How to Use Oils with Anxiety

If you're alive and breathing, odds are you've come up against anxiety in one form or another. Charlie Brown and The Peanuts may have been on to something... unfortunately, "My anxieties have anxieties."

Since you're reading this, you're most likely interested in using more natural remedies for anxiety. Essential oils can definitely help! Oils alone won't solve the underlying issues of anxiety, but they can be helpful tools. Some essential oils have anxiolytic properties (latin for helps reduces anxiety!) and can be used through scent memory to help us change anxious thought patterns!

Some Groundwork

I’m about to preach for a little bit here, but to use essential oils effectively against anxiety, I need to lay down the groundwork so to speak… so here we go;)

At Verdant, we believe essential oils are tools God created that can help us. They are not magical potions to cure all ills. Properties in some essential oils can be very useful and effective to help heal and balance our emotions, areas in our brains and our bodies.

Like with any problem, you have to find and address the root cause. Your mind and thoughts have physiological effects in your body. For example, when you have anxious thoughts, your body responds with physical symptoms like nausea, headaches, rapid heart rate or loss of sleep. If you only ever treat these symptoms, the cause is still there. To break up anxiety’s patterns and change anxious thinking, we have to go to the truth and change our anxious thoughts. What’s the truth? What God says about us. That’s step 1! 

If we don’t first address the cause of our anxiety, whether that’s an unhealthy mindset, thought or behavioral pattern, that anxiety is still there... and it will keep growing back. Using only oils for anxiety without addressing the root is a band aid approach that might help with symptoms but won’t solve the underlying issues. 

Essential oils can come in next! Certain essential oils have anti-anxiety benefits. We use these properties to help calm and relax our minds and at the same time reinforce our new pattern of thinking through something called scent memory!

oil in glass with cap off

What is Scent Memory?

In a nutshell, scent memory happens when your body stores memorized responses to scents and through a stimulus can cue our brains to recall good memories and release the hormones connected with them. Scents are linked to memories and we can use a scent to bring up an emotion tied to that memory. Think of a scent that reminds you of home or a childhood memory: fresh baked chocolate chip cookies, crayons or the shampoo your mom always liked to use. If it was a scent linked to a good memory, you recalled and felt the emotions and feelings tied to that memory too.

Scents are linked to memories and emotions

How does it work?

Scent memory is closely connected to the limbic system. It’s a key player because it is involved with functions like emotions, behavior, memory and more. Our limbic systems are also the processing center for olfactory function (how the body and brain interprets and responds to scents) and regulates the endocrine and nervous system (which controls hormone release which in turn affects our stress levels and mood).

Scents affect mood, emotions, and stress both physiologically (creating physical responses in the body through the limbic system) and by triggering memories.

Many essential oils affect the limbic system through certain properties found naturally in the oil’s parent plant. For our purposes, we’re focusing on oils with anxiolytic (anxiety reducing) properties so we can create new scent memories with those oils to help our body reduce anxiety!


How do we use Scent Memory?

This is the fun part… you get to pick and choose what oils smell the best to you! Start with 2-3 “anti-anxiety” essential oils and make a scent combo you love!

For the first 2-3 weeks ONLY use this blend when you are feeling calm, relaxed… not anxious. Use it when you’re doing something you love, something that always relaxes you or makes you happy… and it can be anything! Going on a walk, having that first sip of coffee or reading your favorite book… everybody is unique!

What you are doing is creating a new scent memory - you’re linking that specific scent with calm, relaxed, happy emotions. The longer you can do this stage, the better and stronger your scent memory will be!

Oils that reduce Anxiety:

Balsam Fir, Basil, Bergamot, Blue Tansy, Carrot Seed, Cedarwood, Clary Sage, Copaiba, Coriander, Fennel, Frankincense, German Chamomile, Lavender, Lemon Verbena, Lime, Marjoram, Melissa, Neroli, Nutmeg, Orange, Palmarosa, Palo Santo, Petitgrain, Pine, Ravensara, Roman Chamomile, Spearmint, Black Spruce, Tangerine, Turmeric, Vetiver, Ylang Ylang

For example: Lavender, Orange and Cedarwood

(P.S. this combo is safe to use if you’re pregnant;)

oil diffuser

Now that your blend is tied to a good scent memory, it’s time to put it to use! You may have noticed it already working - that first whiff of your blend makes you think of what relaxes you, what you love to do and you start feeling relaxed or happy.

When you start feeling anxious, or recognize you’re starting that spiral of anxious thoughts, grab your blend and take a few deep breaths. It should bring up some happy memories ;) as well as work physiologically to calm and balance your mood!


PRO TIP: it’s a good idea to keep reinforcing your good scent memory by continuing to inhale/diffuse your blend while doing your happy/relaxing activity ;)

We listed a few resources about scent memory and essential oils below if you’re interested. Let us know if you've got any questions or need some more pointers - our certified aromatherapists would love to help!

Olfactory Context Dependent Memory: Direct presentation of Odorants

This study shows how any odor (good or bad) used directly or abiantly (just in the room) will help stimulate memory/recall.

Odor cues during slow-wave sleep

This study focuses on how odors help enforce memory consolidation in sleep when re-exposed. Basically, the same odor introduced during sleep that was used with a specific memory reinforces that memory and makes it easier to be recalled.

The Balance Within: The Science Connecting Health and Emotions