To stay cool, calm, and collected during the Covid-19 pandemic, people are turning to all sorts of self-care practices. Between heart chakra-opening yoga flows and playing online games with friends, sometimes the most impactful ways to reduce stress are the simplest. And so, we should not forget about the power of smelling essential oils for stress relief so that you get a dose of mood-boosting aromatherapy.
“The scents that essential oils offer can have a profound effect on our overall health,” says Amy Galper, aromatherapist and co-founder of the New York Institute for Aromatic Studies. “Our sense of smell is an integral part of how we maintain balance and well-being, and by exercising this sense, like by smelling essential oils daily, we can open our minds and our hearts to living more mindfully.” Personally, even though I’m a fan of essential oils, I’ve never been an avid user—I simply enjoy the fragrance whenever it’s around me, but I had never turned to them for their purported “mood-adjacent” properties.
There’s science behind aromatherapy from essential oils, though. Galper explains that when we smell something, the aromatic molecule triggers a neurological response that helps to bring calmer emotions and a more level head. According to her, research proves that this physiological response has a direct impact on our mood and stress levels.
“When we smell something that’s beautiful and calming, the signal that’s sent to our limbic brain is one of ease, safety, and comfort.” —Amy Galper
So many different essential oils exist, each of which have their own unique emotional property (from helping you wind down before bed to pepping you up in the morning). At a time like now, when everything’s in flux and we don’t know when life will return to normal, these small boosts can make a big difference. “When we smell something that’s beautiful and calming, the signal that’s sent to our limbic brain is one of ease, safety, and comfort,” says Galper. “This triggers the cells in our brain to produce ‘relaxing’ hormones that are released throughout the body.” Keep scrolling for the essential oils that’ll quash your stress and calm you down—simply sniff them directly, put a few drops in your diffuser, or dab them onto pulse points after mixing with a carrier oil. They’ll make you into an essential oils believer, trust me.
Essential oils for stress relief
1. Lavender: One of the essential oils Galper has by her side at all times right now is the floral lavender, which is known to be a calming MVP. “The aroma profile of lavender is floral, fresh, light, grassy, and it relieves tension brought on by emotional stress,” she says. It’s ultra-soothing and gives you a sense of relaxation when you smell it.
2. Helichrysum: Another relaxing floral is this one, which Galper likes to use for emotional balance and grounding effects. “It has an after-scent of vanilla or amber, and it’s earthy and herbaceous,” she says, adding that it has “self-reflective and heart-centering properties.”
3. Frankincense: Earthy frankincense is a purifying essential oil that Galper says is clearing and aids in meditation. It has a pine-like scent and can help to clear your mood.
4. Pinon pine: “The aromatic profile of this tree-derived oil is citrus-like and green, and it has soul-connecting, purifying, clearing properties,” says Galper. Upon sniffing it, it can transform you to the outdoors.
5. Yarrow: Flowering plant yarrow has an essential oil that’s subtly fruity and herbaceous, says Galper, who turns to it for sedative, deeply calming effects. “It is really soothing to stress from emotional outbursts, and stress that affects us physically,” she says.
6. Eucalyptus: The strong scent of eucalyptus, which is medicinal and minty, has mind-clearing benefits, according to Galper. “It strengthens our inner resiliency and purifies the mood,” she says.
7. Rosemary: Galper loves herby rosemary essential oil, which is similar to eucalyptus, to balance the mind. “It helps to focus thoughts and improve concentration,” she says.
8. Sandalwood: The gorgeous scent of sandalwood essential oil, which has woody, soft but bold notes, is also great for stress relief. “Sandalwood is cooling, centering, and grounding, and gives powerful stress relief,” says Galper.