Aromatherapy to Reduce Stress and Increase Productivity

There is no question that the workplace can be stressful.  Meetings, deadlines, difficult bosses and employees, and even our own personal lives add stress to our work day.  A hectic schedule, kids, and other influences can wear us down and make it difficult to concentrate.   Consider that most of us spend at least 8 hours a day at work, and add in our commutes to and from  – that’s a majority of our waking hours and a large portion of our lives!  Aromatherapists and those familiar with essential oils know there are easy and pleasurable answers to these issues.  Many essential oils offer quick, effective solutions to reduce stress and increase focus and productivity.

Essential Oils to Reduce Stress

Lavender is a balancing, calming and uplifting oil.  It relaxes the nerves, brings clarity to the mind and reduces anxiety.  In 2007 a study was conducted on healthy men administered lavender aromatherapy.  They found that lavender reduced serum cortisol levels — which plays a central role in the body’s response to stress [1].   Another study found lavender essential oil could be an effective substitute for common and addictive prescription drugs used for anxiety.   Researchers tested Silexan, an oral lavender oil capsule preparation, in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).  When the oral lavender was administered for 6 weeks it was shown to effectively the symptoms of generalized anxiety but without the side effects seen with the pharmaceutical alternatives [2].

Bergamot is a wonderful mood enhancer and anxiety reliever.  A study conducted in Taiwan in 2011 supports this claim.  Elementary school teachers, known to work under significant stress, were administered an inhalation of Bergamot essential oil.  They found that a 10-minute-long weekly inhalation of aromatherapy resulted in a significant reduction of blood pressure and heart rate – two methods of measuring anxiety levels.  Additionally, autonomic nervous activity moved toward a balanced state [3].  Another study revealed that Bergamot essential oil’s anxiety relieving properties can be as strong as diazepam (valium),but of course w/out the addictive properties and other side effects we find with prescription-grade anxiety medications [4].

There are many other stress reducing and anti-anxiety essential oils.  Among them are frankincense, ylang ylang, grapefruit, orange, blue tansy, sweet marjoram and lemon balm.

Essential Oils to Increase Focus and Productivity

Rosemary is a stimulating essential oil proven to enhance memory and focus. Rosemary improves memory and alertness via acetylcholine esterase inhibition. By inhibiting the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine, more acetylcholine will temporarily be left in the brain to enhance memory and alertness [5].  Rosemary oil was also studied for its effect on behavior and cognitive performance.  Adult volunteers displayed an improvement in mathematical computation scores and a decrease in anxiety. The volunteers also reported feeling more alert and stimulated [4]. Another study showed increase in alertness and improvement of memory, when rosemary was compared to the more relaxing oil, lavender [7].

Peppermint is another stimulating oil that energizes even the most fatigued, upon inhalation.  It’s a great pick me up first thing in the morning to get you going, it’s helpful when employees slide into that post-lunch hour slump by both stimulating the mind and the digestion and it can even help you stay alert while sitting in traffic.   Peppermint was found to enhance both memory and alertness, when compared to the more relaxing oil, ylang ylang [8].  Other studies found peppermint essential oil to enhance exercise performance [9] and stimulate central nervous system activity [10].

Other stimulating oils include cinnamon, basil, and lemon.  Grounding oils are also helpful for concentration and attention span including, cedarwood, patchouli, and vetiver.   

Whichever oils you chose to manage your stress and increase your productivity, be sure to keep two things in mind:  First, you have to enjoy them.  Smelling something you don’t enjoy will not produce the desired effect.  Second, be sure to check with your company’s fragrance policies.  Some businesses have strict guidelines about fragrance and although essential oils are natural, not everyone appreciates them the same.  If your office is one that does not allow fragrances, an aromastick or inhaler is the perfect solution.  They are discreet and contain the aroma until it is needed.  When you need a pick me up or some instant stress relief, simply place near or in the nostril and inhale your way to rejuvenation.


[1] Shiina Y., Funabashi N., Lee K., Toyoda T., Sekine T., Honjo S., et al. (2007). Relaxation effects of lavender aromatherapy improve coronary flow velocity reserve in healthy men evaluated by transthoracic Doppler echocardiography. Int J Cardiol., 129(2):193-7.

[2] Woelk, H. & Schläfke, S. (2010). A multi-center, double- blind, randomized study of the Lavender oil preparation Silexan in comparison to Lorazepam for generalized anxiety disorder. Phytomedicine, 17(2):94-9.

[3] Chang, K. & Shen, C. (2011). Aromatherapy Benefits Autonomic Nervous System Regulation for Elementary School Faculty in Taiwan. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

[4] Saiyudthong, S. & Marsden, C.A. (2011). Acute effects of bergamot oil on anxiety-related behaviour and corticosterone level in rats. Phytother Res., 25(6):858-62.

[5] Ilkay Orhana, Sinem Aslanb et al, “Inhibitory effect of Turkish Rosmarinus officinalis L. on acetylcholinesterase and butyrylcholinesterase enzymes” DOI:10.1016/j.foodchem.2007.11.023

[6] Diego MA1, Jones NA et al, “Aromatherapy positively affects mood, EEG patterns of alertness and math computations.” Int J Neurosci. 1998 Dec;96(3-4):217-24.

[7] Moss M1, Cook J, “Aromas of rosemary and lavender essential oils differentially affect cognition and mood in healthy adults.” Int J Neurosci. 2003 Jan;113(1):15-38.

[8] Moss M1, Hewitt S, Moss L, Wesnes K. (2008). Modulation of cognitive performance and mood by aromas of peppermint and ylang-ylang. Int J Neurosci., 118(1):59-77.

[9] Meamarbashi, A and Rajabi, A. (2013). The effects of peppermint on exercise performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 10: 15.

[10] Umezu T. (2012) Evaluation of the effects of plant-derived essential oils on central nervous system function using discrete shuttle-type conditioned avoidance response in mice. Phytother Res., 26(6):884-91

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