I recently had the opportunity to interview innovative psychotherapist Danielle Daniel, a holistic psychologist who has incorporated essential oils into her work with clients. I loved the story she told of an angry high school football player who, after venting heatedly in her office, calmed down within a few minutes of inhaling the wild orange essential oil she had running in her diffuser.
Danielle described the striking power of orange oil’s primary chemical component, d-Limonene, to interact with our brain’s neurochemistry to reduce stress and create a sense of calm. All citrus oils have this amazing ability to both calm and uplift at the same time.
I keep a bottle of grapefruit essential oil on my desk, which I will open and take a whiff of when I’m feeling bedraggled. I call it “the happy oil,” so immediately “happifying” is its fragrance. Over the last year, as I’ve been exploring essential oils more deeply in my own life and practice, I’ve enjoyed getting to know the many different citrus essential oils, such as orange, lemon, lime, clementine, bergamot, grapefruit, red mandarin and kumquat. While each one has its own distinct personality – some are sweeter, some mellower, some more tart – any of them has the ability to uplift me if I’m feeling fatigued, emotionally low or even just struggling with the “rainy day blues.”
After Danielle explained how essential oils’ chemical components interact with our own neurochemistry, I got curious about what the scientific research had to say. I discovered that there is a growing body of evidence showing that citrus oils like orange have a demonstrable anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effect.
A 2012 study in Brazil showed that orange oil had significantly more of an anti-anxiety effect in adult subjects undergoing stress in a laboratory, as compared to subjects inhaling either tea tree oil or diffused water with no essential oils present. This type of research follows many similar studies showing the same results in rats or mice.
As Danielle described in our interview, the research suggests that these results are due to interactions with different brain neurotransmitters, including the GABAergic system and the serotonergic system.
The aromatic compounds present in citrus essential oils work with the endocrine and nervous systems in ways that science is only beginning to understand. Scientific researchers are finally starting to catch up to what essential oil aficionados and practitioners have known for some time: people feel strong, positive mood modulation after inhaling the powerful natural compounds inside these oils.
So, the next time you’re upset or down, diffuse a citrus essential oil for the magical effect of feeling both calmer and more energized! You can find my favorite source of essential oils online here.