Anxiety, insomnia and sadness? Try essential oils… so you may often hear and read. There are some people who have adopted the natural lifestyle and made it their own, also relying on essential oils, and some people who are wary, wondering how can something that is only smelled have benefits on mood? A review published recently in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences answered this question, demonstrating how essential oils stimulate good mood and relaxation through very fascinating mechanisms involving breathing and smell (Fung et al, IJMS, 2021).
Essential oils that improve mood
Essential oils capture the essence and properties of the plant from which they are extracted. Therefore, different essential oils also have different effects. Not every essential oil therefore acts on mood. What are the essential oils that are most beneficial in case of anxiety and insomnia, based on scientific studies? Researchers agree that lavender oil has proven anxiolytic and calming properties, counteracts depression and reduces stress. Not only that, inhaling lavender oil counteracts depressions but also the sense of fatigue and apathy that can accompany them, by increasing daily activity. Among citrus fruits, the essential oil of bergamot is very interesting, which reduces stress and makes the body more resistant. Confirmation of this is given by the scientifically observed reduction in the levels of salivary cortisol, the stress hormone, following inhalation of bergamot oil. Sweet orange oil is also anxiolytic and relaxing. Chamomile oil is antidepressant and anti-stress. Even mixing essential oils can be an interesting choice since in this way it is possible to exploit the synergy of the essences. For example, lavender, ylang ylang and neroli are an excellent blend with an anxiolytic action.
The mechanism behind the benefits
The different active ingredients contained in essential oils allow you to have the benefits on anxiety, depression and insomnia just seen. In particular, sweet orange and lavender act on the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal axis by reducing the levels of cortisol in the blood. Not only that, thanks to their content in linalool, they are able to interact with the release of GABA, increasing the levels of this neurotransmitter, which has the function of reducing the effects of anxiety and stress. The benzyl benzoate of ylang ylang acts at the level of serotonergic neurons, that is, those neurons responsible for the synthesis of serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter also called the good mood hormone. The essential oils obtained from citrus fruits also show another noteworthy action. In particular, these essences stimulate neurogenesis thus counteracting depression. In fact, as has emerged from studies carried out in recent years, depression is connected to a reduction in brain neurogenesis. The actions we have just seen occur because essential oils affect brain functioning. According to studies, this occurs through two paths, one is activated by stimulation by the essence of the smell receptors, with an effect that thus reaches the brain through the olfactory nerve. The other path, on the other hand, is represented by the absorption of the molecules of essential oils at the alveolar level following the breathing of the essence. The molecules in this way enter the bloodstream and reach the brain.
How to use essential oils
So, as we have seen, some essential oils have a proven anxiolytic and antidepressant action. You can then take advantage of these benefits by adding 5 drops of essential oil, chosen from those shown, in an oil burner lamp. Alternatively, you can also pour a drop on a handkerchief and smell as needed or place it next to your pillow when you go to sleep. As we have seen, the different essential oils, being characterized by different active ingredients, also have different mechanisms of action and different properties. It can therefore be useful to vary the essential oils or use blends, such as the proposed blend of lavender, ylang ylang and neroli.