There’s no doubt that essential oils smell incredible — but don’t discount them just as pretty bottles laying around spa rooms. In fact, depending on the oil at hand, they can help to relieve a variety of symptoms, including nausea, stress and even pain management. Most importantly, though, doctors and naturopaths have been using essential oils for decades to partially treat anxiety.

A recent study found that of 20 patients who inhaled lavender oil, for example, all later reported feeling more relaxed; researchers also found that the oil caused significant decreases in blood pressure, heart rate and skin temperature. While further research is needed to substantiate this link, researchers also used EEG graphs to measure electrode levels to determine that the benefits weren’t psychological alone.

“Essential oils work through the olfactory system upon inhalation and target the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain,” says holistic wellness practitioner Valerie Oud, Director of Vibrational Healing at THE WELL. Oud adds that treatment providers have used oils to target symptoms related to stress, anxiety and sleep issues, like insomnia, as well as inflammation.

While oils have been used in holistic treatments, they are not a cure-all — and it’s hard to find science to back up most claims on their benefits. A lack of conclusive data is likely why essential oils aren’t regulated by the FDA. More often than not, you’ll need to work with an expert to source and pinpoint the best oils for your needs, after you’ve discussed essential oil use with your primary care provider.

“The last thing you want to do is buy an essential oil that you later find has been laced with artificial coloring or flavorings,” says physician Ruvini Wijetilaka, M.D., an internal medicine specialist with Parsley Health. “You’ll want to make sure that you can clearly read the ingredient list — the Latin name of the oil should be on there, and it should be free of any chemicals or synthetics.”

If you’ve pinpointed a sensitivity to essential oils with your doctor, most experts recommend diluting the oils every time you use them in order to reap the benefits without leading to irritation. To dilute an essential oil, mix it with a few drops of almond oil (or jojoba oil) — about three drops of carrier oil to every drop of essential oil. You can add this mixture to a diffuser of your choice.

Editor’s Note: Essential oils are known to be irritating to some individuals due to their highly concentrated nature and have the potential to trigger severe skin irritation, burn, or reaction, amid other immune responses. They may cause respiratory issues if inhaled without a diluter, and commonly, the oil itself could cause rashes on the skin. Oil use in proximity to pets and young children isn’t recommended, since it could easily aggravate sensitive skin and respiratory airways.

Anxiety and anxious feelings can’t always be resolved on your own. It’s crucial that you seek out a professional treatment option if anxious feelings have made it impossible to carry out your day — a therapist or licensed mental healthcare provider can help you resolve any symptoms.

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