Aromatherapy for Stress: Research and Techniques

How Can Aromatherapy Help Relieve Stress?

aromatherapy bath
Aromatherapy can be extremely relaxing--and research proves it!. self-care-relax-candles-bath-Eastphoto/The Image Bank/Getty Images.jpg

Aromatherapy has gained quite a bit of attention in recent years. Aromatherapy products, once somewhat exotic, have now sprung up on the shelves of even grocery store aisles. Aromatherapy candles, bath products, essential oils and other products are now widely available and have been touted as effective in soothing babies, relieving stress and promoting healthy living.

But does aromatherapy live up to the claims?

Aromatherapy Research

Relatively little research is available on aromatherapy. While more studies are being done, it's not as ‘proven’ as some other stress relievers. However, while further studies are needed, many studies have already shown aromatherapy’s benefits. Of the research that has been done to date, here are some of the findings:

  • Preliminary research shows that aromatherapy can alter brain waves and behavior.
  • Aromatherapy can reduce the perception of stress, increase contentment, and decrease levels of cortisol, the “stress hormone.”
  • Lavender aromatherapy has indeed been shown to reduce crying in infants and promote sleep in infants and adults.
  • Different aromatherapy scents bring different effects in people. (See this article for aromatherapy benefits of various scents.)
  • One study showed that aromatherapy massage can have some beneficial effects on anxiety and depression.
  • Massage with aromatherapy provides stronger and more continuous relief from fatigue -- especially mental fatigue -- than massage alone.

Aromatherapy as a Stress Relief Tool

While aromatherapy isn’t the magic ‘cure-all’ that it’s sometimes made out to be, it does appear to have proven effects as a stress reliever.

Aromatherapy is a nice tool for stress relief because it has few (if any) known side effects, can be used passively (you can fill the room with scent while you attend to other activities, relieving stress in the process), and can be easily combined with other stress relievers (like massage or meditation, for example), for increased stress relief. Aromatherapy products are also widely available, making aromatherapy a convenient option.

How to Use Aromatherapy for Stress Relief

Aromatherapy can be convenient, especially for busy people who need something quick. Here are some ideas for aromatherapy use:


I love candles for aromatherapy!  Lighting a candle is probably one of the simplest ways to scent up a room and create a nice feel, so get some aromatherapy candles and let them burn. (The candles, like incense, can also be used to create a more soothing atmosphere, or as a focal point for meditation. However, they may be more practical than some incense because they don’t give off as much smoke.) Be sure that you get quality candles that give off a scent that’s potent enough to be smelled around the room.


Aromatherapy diffusers take essential oils and evaporate them through the air.

This can be with the help of a candle or with batteries if you want to avoid the fire. Diffusers are great because they spread the scent quite effectively.  The battery-run ones can be safer than candles--no open fire involved.   This is another convenient method of creating a soothing atmosphere, and many of them look really nice as well, adding to the soothing vibe you should create anyway.

Body Products

I like aromatherapy body products because they create a scent that follows you, but can’t necessarily be smelled by others (unless they’re very close, in which case they probably won’t mind).

You can rub aromatherapy lotion all over your skin, or dab a few drops of skin-safe essential oils on pulse points and enjoy the scent for hours.  These scents tend to work especially well. 

Aromatherapy Massage

Aromatherapy combined with massage carried greater benefits than either strategy by itself. If you’re lucky enough to have someone who will trade aromatherapy massages with you, this can be a wonderful and cheap strategy for stress relief. If not, paying for a massage from a professional can be worth the money!

Aromatherapy Meditation

Aromatherapy can enhance the relaxation benefits of meditation, providing a focal point (as with incense meditation), and offering the passive stress relief benefits of aromatherapy. Even a five-minute meditation can bring benefits. (Try the Aromatherapy Incense Mediation or the Aromatherapy Bath Mediation.)


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Lis-Balchin M. Essential oils and 'aromatherapy': their modern role in healing. Journal of the Royal Society of Health, April, 1998.

Moss M, Hewitt S, Moss L, Wesnes K. Modulation of cognitive performance and mood by aromas of peppermint and ylang-ylang. International Journal of Neuroscience, January 2008.

Pemberton E, Turpin PG. The effect of essential oils on work-related stress in intensive care unit nurses. Holistic Nursing Practice, March-April 2008.

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