxation and help you fall asleep, which is especially helpful if you have trouble sleeping. But aromatherapy should not be used as a replacement for medical or mental health treatments. It is most effective when used as a complementary therapy.

2. Helps with sleep

Inhaling the scent of essential oils, like lavender, chamomile and bergamot, may help you fall asleep. The oil’s scent prompts the nervous system to send messages to the limbic brain, which houses emotions and memory. The brain becomes conditioned to associate the scent with sleep, and you’ll fall into a calming routine as your body prepares for rest.

However, since the oils are so strong, it’s best to mix them with a carrier oil before applying to your skin. Essential oils are potent, and if applied directly to the skin can cause side effects like rashes, headaches and sun sensitivity.

A systematic review and meta-analysis found that aromatherapy significantly improved sleep quality in adults and elderly people. The studies included a total of 30 with massage and inhalation methods, which lasted for not more than 4 weeks, and had a quality score above 8. This study provides sufficient evidence to support the use of aromatherapy as a nursing intervention for improving sleep quality in patients with chronic health problems.

3. Helps with anxiety

Prolonged stress can be a cause of anxiety, and aromatherapy provides a natural alternative to prescription medications. However, it’s important to talk to a mental health professional if your anxiety is long-term or severe.

Several studies show that essential oils have calming effects. For instance, a study showed that using rose oil decreased trait and state anxiety in hemodialysis patients. Another study found that when nurses inhaled patchouli oil, their levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) went down.

You can use frankincense and other essential oils as a natural remedy for anxiety by applying them to your skin or adding them to a diffuser. You can also add a few drops to a bath soak or rub them on your temples, back of the neck, and wrists when you’re feeling anxious. You can also inhale them directly from the bottle. Just be sure to dilute them with a carrier oil first because they’re quite strong.

4. Helps with depression

Depression is one of the world’s major public health concerns affecting 350 million people worldwide. A popular CAM approach to alleviating depressive symptoms is aromatherapy.

The aroma of certain plants, such as a citrus fragrance, normalizes neuroendocrine hormone levels and immune function and is effective against depression, according to a study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience. The research found that a scent of a fruity plant such as lemon or orange is more effective than antidepressants in treating depression.

In the study, patients suffering from clinical anxiety or depression were assigned to aromatherapy massage or usual care. The results showed that most patients who received aromatherapy experienced improvement in their clinical anxiety or depression. Self reported anxiety also improved more in those receiving aromatherapy massage compared to those who received usual care. However, some of the improvement may have been due to spontaneous improvement in mood following cancer treatment. The results are promising and warrant further research.