Aromatherapy and Anxiety

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Dr. Randi Fredricks, Ph.D. is a therapist, researcher and author with a Ph.D. in Psychology and a Doctorate in Naturopathy. Dr. Fredricks works ...Read More

Some people who seek help for anxiety are looking for alternatives to medication. The good news is there are numerous natural remedies for anxiety, all of which can add to the efficacy of traditional psychotherapy. Aromatherapy is one popular remedy that has some research to back it up.

Aromatherapy is a branch of herbal medicine that uses the essential oils found in plants for their healing or medicinal properties. Although its name suggests that it is primarily a form of aroma or smell therapy, the essential oils are, in fact, intended mainly to be absorbed into the body via the skin, through massage, the lungs, and through inhalation. Aromatherapy is widely used to reduce stress, rejuvenate and detoxify the body, and to treat specific conditions.



Aromatherapy is believed to rejuvenate both the mind and the body. One of the first reported uses of essential oils was among the Egyptians, who used them in massage and bathing. In medieval times, essential oils were used to fight the plague. In the 1930s, aromatherapy became a specialized branch of herbal medicine.

A visit to a professional aromatherapist could last as long as an hour and a half and usually begins with an interview. After the aromatherapist gains an understanding of the patient’s concerns and needs, the therapist will select a blend of oils and mix them in a neutral carrier, usually a vegetable oil. The patient then undresses and lies on a massage table covered by a towel, the therapist begins the massage. The massage may usually lasts about an hour is usually gentle and relaxing. For maximum results, the patient may be advised not to shower for a few hours.

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The use of aromatherapy essential oils in conjunction with psychotherapy has been well documented. In a number of trials, aromatherapy has alleviated anxiety and stress. Placebo-controlled research with 52 subjects tested the use of lavender, ylangylang, and bergamot essentials oils used once a day for 30 days. The study, performed at the Geochang Provincial College in Korea, evaluated the benefits of aromatherapy for the treatment of anxiety. At the 4-week mark, anxiety, blood pressure, stress levels, anxiety, and cortisol levels among the aromatherapy group were significantly lower.

A trial at the Institute of Psychiatry in London studied 288 cancer patients referred to complementary therapy services with clinical anxiety and/or depression. Participants were randomly assigned to either aromatherapy massage or only support. Six weeks later, the patients who had aromatherapy massage reported reduced anxiety and depressive symptoms compared to the control group. At the 10-week mark, the results were the same, causing the researchers to recommend aromatherapy massage to reduce anxiety and depression.

There are several things to be concerned about when using aromatherapy for anxiety, in addition to the purity of the essential oils themselves. Some oils should not be applied directly to the skin in full strength. Some people may have a skin reaction when certain oils are applied. More serious complications can occur with some oil when they are taken internally. However, many oils have substantial medical value. For example, oregano oil has been used to kill bacteria, fungus, and viruses. Whether taken topically or internally, it is always a good idea to get advice from a professional, such as an herbalist.

Are you experiencing anxiety symptoms? Take our generalized anxiety disorder test.

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