Can Essential Oils Be Used to Treat Anxiety?
The following fall into the category of “emergencies” for which I might tap the trusty Xanax stash I’ve kept in my medicine cabinet for decades: turbulence at 40,000 feet, a heated dustup with a loved one or co-worker, insomnia, “monkey mind” triggered by deadline stress.
I consider myself a hyperproductive product of an unstable childhood that has never quite left my consciousness, which means that I can be happily trucking along through life and—bam!—suddenly get sideswiped by the same torrent of anxiety and uncertainty I felt as a kid. The recent news cycle doesn’t exactly help matters.
My new general practitioner in St. Petersburg, Florida, is not amused by my current coping mechanism of trusty chill pills. After all, Xanax is an addictive Schedule IV prescription drug. “What do you even need it for?” she asked during my last annual physical. “Call me when you’re down to your last pill, and we’ll decide what to do.”
Chances are a lot of patients are hearing something similar from their doctors. Though the opioid epidemic in the U.S. has reached crisis levels, an uptick in the use of Xanax and other benzodiazepines is also sounding alarms in the medical community. According to the American Psychiatric Association, the number of adults filling a “benzo” prescription jumped from 8.1 million to 13.5 million between 1996 and 2013. Additionally, the APA says, one of the sharpest increases has been in the age group I fall into, 44 to 65 years old.
Though the opioid epidemic in the U.S. has reached crisis levels, an uptick in the use of Xanax and other benzodiazepines is also sounding alarms in the medical community.
Fortunately, because my anxiety is situational rather than chronic, I’m a better candidate for alternative wellness remedies than someone who needs daily pharmaceuticals to function, and one of the most common alternatives is essential oils. Their use can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians, but it wasn’t until the rise of ayurvedic medicine, in India circa 900 BC, that they started gaining traction as a treatment modality. (Among the oils most commonly used in
Fast-forward to 2017, and between society’s mounting obsession with holistic wellness and the rise of mammoth direct-sales essential oil brands, the world is suddenly awash in aromatic plant-based elixirs.
All of which is why I finally decide to accept an invitation from my neighbor for a get-together with Jennifer Gilman, who sells do?TERRA essential oils, at her home. For months I’ve been hearing stories of personal triumph made possible by remedies that Gilman, a certified aromatherapist, has helped clients whip up. Better sleep! Fewer colds! Calmer kids!
Before I know it I’m mixing lavender with a doTERRA blend called Balance into a Barbie-size bottle labeled “Calm,” which I rub all over my wrists and forearms at night, inhaling it deeply before going to bed.
I start spraying another mix that features peppermint oil onto my forearms for focus, which comes in handy when I feel my tennis serve going south. And I keep a cache of “Freakout formulas” on my desk from Uma, ArtNaturals, and H. Gillerman Organics, which I inhale at the first sign of stress or tension.
FOR SLEEP Uma Wellness Oil Pure Rest
TO CALM Art Naturals Signature Serene
TO DESTRESS H. Gillerman Organics Stress Remedy
The last one was created by Hope Gillerman, a certified aromatherapist who has seen essential oils benefit clients suffering from asthma, migraines, sleep problems, and sinus issues. She is careful to point out that oils work best in conjunction with mindfulness and meditation practices, and that no one should swap a prescription medication for oils without speaking to her doctor first.
“Essential oils should be recommended only for mild anxiety or depression,” she says. And even for that purpose, there is a dearth of supporting data: “The aromatherapy community is hoping for more psychopharmacologists to publish peer-reviewed papers on essential oils for anxiety and depression.”
I feel the effects almost immediately and I’m sleeping like a lushly scented rock.
Though I’m inconsistent in my wrist-dabbing of the oils, I do feel the effects almost immediately, and I’m sleeping like a lushly scented rock. But it’s not until I make it through an extremely taxing 12-week stretch that includes a major cardiac event (for my husband) and a category 5 hurricane (for all of Florida) with almost no Xanax that I start to really believe in the oils’ effects. So much so that I lug a hardshell case of them on vacation and proceed to inhale my way through French-speaking Canada.
Anxiety expert David Carbonell would call my oils a “safety object”: a physical item we start to believe we can’t live without. He thinks people should gradually face their fears through exposure therapy, because, he says, as long as you’re using a safety object, “you never really get free.” But boy can it reel you in off the ledge, particularly in “acute-onset situations,” says Julie Elliott, the founder of In Fiore, the cult botanical skincare brand.
TO FOCUS Saje Natural Wellness Brainstorm Invigorating Blend
TO DECONGEST 21 Drops 15 Decongest Essential Oil Roller Ball
TO DIFFUSE Vitruvi Porcelain Essential Oil Diffuser
In her book on the subject, Essential Oils Every Day, Gillerman describes the way oils affect the brain. Inhaled micro-particles zip through the breathing pathways and land at something called the olfactory bulb, which sends messages to the limbic system, which is related to our emotions and memories.
“In this way,” she writes, “inhaling essential oils can quickly affect your mood, sleep, mental acuity, and even level of pain.”
That’s a pro’s take on something that, to me at least, is much more primal. Essential oils have given me a way to calm myself in an increasingly chaotic world, which is more than enough to make me a convert.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY DON PENNY
This story appears in the February 2018 issue of Town & Country.
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.