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Aromatherapy for Anxiety

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Updated May 28, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

If you're struggling with anxiety, certain types of aromatherapy may offer relief. While aromatherapy can't treat anxiety disorders, breathing in the scent of certain aromatherapy oils might help you unwind in the midst of certainstressful situations.

How Might Aromatherapy Stop Anxiety?

The mechanism by which aromatherapy may alleviate anxiety is not entirely known. In aromatherapy, inhaling essential oil molecules (or absorbing essential oils through the skin) may influence certain neurotransmitters, brain chemicals that are involved in the regulation of mood and anxiety.

The Science Behind Aromatherapy and Anxiety

To date, few clinical trials have tested aromatherapy's effects on anxiety. In a research review published in 2010, however, scientists sized up 14 studies on rats and found that both lavender and rose oils may help reduce anxiety. Other animal research shows that sweet orange oil may also provide anxiety relief, though it's important to remember that animal research results do not confirm the same efficacy in humans.

A small study published in 2009 suggests that aromatherapy massage may help ease anxiety among people with breast cancer. The study involved 12 breast cancer patients, all of whom received 30-minute aromatherapy massages twice weekly for four weeks. Results revealed that aromatherapy massage could help reduce anxiety, as well as stimulate the immune system.

Learn how to make a relaxing essential oil blend.

Should You Use Aromatherapy for Anxiety?

While aromatherapy is generally considered safe, it's crucial to take caution when using any type of essential oil. For instance, it's important to blend your essential oil with a carrier oil (such as jojoba, sweet almond, or avocado) before applying it to the skin. In addition, some individuals may experience irritation when applying essential oils to the skin. Essential oils should also not be taken internally without the supervision of a health professional.

Learn more about using essential oils safely, and talk to your doctor if you're considering the use of aromatherapy in treatment of an anxiety disorder.

Sources:

de Almeida RN, Motta SC, de Brito Faturi C, Catallani B, Leite JR. "Anxiolytic-like effects of rose oil inhalation on the elevated plus-maze test in rats." Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2004 77(2):361-4.

Faturi CB, Leite JR, Alves PB, Canton AC, Teixeira-Silva F. "Anxiolytic-like effect of sweet orange aroma in Wistar rats." Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2010 30;34(4):605-9.

Imanishi J, Kuriyama H, Shigemori I, Watanabe S, Aihara Y, Kita M, Sawai K, Nakajima H, Yoshida N, Kunisawa M, Kawase M, Fukui K. "Anxiolytic effect of aromatherapy massage in patients with breast cancer." Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2009 6(1):123-8.

Setzer WN. "Essential oils and anxiolytic aromatherapy." Nat Prod Commun. 2009 4(9):1305-16.

Tsang HW, Ho TY. "A systematic review on the anxiolytic effects of aromatherapy on rodents under experimentally induced anxiety models." Rev Neurosci. 2010;21(2):141-52.

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