Many people today are coping with depression, globally more than 300 million people are affected [1]. Other mental issues people suffer from are general anxiety, panic disorders or phobias. Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental disorders and are associated with immense health care costs and a high burden of disease. According to large population-based surveys, up to 33.7% of the population are affected by an anxiety disorder during their lifetime [2]. Needless to say, there is a pressing need to for better remedies. Aromatherapy can be a powerful support to reduce both anxiety and depression, in addition to psychological support, and sometimes dietary supplements.

Causes and Remedies

Depression and anxiety can have a variety of causes, such as unresolved trauma or challenging life circumstances. It can however also have its roots in the physical condition. For example hypoglycemia, allergies, or a disturbances in the gut bacteria. Or, a disturbance in neurotransmitters like serotonine, dopamine or GABA, as a result of chronic stress [3]. In some situations it could therefore very well be that, in addition to psychological support, supplements can be the quickest route to improved wellbeing. Additionally, there are many herbs in Western and traditional Chinese medicine that have been proven to be very efficient remedies. I have written before how and why scents have an effect on the psyche, and now I want to highlight which essential oils stand out for the treatment of anxiety, and how they can be applied.

Six Oils That Help When Feeling Anxious

Below are 6 essential oils that can help with anxiety and some of the existing clinical research around their efficacy, specifically on anxiety and depression.

Bergamot (Citrus bergamia)
Bergamot is a citrus oil and could very well be a hybrid between bitter orange and lemon. It is cultivated almost exclusively in a narrow coastal strip in the Southern part of Calabria, Italy. The essential oil is expressed from the peel of the fruit. It has a green, fruity and citrus-like odour. Bergamot essential oil is cited to be analgesic, anti-depressant, antimicrobial, antiseptic, sedative, amongst other actions. It has been clinically proven to work as an anxiolytic. For example, a study with 109 patients found that Bergamot was effective in reducing preoperative anxiety [4]. Anecdotally, Bergamot is known as an emotional stabiliser, reducing anxiety, negative thinking and depression. [5]

Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens)
The Pelargonium species are native to South Africa and were introduced to Europe as early as 1600. Geranium oil is steam distilled from the leaves and branches. Generally it has a sweet, herbaceous odour. Geranium essential oil is clinically proven to be analgesic, anti-depressant, antimicrobial and anxiolytic. Studies have confirmed that inhalation of geranium essential oil is very effective in reducing anxiety [6]. Anecdotally, it is said to induce a feeling of calm strength and security, and works on both chronic and acute anxiety [5].

Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia and others)
Lavender is a native of the Mediterranean region but has about 30 species growing around the world. It is steam distilled from the flowering tops and stalks of the lavender plant. The characteristics vary by species but its generally fresh, floral, herbaceous and sweet. The anxiolytic properties of Lavender are well known. For example, a Japanese team found that Lavendula angustifolia can either reduce stress or activate the central nervous system, depending on the state of the recipient [7]. It has been found to suppress the breakdown of tryptophan, the precursor of serotonine, a neurotransmitter also dubbed the happiness hormone, in human blood cells [8]. Lavender is also cited to be analgesic, anticonvulsive, antidpressant, antispasmodic, nervine, restorative, amongst other actions. [5]

Neroli (Citrus x aurantium)

Neroli is produced in the south of France, Italy, Tunesia, Morocco, Haiti, Guinea, Comoro Islands and Algeria. It is steam distilled from the flowers of the bitter or sweet orange tree. It has a very delicate floral top note and is considered to be one of the most effective sedative and antidepressant remedies in aromatherapy. It has proven to reduce stress and blood pressure, and an increase in libido, in menopausal women [9]. In an in vivo study inhalation of neroli was confirmed to have a similar anxiolytic effect to the anxiolytic drug Xanax [10]. Neroli is also cited to be a nervous relaxant, neurocardiac relaxant, anxiolytic, antidepressant, dermal anti-inflammatory, amongst other actions [5].

Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanoides)
Vetiver is steam distilled from the roots of this a tall, perennial grass. It is native to northern India. Its smell is sweet, woody and earthy. An in vivo study using rats confirmed  that the inhalation of Vetiver oil exhibited anxiolytic-like activity [11]. Other then anxiolytic it is clinically supported to be anti-inflammatory, insecticidal, sedative and tonic. It is considered to be a powerful restorative for multiple body systems, and beneficial for insomnia and depression.

Sweet orange (Citrus sinensis)
Sweet orange essential oil is produced by cold pressing the peel of the orange fruit. Most oils originate from Israel, Brazil, North-America and Australia. It has a fresh citrus odour. The benefit of citrus oils, and especially sweet orange, is that almost everyone find this smell very appealing. It has been used in combination with lemon and bergamot as a support to patients reducing and ending their anti-depressant drug intake [12]. There is also a range of clinical studies supporting the benefits of this oil for patients suffering from anxiety, for example to reduce anxiety in a dental waiting room. Citrus oils in general are known to be uplifting and can be helpful to alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression.

Sources

1. Depression Fact Sheet, WHO

2. B. Bandelow et al. Epidemiology of anxiety disorders in the 21st century, 2015.

3. Rineke Dijkinga. Voeding, ons vergeten brein medicijn, lecture 17 November 2018.

4. NI CH et al.The anxiolytic effect of aromatherapy on patients awaiting ambulatory surgery; a randomised controlled trial, 2013.

5. S. Battaglia. The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy, 2018.

6. Anxiety reduction by aromatherapy; anxiolytic effects of inhalation of geranium and rosemary. Morris N. et al, 1995.

7. Takahashi et al. Effects of inhaled lavender essential oil on stress-loaded animals: changes in anxiety-related behavior and expression levels of selected mRNAs and proteins, 2012.

8. Gostner et al. Lavender oil suppresses indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase activity in human PBMC, 2014.

9. Choi SY et al. Effects of inhalation of essential oil Citrus aurantium L on menopausal symptoms, stress and oestrogen in post menopausal women: a randomised controlled trial, 2014.

10. Chen YJ et al. Inhalation of Neroli essential oil and its anxiolytic effects, 2008.

11. Saiyudthong S. et al. Anxiety like behaviour and c-fos expression in rats that inhaled essential oil, 2015.

12. Komori, T et al. Effects of Citrus fragrance on immune and depressive states, 1995.