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Stress-Busting Toolkit: Essential Oils

Essential oils are concentrated natural oils derived from plants. There are many essential oils known for their ability to calm the mind and body and promote relaxation, too many to cover in one post. But, here are some of my favorites.

Lavender, Cedarwood Atlas, and Rose (blended with fractionated coconut oil to reduce the cost).

Ylang Ylang and Frankincense

Some additional calming essential oils include Roman Chamomile, Blue Tansy, Vetiver (I love this one, especially for sleep) and Clary Sage.

Essential oils made from citrus, such as Wild Orange and Bergamot, pair well with other oils, such as Lavender, since the citrus oils have an uplifting effect on mood. So, I often mix a citrus oil with a calming oil.

Choose an essential oil scent that is right for you.

Each person has their own preference for scent and it is no different for essential oils. You can choose a scent that is appealing to you.

Many co-op stores have essential oil samples in their health and wellness section that you can smell or dab on your wrists. If you have a list of essential oils that are known to be calming (see above), you can sample these specific oils and see which ones appeal to you before you decide on a purchase.

Choose a good quality brand.

I recommend that you do some research on the brand before buying. Quality of essential oils varies greatly between manufacturers. Cheaper brands might not actually include the essential oils listed on the label, have other unwanted ingredients or use poor quality oils.

I like and use essential oils from Rocky Mountain Oils, but other brands including Mountain Rose Herbs and DoTerra have good reputations as well.

Essential oils are very concentrated, so learn how to use them safely.

Most essential oils need to be diluted in some type of "carrier" oil if they are going to be rubbed on the skin due to their high concentration. They need even more dilution for use with children and older people.

Here is a helpful link to recommendations for dilution rates from Rocky Mountain Oils:

Although a handful of essential oils are safe to use in small amounts without dilution, such as Lavender and Frankincense, you can still choose to dilute these in oil, especially for children.

Essential Oil Uses

Essential oils can be used in various ways:

  • Rub the essential oil directly on the skin (dilute if needed). Or dilute and put in a roller ball applicator (see photo above) and roll onto skin. A roller ball makes repeated applications easy.

  • Put a couple drops of Lavender essential oil in a bath. (Note: Although Lavender is usually safe to use in the bath, I recommend trying it on your skin first to make sure you don't have any itching or redness before using in the bath. Also, some oils, especially "hot" oils like cinnamon and clove, are too strong to go in a bath.)

  • Inhale from the jar or put a few drops on a cotton ball and carry it around in a small plastic bag and open the bag to smell it when needed.

  • Purchase jewelry made for aromatherapy. Put a drop or two of essential oil on the porous jewelry beads and inhale throughout the day. This makes a great gift.

  • Put one or more oils in a diffuser, (follow directions included with the diffuser for number of drops). Then enjoy the fragrance for hours.

Another way to use essential oils is to make your own aromatherapy inhalers using combinations of essential oils:

  • Buy a package of small plastic lipstick-shaped containers and absorbable wicks. You can find this online for low cost.

  • Place about 20-30 drops of essential oils of your choice in a bowl and hold the wick in the bowl to soak up the oils. Add more oil if needed until the wick is saturated.

  • Place the wick in the plastic container, snap on the bottom and put on the cover.

  • I carry an aromatherapy inhaler in my purse and take it out to inhale the scent whenever needed. I love this option, since it works well for travel and the scent lasts a long time (up to years).

Essential Oils Taken Orally

There is mixed information about the safety of using essential oils in fluids or food. Because they are so concentrated, I choose not to use essential oils in this way.

Health Benefits of Essential Oils

There has been a lot of research on the health benefits of essential oils. You can find free research articles on this public government site: Just type the health issue and/or the essential oil you are interested in learning more about in the search box.

Here is an example of an article from PubMed about lavender and its calming effects on the nervous system.

Where to Start if You are New to Essential Oils

Lavender is a good essential oil to start with if you are new to essential oils. It is one of only a few essential oils that can be used in small amounts on the skin without needing to be diluted in a carrier oil (although you will probably still want to dilute this if you are using it with children). Plus, it has other helpful benefits, such as easing itching from stings or bites and helping skin heal from cuts, scrapes or burns.

I find lavender very calming, so I use this on most days. I like to rub a couple drops in hands, cup my hands and breath in the scent, and then rub it on the back of my neck, upper shoulders and jaw. I sometimes also put a little on my wrists and temples.

I bring a bottle of lavender essential oil or an aromatherapy inhaler of lavender with me when I travel to help me when I feel stressed. I discretely open the top and take a whiff in an airplane or at the airport. It also helps me calm down for bedtime when I am sleeping away from home.

Storing Essential Oils

Storing essential oils in a dark place away from light will help them last longer. I store most of my oils in a closed box, but also keep some in a drawer next to my bed. They can last for years this way.

I store the citrus essential oils (lemon, orange, bergamot, etc.) in the refrigerator since they are most prone to break down from oxidation. Refrigeration slows down this process.

Artificial Fragrance Versus Essential Oils

Please note that essential oils are very different from artificial fragrance. Essential oils are natural oils that come from plants. This means they contain the health and healing qualities of the plants from which the oils are derived.

Artificial fragrance, on the other hand, is made from man-made chemicals. It does not have any healing effects. Artificial fragrance burdens the liver since it needs to detoxify it and can even trigger health issues such as migraines, anxiety and panic attacks.

I recommend avoiding all artificial fragrances, including artificial fragrance in cleaning products, body care products, scented candles, car freshers, laundry products, and even perfumes and colognes, especially if you have health symptoms.

Read labels carefully. If you see fragrance from essential oils on the label, that’s alright. But if you just see fragrance on the label without essential oils next to it, this means it’s made with artificial fragrance. So, I recommend that you don’t buy it and look for either a non-fragrance or essential oils option.

Essential oils are a wonderful way to support your nervous system and promote resilience to stress. They are a helpful, natural aide in this fast-paced, every-changing world.

Knowledge is power when organized and directed towards a goal. Here’s to empowering your health.

Karen M. Gutierrez, PhD, RN, Advanced Holistic Nurse-Board Certified


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