Guest post: Breathing Your Way to Tranquility
Updated: Mar 11
We live in a stressful world. So much so that some three million people in the UK and 40 million people in the United States suffer from some form of anxiety disorder. The global tally is proportionally higher and people living in affluent nations seem to experience anxiety more frequently than others. Anxiety is also a risk factor for insomnia, which affects a similar portion of the population. The fact that these two disorders often exist in a destructive cycle, with each both causing and exacerbating the other, is deeply concerning to both health practitioners and patients alike.
Drugs are routinely prescribed to treat anxiety and insomnia. Many of these drugs fall into the category of benzodiazepines; you may be familiar with such brands as Xanax, Valium, and Atavin. Sadly, the potential for benzodiazepine misuse and abuse is high and many people become unintentionally addicted to these medicines.
While traditional medicine has largely focused on prescription and psychotherapeutic intervention in treating anxiety and insomnia, alternative medicine has uncovered a variety of natural treatments that can also be effective in relieving the symptoms of these disorders. Meditation is one of the best-known of these techniques. But recently, the use of essential oils in the practice of aromatherapy has also emerged as a promising mode of treatment.
Our sense of smell is deeply connected to memory. Many of us would recognise in a heartbeat the perfumes our mothers dabbed on their wrists. For some, the familiar scent of a favourite family recipe brings a sense of comfort and well-being. But beyond these personal scent triggers, science is investigating the power of some essential oils, including bergamot, chamomile, and lavender, to quickly soothe symptoms of anxiety and insomnia among a wider population. Studies have also suggested that vanilla, jasmine, and sandalwood may have sedative effects. Since the experience of scent is so personal, you may need to experiment with several oils to find the most effective one for you.
There are thousands of essential oil products on the market today. The best essential oil brands are rigorously tested for purity and give consumers access to those test results. Reputable manufacturers also provide detailed instructions on how to use the oils; since essential oils are so concentrated, they must be properly diluted in carrier oils before they’re applied to the skin. Allergic reactions are not uncommon and most manufacturers recommend applying oils on a test patch of skin before you use them on a large section of your body.
In addition to topical application, inhalation of essential oils through a portable nasal diffuser is another powerful (and convenient) means of using essential oils to treat anxiety. Psychotherapists often use the technique of “grounding”—reorienting people to the here-and-now through sensory experience—to quickly alleviate acute symptoms of anxiety. Nasal diffusers provide the immediacy that makes grounding more effective.
While most of us are inclined to trust essential oils because they’re extracted from plant material, not all oils are extracted the same way. Look for oils that are extracted through mechanical pressing or water distillation, rather than through the use of chemical solvents. We recommend you only use oils that are sustainably sourced from organic plants. The best brands provide detailed information on their sourcing methods.
Research tells us that becoming an active participant in our own health care is a positive step towards healing. So give yourself credit for being curious enough to investigate new methods of self-care. In and of itself, that’s a great way to boost your resilience and start feeling better.