Using Aromatherapy for Helping a Panic Attack

Close up of mixed race woman smelling aromatherapy oil
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Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is a term used to describe a wide range of unconventional practices and products used for wellness and healing purposes. Some common examples of CAM include progressive muscle relaxation, acupuncture, yoga, and therapeutic massage. The use of CAM practices has continued to grow in popularity and are now used to help treat a variety of conditions, including anxiety disorders.

Aromatherapy is another type of CAM that is often practiced to reduce the symptoms of stress and anxiety. Used in conjunction with conventional treatment options, aromatherapy may assist in managing your panic symptoms. The following offers an overview of aromatherapy for panic disorder, including a description of scents that may help with anxiety symptoms:

What Is Aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils to heal physical and emotional conditions and enhance one’s personal wellness. Essential oils are derived from different parts of plants, including the flowers, branches, leaves, or fruits. There are numerous types of essential oils, each with its own unique scent and remedial properties. These oils can also be blended together to create new scents and different medicinal values.

Aromatherapy is being used to treat a variety of physical and mental health conditions, such as depression, skin problems, and fatigue.

To promote health and healing, aromatherapy can be administered in numerous different forms. For instance, essential oils can be used in diffusers to carry a scent throughout a room. These oils can be combined with carrier oils for a relaxing massage experience. Essential oils can be added to bathwater or on a compress to soothe skin. They are also used in many home and beauty products, including body lotions, candles, and incense.

Scents for Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia

There are certain essential oils that may help in reducing feelings of fear and anxiety, decreasing stress, and enhancing mood. The following describes a few common aromatherapy scents that have been used to elicit relaxation and decrease negative emotions:

Lavender: Known for its soothing effects, lavender oil is often used to help one relax and unwind. The smell of lavender is believed to help boost one’s mood and reduce feelings of nervousness. This scent can be used at any time of day to facilitate a calming effect. It can be especially beneficial to use before bed to promote restful sleep. Lavender oil has also been found to relieve headaches and migraines, which are common co-occurring conditions for people with panic disorder.

Lemon: This essential oil is thought to reduce feelings of sluggishness, fatigue, and sadness. The scent of lemon oil is believed to help uplift one’s mood, improve concentration, reduce fearful thinking, and relieve stress.

Bergamot: The smell of bergamot oil can help one feel refreshed and energized. This essential oil may also help in coping with panic disorder symptoms, as it is believed to help stabilize fearful thinking, lower anxious feelings, and bring about deep relaxation.

Ylang-ylang: This fragrant oil comes from the beautiful flowers of the ylang-ylang tree. This scent may help relieve tension, sadness, and worry. Research has shown that ylang-ylang may boost mood and attitude.

Safety Concerns and Other Precautions

Due to its growth in popularity, aromatherapy oils are more easily available than ever. Many specialty shops, health food stores, and large chain grocery stores carry a wide variety of essential oils. However, there are some potential issues with having essential oils so readily available.

First, there is insufficient research and little scientific proof demonstrating the effectiveness of aromatherapy.

Using aromatherapy oils to treat medical or mental health conditions has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Essential oils are also not standardized by the FDA, causing the potential for diluted oils to be sold through retailers.

Second, it is possible to have an adverse reaction to essential oils. These strong scents may cause headaches, dizziness, and nausea. It is also possible to have an allergic reaction, which can lead to difficulty in breathing and skin irritation. Essential oils should not be ingested, as they have the potential for toxicity.

Last, even though essential oils are easy to find, they should not be used without the guidance of a certified aromatherapist and clearance from your doctor. When discussing this option with your doctor, make certain that he or she is aware of any prescription and over-the-counter drugs you are taking. Additionally, some aromatherapy oils may not be recommended to those with certain medical conditions or for those who are pregnant or nursing.

Unlike aromatherapy, conventional treatment options, such as psychotherapy and medication, have been thoroughly researched and evaluated for safety and effectiveness. However, aromatherapy may be a helpful addition to your more standard treatment plan. You may find that some essential oils help you feel more peaceful and calm, alleviating some of your panic and anxiety symptoms.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Sasannejad P, Saeedi M, Shoeibi A, Gorji A, Abbasi M, Foroughipour M. Lavender Essential Oil in the Treatment of Migraine Headache: A Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial. Eur Neurol. 2012;67(5):288-291. doi:10.1159/000335249

  3. Tang SK, Tse MY. Aromatherapy: Does It Help to Relieve Pain, Depression, Anxiety, and Stress in Community-Dwelling Older Persons? Biomed Res Int. 2014;2014:430195. doi:10.1155/2014/430195

  4. Tan LT, Lee LH, Yin WF, et al. Traditional Uses, Phytochemistry, and Bioactivities of Cananga odorata (Ylang-Ylang). Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:896314. doi:10.1155/2015/896314

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Additional Reading
  • Horowitz, S. (2011). Aromatherapy: Current and Emerging Applications. Alternative and Complimentary Therapies, 17, 26-31.
  • Lee, Y-L. Wu, Y., Tsang, H.W.H., Leung, A. Y., & Cheung, W. M. (2011). A Systematic Review on the Anxiolytic Effects of Aromatherapy in People with Anxiety Symptoms. The Journal of Complimentary and Alternative Medicine, 17(2), 101-108.
  • National Cancer Institute at the National Institute of Health. Aromatherapy and Essential Oils. .
  • National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Aromatherapy.
  • National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Lavender. .
  • Perry, N., & Perry, E. (2006). Aromatherapy in the Management of Psychiatric Disorders. CNS Drugs, 20(4), 257-280.
  • Wilson, R. (2002). Aromatherapy‬: ‪Essential Oils for Vibrant Health and Beauty. New York: Penguin.

By Katharina Star, PhD
Katharina Star, PhD, is an expert on anxiety and panic disorder. Dr. Star is a professional counselor, and she is trained in creative art therapies and mindfulness.