Do you ever get a whiff of something that instantly brings you back to a memory? For better or worse, scent has a very strong connection to the brain in triggering memories and emotions.

Using essential oils is a way to activate this natural response to elicit desired emotions – usually more calm, peaceful, or energized feelings.

These days, everything feels a bit heightened. We’re months into the “unprecedented times”, and with that comes more anxiety for lots of people. Of course, people experienced anxiety even before the pandemic, and will continue to when it is over. Something that has helped with these feelings is essential oils. Smelling specific scents can trigger a response in the brain and body to relax the muscles and nervous system, which promotes feelings of calm.

I remember first being introduced to the essential oil game several years ago. I worked in a small alternative school as a counselor, and we bought a couple of those little diffusers and a few small containers of various oils to help our students get through the day. Of course, people have been using oils and aromatherapy for centuries, with a boom in the 70s and 80s, and now they are everywhere! It seems every shop I go into I can find those little amber bottles of essential oils. They are most commonly used in diffusers (which if nothing else can make a room smell nice without having to light a candle) and as roll-ons (helpful if put on wrists, temples, or behind the ears for a number of ailments). Here I will list a few of the more popular oils and what they can be most helpful for. The focus is anxiety, but they can be used for so many things!

Lavender – probably the most popular scent for managing anxiety, it promotes relaxation and a sense of calm. It is also helpful for bedtime!
Bergamot – a little bit citrusy, looks like a lime, but has a unique scent, this oil can boost mood in addition to relieving anxiety.
Chamomile – another popular one, often found in tea, has relaxing properties.
Ylang-ylang – one of my personal favorites, it is a bit more of a floral scent, and also promotes relaxation. Back in the alternative school, we’d often mix this with bergamot to boost the effect, and it smelled lovely.
Orange – depending on the cause of anxiety, this could be a nice one to add to the rotation, as it is a mood lifter and can increase energy. One day we put orange essential oils in the diffuser and several students randomly shared they were more awake than normal.
– one I have not gotten my hands on still, is a bit smokier, and can help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.

Many major essential oil companies also sell blends for specific emotions, and often contain some combination of these oils, and may even include others. There are so many options out there it can feel overwhelming. If you haven’t gotten on the essential oil train but are curious, try a pre-made blend, or pick one or two oils to try on their own!