Anxiety is a tricky thing — sometimes you can be living with it and not even realize. That is what happened with me. It was only after I experienced an extended period of constant panic that I sought out answers to questions that had been lingering for years: what was that burning in my chest? Why would I always get short of breath while out of the house? Why did I get so easily overwhelmed in crowded places or around loud noises? Why did just the thought of doing certain things give me intense dread?
My searching brought me to countless doctors: cardiologists, endocrinologists, neurologists, gynecologists, internal medicine specialists, and the emergency room (on more than one occasion). Even though tests came back normal, I was convinced I was experiencing everything from hypoglycemia to asthma and anything in between. It was only after many years and dozens of appointments later that a therapist cracked the code: I was suffering from intense anxiety.
Anxiety disorder is a mental health disorder that develops from genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events, or a combination of these. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting over 40 million adults each year.
Probably one of the most frustrating aspects of anxiety is that it can manifest in the form of countless symptoms and occur in virtually any situation. It doesn't care if you are trying to have a conversation with a new person, rushing to get to work on time, or attempting to get to sleep the night before a big day. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, common symptoms of anxiety can include restlessness, fatigue, stomach issues, shortness of breath, muscle tension, and irritability. When I was 15 experiencing my first anxiety attack, something so new to me, I was convinced I was suffering from a heart attack. Before I better understood anxiety, I didn't understand the mind/body connection and believed it was something that existed solely in my mind — how I was wrong.
From living with anxiety so long, I thankfully have been able to manage it by using different methods, including cognitive behavioral therapy, exercise, supplements, and meditation. However, one of the most integral parts of managing my anxiety has been aromatherapy.
Aromatherapy uses scents to stimulate certain parts of your brain that can influence physical, mental, and emotional responses. "If we look at inhalation of essential oils, aromatherapy works in a few ways," clinical aromatherapist and certified essential oil teacher Libby Vlasic explained to POPSUGAR. "A. the aroma signals the brain to react in certain ways. And B. by constituents being absorbed into the bloodstream. With A, effects are almost immediate in the form of an emotional response, recalling memories or feelings, and because of this can be of use in therapy, for example. With B, while not so fast as the first, actual molecules cross the blood brain barrier, and can trigger responses that affect mood, so think an invigorating feeling or a relaxing feeling, for example."
[Anxiety] doesn't care if you are trying to have a conversation with a new person, rushing to get to work on time, or attempting to get to sleep the night before a big day.
My first experience with aromatherapy was accidental and, funnily enough, through using a peppermint Chapstick. I noticed that whenever I would apply the balm, the scent made me feel both calm and alert, a nice change from my usual anxious, cloudy mind. I eventually began doing research on the connection between scent and emotion and discovered the world of aromatherapy. It wasn't long before I was incorporating aromatherapy into every facet of my life — from using bath salts infused with essential oils (Herbivore Botanicals' CALM Detox is amazing for this) to aromatherapeutic room mists (Captain Blankenship's New Moon and Etta + Billie's Geranium Patchouli sprays are perfect for use in the home).
What I love most about aromatherapy is its transformative power and how it can easily transport you back to a state of calm and relaxation. "Essential oils act as rapid transit to nature," CEO and cofounder of Saje Natural Wellness Kate Ross LeBlanc shares. "Whatever state my body and mind are in, whatever I'm feeling in that moment, I know I can rely on the ability of essential oils to adapt to what my body needs."
Through my interest in the subject, I learned that aromatherapy can be beneficial to many different ailments, anxiety included, due to its healing properties. "Essential oils are truly marvelous in that they can affect one's, mind, body and spirit," Libby adds. "Due to the complex chemical constituents in specific essential oils, they can be an incredible tool to quite literally help keep anxiety at bay, or at the very least help us deal with anxiety better. They have the ability to trigger reactions in our body, which can affect the autonomic nervous system, the system in the body responsible for our responses to stress and relaxation — powerful stuff! You may see it work as blood pressure lowering or feeling more relaxed." Grapefruit, bergamot, and clary sage are among the many essential oils that can help anxiety. Either worn topically or used via a diffuser, the benefits are amazing.
Luckily, today there are so many different products available that you can easily incorporate aromatherapy into your everyday routine to help stop anxiety in its tracks. For example, I use ESYM's Scent Pod, a palm-size portable essential oil diffuser while on crowded trains, and Happy Spritz's essential oil towelettes after an intense workout. For restless, anxious nights, de Mamiel's Soothe and Anchor calms you right down, and Saje's Stress Release is the perfect relaxing formula for when you're feeling tense or overwhelmed. I have even begun to become more aware of the scents in my beauty routine that make me feel most relaxed — for instance, I usually opt for a bergamot perfume oil (such as Le Labo's Bergamote 22 Perfume Oil) for its comforting aroma.
Although anxiety might be something that I may have for the rest of my life, it is comforting to know that aromatherapy can be there for me every step of the way.