Most people who are familiar with alternative healing and natural remedies (the official term is Complementary Alternative Medicine or CAM) will have heard of using essential oils for beneficial health purposes, especially relaxation.
The way essential oils, and scent, in general, work is that they can produce state changes in body, mind, and spirit, though both the scent but also due to the natural chemicals in the oils that will affect the body when applied to the skin.
The use of essential oils is a powerful technique, and I have noticed over the last 2 decades many people opening to the use of essential oils to help themselves and their families.
In this article (Part 3 of the series of articles on How To Relax) we will be discussing several essential oils best suited for relaxing and relieving stress and anxiety.
We will also be discussing possible ways to use the oils that will offer the benefit of relaxation.
Before we get into the main article, though, I want to emphasize that scent can be used to self-nurture and it doesn’t have to just be essential oils.
When I am cooking chicken broth and I smell the scent after stepping out of the kitchen for a bit, the scent hits me like a wave of comfort and nourishment.
That is how it feels in my body, mind, and emotions. It is very, very soothing.
When I find reishi mushrooms in our yard and harvest them, when I smell the bottom of them, to me it smells so ‘earthy’… Like rich nutrient-dense soil… That I feel immediately grounded by the experience.
That grounding sensation is very relaxing to me.
So while I am highlighting the use of essential oils that have been studied and confirmed to have relaxing properties, there are also scents that affect us personally and uniquely.
How a scent affects me might be different than how it affects you (for example, I’m pretty sure chicken broth would not have the same effect on me as it does on a vegan).
So the key takeaway is to remember that whether or not you have these oils, there are always scents around us that can be accessed to help you feel better and calmer.
If you do not have or cannot get the oils I am mentioning, think about what scents you already have around you that connects you with a sense of feeling good.
Is it the roses in your yard? Freshly mowed grass? Miso soup? Kombucha?
The power of scent can affect our body systems profoundly and it is beneficial to find the kind of scent stimulus that connects you to your own feeling of well-being and calm.
I will probably be writing a whole post about lavender in the future, but for this post, all you have to know is that lavender is outrageously gentle and yet very powerful for relaxation.
I have been using this essential oil for over 25 years in various applications, but especially for self-relaxation and the relaxation of my clients.
I have blended lavender into the Biotone for my clients to create an aromatherapy massage session and if you are using a quality essential oil (I recommend Young Living Essential OIls – contact me if you are interested in ordering that brand), the blend of lavender with a carrier oil or lotion will really help the muscles release more easily.
I recall one time when I was doing chair massage for one of my clients who had an extremely tight neck.
I was using cream to massage her neck, and it was loosening a little, but still very tight.
I added a drop of Lavender oil to the cream and the muscle almost instantly melted and released.
I had never felt anything like it.
Usually, that kind of muscle release takes a bit of myofascial stretching which is not what I was doing.
I was wringing the back of the neck, standing at her side and the muscles that had not been letting my fingertips sink in beyond the skin.
But after I added a drop of lavender oil to the massage cream, my client’s neck just let me gently work my fingertips in after a few strokes to reach the deeper muscles.
And my client told me she felt so much better afterward and that she had never had her neck muscles release that fast with any previous healing modality or massage.
Bring this back to relieving anxiety, we are talking more about the emotional and physiological state, rather than the tension on a specific muscle.
Muscle tension can be part of your tension and so you can use lavender oil to help you massage those muscles, but if you are focusing on calming the mind and emotions, your relaxation ritual with lavender essential oil can be even more simple while having a profoundly positive effect.
A simple inhalation of a bottle of lavender oil can be enough to center and relax the body, mind, and spirit.
We will be talking more about usage later in the article.
Frankincense is another one of those essential oils that is both powerful and gentle and has SO MANY uses.
While this one can be used at night, I feel like this one is better suited for relaxation during the day because the relaxation is achieved through the feeling of groundedness and will not make you as sleepy as the lavender essential oil.
I was told a while ago by one of my mentors that churches burned frankincense and myrrh thousands of years ago to clean the air and protect those in attendance from potential pathogens in the crowded spaces of worship, but another very important effect of burning frankincense and myrrh resin is that it relaxed the crowd and put them into a state that was ideal for spiritual activities like prayer and meditation.
I typically wear a blend of frankincense and myrrh oil in a carrier oil (like jojoba oil) because I feel it is a beautiful scent to wear, but it also helps me to stay grounded and therefore relaxed.
I have used and loved Young Living Frankincense and can get some for you if you wish (contact me), but if that is a bit pricy or you want to try a nice item that is already blended, I also recommend this frankincense and myrrh roll-on.
I have been using this roll-on for over 5 years with fantastic results.
(I met the owner of Mystic Wonders, Inc, Fern Gunderson, at a health fair in Chicago over 10 years ago and have tried and highly recommend many of her products.)
This one is not usually on lists for relaxing oils, but I want to return to the idea of relaxation through achieving a sense of feeling grounded.
I have a personal experience with neroli that was really one of the first and most powerful experiences I have ever had with essential oils.
One month after my father died, after watching him waste away in a hospital for a year with operation after operation sapping more and more life from him, and while also working 20 hours a week and with a full college course load, I was a puddle of stress and sadness and just totally strung out.
I had a friend who was a healer and into essential oils and one day she and I were chatting and she could tell I was in a really distraught state.
She had just purchased a bottle of Neroli oil and she had it with her when we met, so she told me to put my hand out and she placed a drop of it in my hand.
I rubbed my palms together and brought my hands to my face and took a deep inhale.
In an instant, I felt my previously strung-out and stressed-out self melt into where I was sitting.
It was like all of this tension that had been propping me up and keeping me running for months in the midst of horribly sad and tenuous conditions just let go and I could just sit there for the first time in months with a sense of inner stillness.
I started to cry in a way that also helped me to release the tension I had been feeling.
I had already been crying for months due to my father’s deteriorating health, but this time it was a cry originating from my body to give expression to emotions that I had been carrying and holdling throughout my body for many months.
It was a cry of release and relief for the first time in a long time.
If you have ever experienced this you know what I am talking about.
That HUGE a state change, on all levels of my body, mind, and spirit, was necessary and a month after my dad’s funeral, my body was capable of being affected by the neroli oil in that way.
It was a permanant state change that initiated the beginning of a long self-healing emotional process from the loss of my father.
It started a new chapter in healing myself after the trauma of losing my father.
In relation to relaxation and the subject of this article, I consider neroli to be THE most powerful for relaxation, self-nurturing and nourishing to body, mind, and soul.
Maybe it is just because of my own profound experiences with the oil that I regard it so highly, but there is a reason neroli was a pricy oil long before essential oils became popular with the general population (unlike frankincense, which used to be reasonably priced but really has become prohibitive for many people due to price and now must be researched to make sure the manufacturer is harvesting it ethically).
I would say Neroli is best used after a day of high stress.
Wearing it in the midst of stress might not be good because it relaxes in a sedative way and so that might not be good in moments when high focus and energy are required, like for a nurse working in an emergency room.
But at the end of the day, I would say that this is the oil I would want to come home to to shake off a day (or week or year) that has taken way to much of my core energy.
Again, I would recommend Young Living Neroli. Very high-quality stuff that I have personally used. I cannot speak for other brands.
How to Use Essential Oils to Relax
The easiest way to use essential oils is to just open the bottle and take a few deep inhales (usually for about a minute) whenever you feel you need it.
I do this with lavender before I go to sleep at night and it leaves me feeling very nice and drowsy and I fall to sleep with great ease.
If you wish to go deeper with the use of these essential oils to relax by using them topically, you can add a few drops of the essential oil to an oil or lotion that you already have (preferably unscented) and rub a little bit on your hands or around your neck and upper chest so that you can smell it a bit as you move through your day or before you go to sleep.
Here is a good page about the ratios for diluting essential oils into carrier oils.
You can use that same oil-blend to massage your hands and feet (as I mentioned in Part 1 of this series on How To Relax), and that will double the effects of the massage because you are using the sense of both touch and smell to access a more relaxing state.
Finally, if you have an essential oil diffuser you can use that to help you relax, too. Just make sure that the people around you are cool with that and that the oils you select are not harmful to pets.
The associations we build with scent are very personal, but there are some essential oils that have been tested to help with the relaxation of all systems of the body.
The ones mentioned in this article are just a few of my favorites, but there are a lot more out there including some really lovely blends like Young Living’s Peace and Calming.
But remember that you can also access what you already have in your house and that may help you, too.
Go through your spice cabinet and open the bottles if you don’t have any essential oils on hand.
It may be helpful for you to carry a bottle with a vanilla bean in it if that helps you feel a bit relaxed and centered so that you can smell it throughout the day, or a sachet that contains lavender flowers.
And remember that you can use essential oils with the other techniques I highlight in this series on How to Relax to increase the beneficial impact of that technique.