You might have heard claims about how essential oils have helped people focus, relax, get energized, or get really calm. But is it possible that just inhaling oils can affect people in such a strong way? How do essential oils affect emotions? We did a little research and we’re thrilled to report the many research projects that show evidence of how essential oils affect emotions, mood, and motivation. Let’s dig in!
*References can be found at the end of this post if you’d like to read further on this topic.
How do Essential Oils Affect Emotions?
Essential Oils and your Brain
Essential oils affect your emotions directly through your nose.
The sense of smell is called olfaction and is executed by the olfactory system of your body.
In fact, through olfaction, your body senses chemicals in the air (yes, there is amazing science happening in your face right now).
The journey of essential oils to your brain starts as essential oil molecules (yes, tiny bits of the oil itself) travel through your nose to your olfactory epithelium where some of them are absorbed.
Next, olfactory receptors (in the form of tiny hairs called cilia) in the olfactory epithelium are stimulated by the aroma. We don’t know what exactly causes these receptors to be triggered into action.
- It could be the shape or size of the essential oil molecules.
- It might be the electrical charge of the essential oils or a combination of elements.
In any case, when the receptors are activated, they send an electrical signal to the olfactory bulb that is located very close by.
We’re getting very close to the exciting part so stick with me!
There are special cells in the olfactory bulb (mitral cells and others) that receive the signals about the essential oils and transmit that directly to the brain.
Which parts of the brain get the message? This information is communicated to the amygdala, hypothalamus, hippocampus, and other areas of the brain. These individual components are part of the collective limbic system.
What does the limbic system control?
The limbic system is responsible for emotion, behavior, motivation, memory, and learning.
Therefore, when you inhale tiny molecules of essential oils you are communicating directly with your feeling area of the brain.
How does the brain respond to this olfactory stimulation?
When you smell essential oils, your body can respond by releasing endorphins (which can help relaxation), serotonin (which aids in calming), and even noradrenaline (which is a stimulant). (Woods-Lavoie, 2001)
These responses mean that the act of inhaling essential oils can help your body calm, relax, or get energized.
All from just smelling!
Varying Effects of Essential Oils on Mood, Motivation, and Emotion
The scientific community has recently (mostly over the last few decades) begun to do more research and testing on the power of essential oils on cognition and emotion. How do they affect the way we think and feel?
Researchers have studied how essential oils affect brain activities and cognitive function. They’ve actually charted out the areas of the brain that “light up” when you smell oils.
This included recording the significant effects of essential oils on thinking, mood, and the ways we handle stress. (Sowndhararajan, 2016)
A few studies to get you excited about where we can go with oils:
- Research suggests that aromatherapy with Petitgrain essential oil can positively affect workplace performance. Researchers believe that the combination reduces stress and increases attentiveness. (Huang, 2016)
- Scientists note the significant effect of Lavender essential oil in reducing stress in new mothers. (Kianpour, 2016)
- Researchers are interested in doing more research to find out how essential oils can combat mental fatigue. They tested a small group of participants using a custom blend of Peppermint, Basil, and Helichrysum essential oils. (Varney, 2013)
- Significant improvement in overall stress levels can be attained for some individuals from using a custom blend of 12 essential oils. (Steflitsch, 2015)
- Rosemary essential oil has been found to positively impact memory quality as well as alertness in healthy adults. (Moss, 2003)
- Healthy adults have been noted to experience Lavender essential oil creating a greater sense of contentment. (Moss, 2003)
- Orange and Lavender essential oils have been found to alter the emotional state by improving mood. (Lehrnera, 2005)
- Peppermint essential oil has been found to enhance memory and increase alertness in healthy subjects. (Moss, 2008)
- In healthy adults, Ylang Ylang essential oil causes a significant increase in calmness when enjoyed aromatically. (Moss, 2008)
- Inhalation of Ylang Ylang essential oil can also increase self-esteem and confidence by helping to create a balanced sense of personal competence with personal value, as concluded by one pilot study. (Gnatta, 2014)
- With an upcoming test, students showed less exam stress after inhaling Lavender essential oil. (Kutlu, 2008)
Finally, it’s important to note that essential oils do not affect all people in the same manner or to the same degree.
In fact, there is research around how our expectation of oils affects their performance in our system.
Additionally, it’s also not understood how much the pleasantness and intensity of an aroma can affect their performance for mood enhancement. (Chamine, 2016)
Of course, this is definitely not an exhaustive list of research that has taken place. We just thought it would be fun to whet your appetite for this type of information like it did ours!
Consequently, we believe that as more studies are published we will continue to gain a deeper understanding of how people can use essential oils to positively affect their emotions, memory, and everyday lives.
How You Can Experience Results
There are many ways you can experience elevated mood, relaxation, increased focus, calm, increased peace and more by using your essential oils. Remember that the olfactory system is how we talk to the brain to change our moods.
So all you need to do is smell your oils to have an effect.
- You can smell essential oils straight from the bottle. Just remove the lid and breathe deeply.
- Fill a bowl with warm water and a few drops of essential oil. Place your head directly over the bowl and inhale the vapors. You could drape a towel over your head to increase the effects.
- Fill up your diffuser with your favorite recipe. Here are some you might try for peace and a few other diffuser recipes for energy and lift moods.
- Put a few drops on your favorite piece of diffuser jewelry.
- Make a roll-on to carry your oils with you wherever you go. We have some great roll-on recipes for a cheerful mom and roller blends for focused, successful students here.
BONUS ROLLER BLEND RECIPE:
To celebrate all of this mood research on How Essential Oils Affect Emotions we thought it would be fun to give you one of our favorite emotional support roll-on recipes. (And, to celebrate you reading through all this research!) 😉
This Peaceful Roll-on Recipe uses Frankincense and Orange essential oils. These oils have historic uses pointing to enhanced relaxation, positive mood, and deeper spiritual connection. It’s perfect for men and women and even children!
New to essential oils? Learn more about how we use them and why you should use them as well.
Peaceful Roller Bottle Recipe
- 1 roll-on bottle (10ml size)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons fractionated coconut oil
- 4 drops Frankincense essential oil
- 5 drops Orange essential oil
- 1 waterproof label
- 1 fine point permanent marker
- Remove the lid and roll-on attachment from the roll-on bottle.
- Add the fractionated coconut oil and essential oils into the roll-on bottle.
- Insert the roll-on attachment into the bottle but do not press down. Replace the lid and screw on until tight. This will insert the roll-on attachment completely.
- Use a permanent marker to write the recipe name on a label and apply it to the bottle.
- To use: Roll the oil over your heart or on the bottoms of your feet.
NOTE: Orange essential oil can cause photosensitivity so avoid UV exposure to the application area for 12 hours after applying.
Check out our Make & Take Party Printable Pack that features Emotional Support Roller Blends here!
More essential oil recipes you might enjoy:
- Getting to Know Your Essential Oils Series
- 10 Must-Have Essential Oils
- Tips for Safely Using Essential Oils with Children
- Why We’ve Chosen to Only Use Young Living Essential Oils
- Diffuser Recipes for Lifting Moods
Chamine, I and Oken, BS.(2016) Aroma Effects on Physiologic and Cognitive Function Following Acute Stress: A Mechanism Investigation. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Vol. 22 (Issue 9), pp. 713-21. doi: 10.1089/acm.2015.0349. E-published 2016 Jun 29, 2016 ahead of print.
Gnatta, J.R., Piason, P.P., Lopes, C.d.L.B.C., Noemi, M.B.R., Silva, M.J.P.d. (2014). Aromatherapy with Ylang Ylang for Anxiety and Self-esteem: A Pilot Study. Revista da Escola de Enfermagem da USP, Vol. 48 (Issue 3), pp. 492-499. https://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S0080-623420140000300015
Huang, L. and Capdevila, L. (2016) Aromatherapy Improves Work Performance Through Balancing the Autonomic Nervous System. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, ahead of print http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/acm.2016.0061
Kianpour, M., Mansouri, A., Mehrabi, T., & Asghari, G. (2016). Effect of lavender scent inhalation on prevention of stress, anxiety and depression in the postpartum period. Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research, Vol. 21 (Issue 2), pp. 197–201. http://doi.org/10.4103/1735-9066.178248
Kutlu, A.K., Yılmaz, E., Çeçen, D. (2008) Effects of Aroma Inhalation on Examination Anxiety. Teaching and Learning in Nursing, Vol 3. (Issue 4), pp.125-130. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.teln.2008.04.005
Lehrnera, J., Marwinskic, G., Lehrb, S., Johrend, P., Deeckea, L. (2005) Ambient Odors of Orange and Lavender Reduce Anxiety and Improve Mood in a Dental Office. Physiology & Behavior, Vol. 86 (Issues 1- 2), p. 92-95.
Moss, M., Cook, J., Wesnes, K., & Duckett, P. (2003). Aromas of Rosemary and Lavender Essential Oils Differentially Affect Cognition and Mood in Healthy Adults. International Journal Of Neuroscience, Vol. 113 (Issue 1), p. 15.
Moss, M., Hewitt, S., Moss, L., Wesnes, K. (2008) Modulation of Cognitive Performance and Mood by Aromas of Peppermint and Ylang-ylang. International Journal Of Neuroscience, Vol. 118 (Issue 1), pp. 59-77. Abstract can be accessed here – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18041606
Sowndhararajan K, Kim S. (2016) Influence of Fragrances on Human Psychophysiological Activity: With Special Reference to Human Electroencephalographic Response. Scientia Pharmaceutica. Vol. 84 (Issue 4), pp. 724-751.
Steflitsch W. (2015) Health Promotion through Prevention of Stress and Burnout with Essential Oils for All Professionals at the Otto Wagner Spital in Vienna]. Complementary Medicine Research, Vol. 22 (Issue 3), pp. 185-94. Originally published in German. Abstract is available in English here – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26338021
Varney, E. and Buckle, J. (2013) Effect of Inhaled Essential Oils on Mental Exhaustion and Moderate Burnout: A Small Pilot Study. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Vol. 19 (Issue 1): pp. 69-71. doi:10.1089/acm.2012.0089
Woods-Lavoie, P. (2001). Scentual Healing. Better Nutrition, Vol. 63 (Issue 11), p. 32.