Can Aromatherapy Really Help Reduce Stress?

On any given day, there are a million different reasons you may be feeling stressed. Some days may even be just downright overwhelming. Often times, people turn to unhealthy vices to help ease their stress, like drinking a little too much wine or chain-smoking cigarettes, to name a few. 

However, in addition to traditional treatment and medication options, there also exists a slew of alternative, non-invasive options such as yoga, meditation, mindful breathing, and aromatherapy. By now, if you've ever stepped foot in a T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, or HomeGoods, you've been greeted by those never-ending aisles of essential oils, diffusers, and candles — but are they actually effective in reducing stress?

Aromatherapy is a holistic healing treatment which uses natural plant extracts, typically essential oils, for therapeutic purposes (via Healthline). Ancient cultures have been utilizing aromatherapy for thousands of years, but it is starting to gain more and more traction in the Western world as a form of alternative therapy. 

While aromatherapy is no substitute for traditional medicines and therapy, with relatively few side effects (if any), many people have found some relief from their symptoms.

Research on aromatherapy and stress relief

There are several studies that have evaluated the efficacy of aromatherapy, with more being conducted currently. Some of the perceived health benefits of aromatherapy include reduction of stress, anxiety, and depression, improved quality of sleep, boosting feelings of relaxation, pain relief, alleviation of chemotherapy side effects, improved hospice care, and many more (via WebMD).

One 2017 randomized control trial sought to evaluate the effects of aromatherapy essential oil inhalation on stress, sleep quality, and immunity (via European Journal of Integrative Medicine). It found that the group of patients who received aromatherapy had significantly lower perceived stress levels and depression, as well as significantly higher sleep quality.

A recent systematic review on the effect of aromatherapy on postpartum women found an improvement in psychological and physiological health, with reduction in pain, distress, anxiety, and fatigue (via The Journal of Nursing Research).

While there still needs to be more studies, the research done thus far demonstrates that aromatherapy, when used properly, can indeed help reduce stress — or at least, our perception of stress.

The art of aromatherapy

Looking to try aromatherapy but unsure how or where to start? The good news is that aromatherapy can be practiced several different ways, making it convenient and even hassle-free, for even the busiest of people.

Lighting candles containing essential oils is perhaps one of the simplest ways to fill a room with a delicious and relaxing scent (via Verywell Mind). The same can be achieved through the use of a diffuser, in which a few drops of essential oils are added and evaporated into the air. There are tons of different essential oils. Some of the most common varieties which are beneficial for reducing stress include lavender, bergamot, lemongrass, and frankincense essential oils (via Verywell Mind). 

It is very important to remember that essential oils are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. The best thing to do is to check the ingredients list and make sure the product you are purchasing is 100 percent natural essential oil, without any additives or synthetic ingredients.

Another way to achieve the benefits of aromatherapy is through massage. In this case, either a single or combination of essential oils is combined with a carrier oil and massaged into the skin. This can be performed by a licensed massage therapist, aromatherapist, or if possible, by even yourself.

Aromatherapy is generally safe, but you should always consult with your medical provider first. Some essential oils, when applied to the skin or inhaled inappropriately, may cause irritation, rash, or even allergic reactions. So the next time you're having a tough day, light a candle or start your diffuser and it's possible you'll be feeling more calm and relaxed in no time.