Antianxiety Effects of Essential Oils in Children
Childhood anxiety disorders are defined by excessive fear and worry caused by anticipation of future threat. Significant symptoms of anxiety then significantly disrupt children’s lives and cause major impairment and distress in social, academic, occupational, and other areas of their lives. Research shows that living in excessive fear, worry, and anxiety during childhood years strongly correlates with suffering from suiciadal ideation (1) and depression in later years. (2)
Childhood anxiety disorders are commonly divided into three major categories:
Separation anxiety – This disorder is defined by excessive fear or anxiety concerning separation from home or caregivers a child is attached to. Children with this disorder often worry about the well-being of their caregivers, especially when separated from them and they have a constant need of staying in touch with them. They also worry about their own safety, such as getting lost or having an accident preventing reunification with their caregiver. Often, they are unable to go or stay in their room by themselves. They are clingy and reluctant to leave their homes or their caregivers. At bedtime, they may have difficulty falling asleep and refuse to sleep by themselves. At night, they often travel to their parents’ bedroom. Physical symptoms such as headaches, bellyaches, nausea, and vomiting are also common.
Social Anxiety Disorder – This disorder often manifests in children as a fear of being negatively evaluated or judged by their peers and/or adults, usually in a school environment. These children worry about being perceived as weak or stupid by others and fear mocking and rejection. Everyone experiences some degree of nervousness in social situation. However, excessive worry weeks ahead of a social event would fit into this category. Children with this disorder often cry, have temper tantrums, freeze, or cling to their caregiver in social situations. According to research most children develop social anxiety between 8 and 15 years of age often as a follow up of stressful or humiliating experience.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder – These children experience excessive, unrealistic anxiety and worry about number of events or activities associated with their competence or quality of their performance at school or at sport. The worries associated with this disorder are often more intense and pervasive, last longer and have a more significant impact on the child’s daily psychosocial functioning than normal worries of everyday life. Children with this disorder often experience physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomach issues as well as restlessness, fatigue, muscle tension, irritability, and sleep disturbances. (3)
Most children with anxiety disorder are prescribed anti-anxiety psychotropic medication, such as Lorazepam, Oxazepam, Valium, and Xanax. In some cases, medication can help to stabilize acute anxiety to allow the child progress in therapy. However, it is crucial to be aware that psychotropic medications, like any other drugs, bring along potential risks or side effects, including physical side effects such as dizziness, drowsiness, changes in appetite, sleep disturbance, and/or weight gain and emotional/psychological side effects such as mood swings, disinterest in activities, or emotional numbness. As a parent, you should always discuss the risks of medication use with your doctor before making a decision whether the potential benefits outweigh the risks or whether an alternative treatment method may be a better option. (4)
Safe, Non-Drug, Anti-Anxiety Strategies:
My focus on this website is to help you find safer strategies to reduce if not eliminate your child’s symptoms of anxiety. If your child suffers from an anxiety disorder, I would strongly recommend individual psychotherapy. Your therapist should teach your child relaxation techniques, mindfulness, distress tolerance skills, and cognitive restructuring to cope with his or her anxiety.
But beyond psychotherapy, one of my favorite strategies to reduce symptoms of anxiety is the use of essential oils. If you are not familiar with essential oils and how to use them safely, please click HERE to learn some basics. To find out even more information on safe use of EO, please read this great article. Otherwise, continue reading about these natural miracles and their effects on anxiety.
According to developing research, there are now multiple oils that appear to have an amazing anxiolytic (antianxiety) effect. So, let’s look at my favorite top four, supported by research.
Lemongrass (5): This essential oil has a subtle favor and aroma that heightens awareness and positive outlook. A research study conducted in 2015, evaluated the potential anxiolytic effect of lemongrass aroma in healthy volunteers submitted to an anxiety inducing situation. The results suggest that even very brief exposure to this aroma has some perceived anxiolytic effects. Use 3 or 4 drops in your diffuser.
Ylang Ylang (6): This essential oil is often used to lessen tension and stress and to promote a positive outlook. You can put this oil into an Epsom Salt bath for relaxation or dab it on your wrist or soles of your feet. You can also put three to four drops into a diffuser. If applying topically, make sure to dilute the oil with a carrier oil, such as coconut oil to minimize any skin sensitivity.
Lavender (7): This oil has been successfully used for its calming and relaxing qualities. You can add it to bath water to soak away stress and anxiety or apply to the temples, wrists, and the back of the neck. Add a few drops of Lavender to pillows, bedding, or bottoms of feet to promote a restful night’s sleep. Dilute if using on skin.
Citrus (8): Citrus (lemon or orange) is very uplifting and energizing and has been shown to help improve mood. This research study, investigated the effect of aromatherapy with orange essential oil on child anxiety during dental treatment. The results showed that the use of aromatherapy with natural essential oil of orange could reduce salivary cortisol and pulse rate due to child anxiety state. The best way I found to use this oils is to diffuse it in your child’s environment.
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With well wishes!
Sources for this article include:
Sareen J1, Cox BJ, Afifi TO, de Graaf R, Asmundson GJ, ten Have M, Stein MB. Anxiety disorders and risk for suicidal ideation and suicide attempts: a population-based longitudinal study of adults. Arch Gen Psychiatry, 2005 Nov; 62(11):1249-57 PMID:16275812
Markkula N, Marola N, Nieminen T, Koskinen S, Saarni SI, Härkänen T, Suvisaari J. Predictors of new-onset depressive disorders – Results from the longitudinal Finnish Health 2011 Study. J Affect Disord. 2016 Oct 18;208:255-264. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2016.08.051 PMID: 27792971
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Ed. (DSM-5); American Psychiatric Association
Hamrin V, McCarthy EM, Tyson V. Pediatric psychotropic medication initiation and adherence: a literature review based on social exchange theory. J Child Adolesc Psychiatr Nurs. 2010 Aug;23(3):151-72. PubMed:20796098
Goes TC, Ursulino FR, Almeida-Souza TH, Alves PB, Teixeira-Silva F. Effect of Lemongrass Aroma on Experimental Anxiety in Humans. J Altern Complement Med. 2015 Dec;21(12):766-73. PubMed:26366471
Tan LT, Lee LH, Yin WF, Chan CK, Abdul Kadir H, Chan KG, Goh BH. Traditional Uses, Phytochemistry, and Bioactivities of Cananga odorata (Ylang-Ylang). Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:896314. PubMed:26294929
Domingos Tda S, Braga EM. Massage with aromatherapy: effectiveness on anxiety of users with personality disorders in psychiatric hospitalization. Rev Esc Enferm USP. 2015 Jun;49(3):453-9. PubMed:26107706
Jafarzadeh M, Arman S, Pour FF. Effect of aromatherapy with orange essential oil on salivary cortisol and pulse rate in children during dental treatment: A randomized controlled clinical trial. Adv Biomed Res, 2013 Mar 6;2:10. PubMed: