Essential oil use for professional self care

Essential oil uses for self care is a time-honored modality for healing our patients that can also be utilized to heal ourselves.

Too often, I read of a veterinary colleague who has taken his or her own life. It’s always such tragic news — one that leaves your soul heavy and your heart broken for those left wondering “why?” I have also experienced many forms of burn-out and emotional hardship. While I feel I am a resilient person, there are times when I just want to throw in the towel and walk away. This is life. This is normal. During such times, I use my self care modality of choice — Veterinary Aromatic Medicine, the use of essential oils for physical and mental well-being — to give me extra emotional support.

As veterinarians, in an occupation that can be quite stressful, I feel it’s important that we engage in regular self care routines to help us cope with our day-to-day struggles. Meditation, Reiki, grounding practices, yoga, prayer, getting a massage —all these options are wonderful for our self care — and all can be made even better with the use of essential oils. No matter which method you choose to relieve your stress, I urge you to always strive to include some essential oils in your practices. I can guarantee you will find them quite synergistic.

There are many essential oils, and every one of them will carry some sort of emotional effect. I will list some of my favorites in this article, but realize that any essential oil can become quite important in your own life, regardless of what anyone tells you its property is “supposed to be”. Trust yourself. If the scent r feel of an oil calls to you and makes you feel better — go with it. You know yourself better than any book or report on supposed effects.

Essential oils for emotional support

  • Black Spruce (Picea mariana) is rich in spiritual connection. It can help release emotional blocks, and is balancing and grounding.
  • Melissa (Melissa officinalis) is indicated for depression, grief and anxiety.
  • Cedarwood (Cedrus atlantica) is reported to aid in a full night’s sleep, and to help with stress and anxiety. Note: Several species fall under the name “Cedarwood”.
  • Roman Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis) can support bravery, strength and reduce anxiety.
  • Frankincense (Boswellia carterii) is one of the more recognized essential oils and is often used with meditation and prayer to help release the past, move through transitions, increase life force, and for depression and anxiety.
  • Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata) is very balancing, and is indicated for low self esteem, to filter out negative energy, increase thought focus, and restore confidence and peace.
  • Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) is well recognized in the aromatherapy community and has been indicated to reduce insecurity, aid with depression and anxiety, and help release negative emotions.

Essential oils effectively relieve stress and anxiety

Crossed wrist position for essential oil grounding exercise.

I have always been impressed by the power of essential oils to not only improve my patients’ physical well-being, but to support their emotional states as well. These benefits are not limited to our animal patients. Clients also report feeling less stress when offering essential oils to their animals, even in the case of palliative treatments for terminal cases. I recently rescued a donkey from a kill pen situation, and the essential oils I selected for his care to help prevent flies on his horribly fly-bitten legs not only supported his physical healing, but also reduced his stress, helping him adjust emotionally to his new home by giving him feelings of grounding and peace. When I treat an animal with essential oils for his physical needs, emotional responses can occur in myself as well as the animal. There is a wealth of research on the ability of essential oils to relieve stress and anxiety.1,2,3,4,5 Just visit PubMed, do a search, and you will find a great many articles on essential oils. This is definitely an area with a strong base of scientific investigation and evidence.

While this is nowhere near all the essential oils available on the market today, it does represent a nice variety for you to start developing a relationship with. If these essential oils are part of a blend, you can still find their individual properties within. I would encourage you to smell each of the single essential oils. I often teach people to go outside, make contact with the earth, and take a few deep breaths. Then inhale the essential oil you have selected. If you cannot find the time or place to be outside, anywhere will truly work, even if you have to hide in the office bathroom!

When you inhale the essential oil, see how it makes you feel. I often close my eyes and inhale through each nostril, left and right, independently. Your brain will detect the essential oil differently through each side, and you may notice the oil will smell different. Think about how the oil makes you feel. Lighter? Free? Peaceful? It does not always matter what I or a book tells you a particular oil does. What matters is what the essential oil does for you, your self care and if you enjoy it.

Once you find several oils you enjoy, you can try your hand at blending a few. I often find that if several single essential oils are very pleasant to me, I may enjoy them even more within a blend. Most blends created for emotional purposes can be used at quite low concentrations — incorporating 1% to 3% of essential oils within a carrier oil such as fractionated coconut oil (also called MCTs or medium chain triglycerides).

Accessing essential oils during a busy workday

Here is of my favorite grounding exercises to do with essential oils. I often use a blend I initially created to calm my own dog. It primarily contains Roman Chamomile, German Chamomile, Frankincense and Ylang Ylang, diluted with fractionated coconut oil. I place several drops of this blend on the insides of my wrists. Then I place my wrists together, so they cross and touch with the essential oils in between them. I close my eyes, take several deep breaths, and visualize peace flowing throughout my body with each breath. The grounding that takes place is quite amazing. I have never had someone try this exercise who didn’t feel something quite profound.There are many options for accessing the supportive benefits of essential oils, even if you are in the workplace or have a “fragrance-free” philosophy. I am incredibly sensitive to artificial and chemical fragrances, and can even detect from several feet away when a person was riding in a car with a “smelly tree” air freshener. However when people are wearing properly-diluted natural essential oils, I do not experience headaches or recognize obnoxious odors.

  • Diffuser jewelry has become very popular. You can find bracelets, necklaces and even rings designed to let your apply your essential oil(s) of choice to an absorbent pad, a lava rock, or other natural material. You can then experience continual benefits from the low levels of oil that naturally evaporate off the jewelry; when feeling especially stressed or in need of a break, inhale deeply from the site of the essential oil application. Diffusion jewelry has become quite fashionable as well as discreet. Since many people naturally touch and play with a necklace or jewelry — you can easily administer a “stronger inhale” from your jewelry piece, even when in public.
  • Inhalers are another wonderful portable option. They emit a very low odor so others cannot detect it, and can be used “as needed” within the workplace and beyond. These inhalers are similar to nasal “sticks” sold as decongestants. The plastic tube (about the size of a lip balm) contains an absorbent wick on which the essential oils are placed. To use, uncap the tube, hold it to the nostrils and inhale deeply. This can be incredibly therapeutic, not only for stress and anxiety, but for physical needs as well. Allergies, sinus irritation, nasal drip and more can benefit from the use of an inhaler. If you want to be discreet about using an inhaler for workplace stress, remember that it’s becoming more commonplace for people to use inhalers during a respiratory illness. No one has to know you are treating your stress unless you choose to share the fact with them.
  • Don’t forget about diffusing essential oils into the air with a cool mist ultrasonic diffuser. There are many names and styles of diffuser on the market today — I wholly recommend the water-based diffusers, especially if they are to be used around animals. While there is much hype about essential oil diffusion being dangerous for animals, I can assure you from following thousands of patients that when the correct essential oils are selected, and water-based diffusion is used, essential oil diffusion can be incredibly helpful both physically and emotionally. I ran a diffuser in my surgical area, and found it greatly reduced my stress and anxiety when I encountered a challenging case. Over time, we also found the animals in my care awoke from anesthesia in a much calmer state. Animal facilities all over the world now safely diffuse essential oils for animals, staff and clientele.

Consistent use for compassionate self care

The benefits of essential oils for animal patients are as varied as your imagination allows. The hardest part of this equation is to actually use essential oils for our own self care. This is why diffuser jewelry and the use of essential oils with items like bathroom spray can provide important exposure for a person in need. It is far easier for me to dismiss the notion of a nice relaxing bath at the end of a hard day than it is to actually draw the bath. I encourage you to find several essential oils or blends you enjoy, and get creative in how you can easily and consistently expose yourself to their benefits. I am certain you will not be disappointed.

Essential oils for your emotional well-being

As a holistic modality, essential oils’ claim to fame is their ability to support physical well-being, while also possessing a natural chemistry that affects emotional balance.

The plant fragrances utilized in aromatherapy can have an uplifting impact on a veterinary practitioner’s depressed mood, or calm the frayed nerves and anxious attitudes that go with the daily highs and lows of being an animal care professional. An essential oil’s natural chemistry traverses the nasal passages and comes into immediate contact with the amygdala, the brain’s emotion and memory center.

Top oils that I utilize every day as a busy integrative practitioner are Copaifera reticulata (copaiba) oil, Citrus aurantifolia (lime) oil, Cedrus atlantica (cedarwood) bark oil, Vanilla planifolia (vanilla) absolute, Ocotea quixos (ocotea) oil, and Lavandula angustifolia (lavender) oil. The vanilla scent takes me back to peaceful childhood days of baking with my family. The oxygenating power of cedarwood opens my mind. Lavender makes me feel rested. Ocotea’s chemistry helps balance my blood sugar. The beta-caryophyllene in copaiba deals with my chronic inflammation. The lime contains all-important d-limonene and is refreshing and delicious!

Select a quality brand of essential oils with FDA-approved “internal use” labeling. The oils listed here can be combined and splashed into a glass of fresh ice water for impactful daily sipping! This blend can be applied topically as well. I love to use a roller bottle and apply these oils every day to the back of my neck or my wrists and forearms as a healthy, calming and balancing perfume. Use this blend and don’t forget that self care makes you a happier and more effective doctor!


1Zhang N, Yao L. “Anxiolytic Effect of Essential Oils and Their Constituents: A Review”. J Agric Food Chem. 2019 Jun 13;. doi: 10.1021/acs.jafc.9b00433. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 31148444.

2Lowring LM. “Using therapeutic essential oils to support the management of anxiety”. J Am Assoc Nurse Pract. 2019 May 30;. doi: 10.1097/JXX.0000000000000227. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 31169787.

3Sánchez-Vidaña DI, Po KK, Fung TK, Chow JK, Lau WK, So PK, Lau BW, Tsang HW. “Lavender essential oil ameliorates depression-like behavior and increases neurogenesis and dendritic complexity in rats”. Neurosci Lett. 2019 May 14;701:180-192. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2019.02.042. Epub 2019 Feb 28. PubMed PMID: 30825591.

4Al-Harrasi A, Csuk R, Khan A, Hussain J. “Distribution of the anti-inflammatory and anti-depressant compounds: Incensole and incensole acetate in genus Boswellia”. Phytochemistry. 2019 May;161:28-40. doi: 10.1016/j.phytochem.2019.01.007. Epub 2019 Feb 22. Review. PubMed PMID: 30802641.

5Hocayen PAS, Wendler E, Vecchia DD, Kanazawa LKS, Issy AC, Del Bel E, Andreatini R. “The nitrergic neurotransmission contributes to the anxiolytic-like effect of Citrus sinensis essential oil in animal models”. Phytother Res. 2019 Apr;33(4):901-909. doi: 10.1002/ptr.6281. Epub 2019 Feb 3. PubMed PMID: 30714232.


Dr. Jodie Gruenstern has practiced veterinary medicine in Wisconsin and Arizona since her UW-Madison graduation in 1987. She is a Chi Institute-certified veterinary acupuncturist and food therapist since 2008. Dr. Jodie is owner of Dr. Jodie’s Integrative Consulting. She is the author of "Live with Your Pet in Mind" available on Amazon. Email her directly for a long distance consult or appointment in Arizona.
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