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Calming Scents, Like Lavender And Chocolate, Prove Helpful For Holiday Stress (PHOTOS)

12/21/2012 10:00 am ET | Updated Dec 21, 2012

With the never-ending stream of parties, family gatherings and crowded train stations and airports, the holidays can be, at times, extremely stressful. Anything we can do to make this season a little more chill, we gladly welcome.

Essential oils have long been considered to have soothing effects, but which ones are best for calming anxiety? And clearing the head? More importantly, which one makes getting through airport security less aggro? Apparently there's a scent for all those things, according to Cary Caster, clinical aromatherapist and founder of essential oil line 21 Drops. When it comes to calming down, Caster breaks scents into two camps. "De-stressing oils are ones that either quiet the chatter of the mind or settle your physical body from the fight or flight response." In an effort to make our holidays as stress-free as possible, she gave us the lowdown on the effect scents like lavender, chamomile and even certain foods have on the body and brain -- and how they can help you survive the season in one piece.

Quiet the mind: Caster suggests frankincense, sandalwood (which has neurological sedative effects on the mind) and vetiver, which is grounding.

Physical symptoms of fight or flight: She describes this as increased heart rate, quick breathing or muscular tension. To help ease these symptoms, Casters recommends ylang ylang, which is calming and balancing; German chamomile, which takes away pain and inflammation; and lavender, which has a sedating, calming effect.

Calming anxiety: Uplifting scents are the best way to soothe anxiousness, notes Caster. Look for sweet orange which has calming, uplifting properties, as well as jasmine (the high concentration of esters makes this oil antispasmodic, calming and balancing to the sympathetic nervous system).

Sleeplessness: "Ylang ylang relaxes and uplifts, encourages feeling of euphoria, promotes sensual awakening, sedative and supports the nervous system," says Caster. "Similarly, vetiver is calming, sedative and grounding; palmarosa stabilizes the heart, calms the mind, reduces anxiety; and sandalwood provides energetic protection and quiets mental activity."

Digestion: Too full from all the decadent food everywhere? "Cardamom stimulates the stomach into action by warming and aiding digestion," she notes. "Ginger, sweet orange and German chamomile also help settle digestion, relieve cramps, stimulate circulation and soothe nausea."

Hangovers: We feel you. Caster recommends oils that help both detoxify and balance. "Juniper is a circulatory stimulant, which helps the lymph and with bloating," notes Caster. She also suggests geranium, which stimulates the lymphatic system and balances emotions; lavender, known for its sedative effect on the nervous system, reduces emotional stress and tensions; and cardamom -- a refreshing tonic that settles the stomach and clears the mind.

The food & drink version of a chill pill: Sipping tea can be just as calming, says Caster. "Plants, either dried or their concentrated essential oils, contain volatile compounds that when inhaled or consumed, have effects on our physiology. There’s plenty to be said for sitting down with a warm cup of tea!"

And here's some good news: Chocolate -- in small amounts -- is actually calming. "Chocolate contains caffeine, which is stimulating, but this actually stimulates the body to release their respective pleasure producing chemicals," says Caster. "Likewise, chocolate also contains cannabinoids (yes, also found in cannabis), which cause a relaxed state. In addition to these two chemicals, chocolate has phenylethylamine, which chemically stimulates the release of pleasure–producing chemicals. So yes, chocolate is a flood of pleasure producing chemicals … which is calming to most."

Calming Scents

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