I Tried Essential Oils for Stress and Headaches—Here’s What Happened
For thousands of years, essential oils have been used in healing capacities, spiritual rituals and beauty treatments. Derived from plants and flowers through the processes of distillation or cold-pressing, these naturally occurring oils are what give flowers their aroma. Along with their fragrant properties, essential oils have long been revered for their abilities to boost moods and heal myriad ailments. Now, as essential oils have seen a massive resurgence, science is catching up with ancient tradition and the benefits of essential oils on the brain and the body are being proven out.
While I’ve long been a believer in essential oils in my treasured natural skincare regimen, I had never used them to decrease my stress levels or address my health concerns. That all changed when I once again found myself flat on my back in the middle of the day, shrouded in darkness, desperately trying to quell the pounding in my head. Desperate for relief that didn’t come in pill bottle, I tried essential oils for my headaches and stress. Here’s what happened.
The Concern: Sleeplessness, Stress, Nausea and Headaches
The first harbinger of stress for me has always taken up residence in my gut. Since I was a young child, I’ve internalized stress; the result has been a lifetime of stomach issues that often end with a doctor at a loss for a definitive diagnosis, and me in tears from frustration. As I’ve grown older, my stress level also dictates my sleep patterns: Though I can often fall asleep, I awaken at 1 a.m, toss and turn until at least 4 a.m., and groan with dread when my alarm clock rings insistently at 6 a.m. I trudge through my days, feeling as though I’m severely hungover, trying to meet deadlines through blurry eyes.
As a writer, I make my living by my laptop. As it turns out, however, spending hours in front of a screen, often on broken and little sleep, is a recipe for debilitating tension headaches and excruciating migraines. When the pounding in my head meets the nausea bubbling up from my stomach, I often need to lay down—now. This winter, as this became a daily occurrence, I knew I had to make a change.
The Solution: Essential Oils
Since I already trusted their lofty standards and knew how beautifully their products were formulated, I turned to some of my favorite skincare brands to help guide me through the process of choosing essential oils. The first matter to address? Sleep. I am a woman who needs her eight hours, or I am thrown completely off balance in all areas of life. Enter the Dreaming Oil from Farmaesthetics’ Etheric Inhalation Oils line. The small vial comes with a glass dropper, ensuring targeted dosage. Using two to three drops in the palm of my hand, I gently rubbed my palms together and cupped them around my nose. As I sat on the edge of my bed, I closed my eyes breathing in, slowly and deeply, the soothing, clarifying scent of lavender and clary sage essential oils.
After a couple of minutes, my heart rate began to slow, and I felt my breath in my diaphragm—not just in my upper chest, where I tend to breathe when I’m stressed. I placed my hands around my neck and continued to breathe, then ran my hands through the ends of my hair before climbing into bed. I lay on my back, continuing my mindful breathing until I drifted off. When I awoke again, it was to the trill of my alarm. I had slept through the night.
Encouraged by this blissful event, I reached for the next vial in the Farmaesthetics line. Adrenal Support, with its blend of black spruce, pink grapefruit and pine essential oils, was formulated to help bring us back from the brink. Adrenal glands are responsible for our bodies’ fight-or-flight response, and living in a constant state of stress can make us feel wired, then overwhelmed by exhaustion. Mimicking the steps I had taken with the Dreaming Oil, I placed a few drops of Adrenal Support in my palms and inhaled for a few moments. I then placed my hands on my lower back, gently massaging the area around my kidneys, where the adrenal glands rest. I stood up straight, then tilted my head back, feeling my chest open further (a trick I had learned a while back from Farmaesthetics founder, Brenda Brock). Warmth spread along my lower back and again, I felt a calm wash over me. As I worked throughout the day, whenever I felt my heart rate quicken as a signal my stress level was rising, I repeated this practice and felt grounded and clear, once again. (Bonus: My home office smelled like a forest!)
After incorporating these oils from Farmaesthics into my daily routine, I began to feel more relaxed. Though not every night awarded me with a solid eight hours of sleep, it was easier for me to fall back to sleep when I did awaken. Standing during my work day, tending to my lower back and being mindful of my breath left me feeling more energized than I had in months.
Still, I was plagued by pounding headaches. I turned to Palermo Body’s Tranquility Aromatherapy Oil (a blend of lavender, blue yarrow and cypress oils to help relieve nervous exhaustion and mental fatigue) and S.W. Basics’ Rosemary Functional Fragrance. Each of these roll-ons has been blended with a base oil to ensure they’re safe for topical use, but that doesn’t hinder their powerful aromatherapeutic benefits. I gently rolled the Tranquility Oil on my wrists and my temples, then worked it into the back of my neck, where my tension congregates. Then, I layered on the rosemary oil—renowned for helping to alleviate headaches—onto all the same points. I sat up straight in my chair and gently massaged my neck, my temples and the palms of my hands. Making a point to repeat this routine four times throughout the day, I was shocked to find that the first pangs of a headache never escalated. In fact, they ceded altogether. I was headache free, even by the end of the day.
I tried essential oils months ago, and have been using them every day since. There are still times when I have overwhelming headaches, but I am no longer suffering daily. My sleep has dramatically improved, and as a result, the accompanying nausea is nearly non-existent. Though I am still susceptible to feeling overly stimulated and stressed (it’s a lifelong habit I’m trying to break), the practice of gently massaging my adrenal glands helps to ground and relax me. I’ve added cinnamon essential oil into my repertoire when I need to open my heart chakra and lemongrass oil when I need a pick-me-up. I’m now a believer in the healing properties of essential oils, both for their plant essences and for the ceremony that surrounds their use. When I reach for my oils, I know I am carving out a few precious moments to breathe slowly and deeply, to be mindful of what is happening in my body and mind, and to make a conscious effort to heal myself.