Lavender Oil for Anxiety

Did You Know…lavender oil is as effective, if not more so, than prescription drugs at treating anxiety?

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, breathing in the scent of lavender calms, soothes, and relaxes, and may even be an effective and safe treatment for insomnia, anxiety, depression, and fatigue.

Small-scale studies have shown that an aromatherapy massage with lavender essential oil (extracted from lavender flowers) helps calm people with anxiety, but in these cases scientists were unable to definitely determine whether it was the massage, the lavender, or both that imparted the relaxation effect. Other studies, however, suggest that lavender actually changes brainwave patterns.

Researchers believe the psychological effects of the fragrance, coupled with the physiological effects of the volatile oils on the limbic system, make lavender an effective treatment for a range of anxiety-related disorders.

Lavender’s Impact on Generalized Anxiety Disorder 

Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by persistent anxiety, nervousness, and excessive unrealistic worry. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms include:

  • Difficulty focusing
  • Unable to deal with uncertainty
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Trembling
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Headaches

Generalized anxiety disorder is typically treated with benzodiazepines such as valium, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).  Unfortunately, these prescription anxiety drugs can lead to addiction, and are riddled with side effects that greatly reduce quality of daily life. 
 Drowsiness and fatigue
 Lack of focus
 Memory impairment
 Dry mouth
 Blurred vision
 Impaired motor function
 Gastrointestinal disturbance

Researchers have been exploring lavender oil as a treatment for anxiety over the last few decades.  The International Journal of Neuroscience published a study made up of 40 adults exposed to 3 minutes of aromatherapy treatment with either lavender oil (known to induce relaxation) or rosemary oil (used for stimulation).  Scientists measured EEG activity (the brain’s electrical activity), and had volunteers perform math calculations before and after aromatherapy. 
 Those who inhaled the lavender scent showed elevated beta activity, a less depressed mood, and faster and more accurate math calculations.
 The rosemary oil had a similar effect, but didn’t seem to produce more accuracy in the computations.

Another study published in Phytomedicine measured the effects of ingested lavender against the effects of lorazepam (Ativan) on anxiety.  The lavender worked just as well, and even better than, the prescription drug. And lavender oil has no potential for addiction, making it a viable alternative treatment for persistent anxiety.

A Cautionary Note

Lavender oil has estrogenic properties, meaning it can interfere with estrogen and androgen pathway signaling, thereby creating a hormonal imbalance.  Aromatherapy with lavender is typically safe and side effect free, but always consult your doctor before ingesting lavender, or any essential oil, which should always be therapeutic grade and taken under the guidance of a licensed health practitioner.