They're a lot cheaper than a session at the therapist's office.

By Emily Abbate
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Photo: Andres V/Shutterstock

There are a lot of hippie-chic wellness trends that I've gotten on board with over the years. Take meditation, for starters. When I started doing it regularly with the help of Headspace, I had to consciously stop thinking of the practice as something that only Buddhist monks in robes messed with. Then, I dipped my toes into the whole adaptogens thing. Feeling super skeptical the first time I used Moon Juice Power Dust, I was shocked when I realized that I felt drastically more productive on the mornings I slipped it into my coffee. With essential oils, though, I've always found them a little laughable. What do you mean inhaling a scent or applying some topically could have wonderful health benefits? It's just a smell, I thought. (Here's an overview: What Are Essential Oils and Are They Legit?)

Fast forward to earlier this summer. After running around Los Angeles for a week of back-to-back business meetings, I decided to take some R&R at Terranea Resort in Palos Verdes, Calif. Between tranquil runs on the cliffs overlooking the water and afternoons lounging amidst the palm trees, I treated myself to a Quiet Mind spa treatment that had promises of all things calm. Cue: essential oils, galore. Of course, the massage itself was relaxing. But the lemongrass scent from the oil she rubbed on my neck and shoulders lingered with me for hours, even after a dip in the pool. Come nightfall, I noticed how calm I felt despite my OOO email autoreply getting a run for its money.

It made me think: Should I get on the essential oil train? As someone who feels anxious pretty regularly and lives in New York City-the capital of all things hectic-there's no doubt that I could use all the help I can get ~chilling the eff out~. Plus, they're cheaper than an hour at the therapist's office. So, I decided to give them a month-long trial run-and here are four things I learned along the way.

1. There's an oil for absolutely everything.

I started my oil quest simply looking to find the best essential oils that toted relaxing, anti-anxiety benefits. On the short list of must-try oils: valerian, jasmine, sweet basil, chamomile, and lavender. But early on in my research, I found out that there are hundreds of them out there, all with different benefits. Looking to better your digestion? Ginger essential oil is known to promote gut health by easing indigestion, ulcers, and constipation. Dealing with an inflammatory skin condition like dermatitis, eczema, or lupus? Research conducted in South Africa shows that rosemary and helichrysum essential oil can help with that too. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. (Related: Here's How Jenna Dewan Uses Essential Oils for Stress Relief)

2. There's a difference when you wear them vs. spray them.

At least, that's what I found. The first oil that I messed with on my own at home was lavender since I had been gifted a small vial as part of a bridesmaid's gift a year prior. With three deadlines on deck for the day, I was under a lot of stress to get all my ducks in a quick, organized row. So, I grabbed the bottle complete with a small dropper and placed two drops into my palms. After rubbing them together and breathing in the scent, I smudged the oil onto my pulse points like a perfume, including my temples. I took a deep breath, and continued about my morning, making coffee, breakfast, and answering emails. About an hour later, I took notice that I felt capable. Which-I know-sounds odd. But rather than feeling anxious about the work I had on deck, I just kept chugging along. And, man, was this a refreshing way to tackle a work day. (Note to self: Also try this essential oil hack for waking up in the morning.)

Fast forward to Saturday morning. Remembering that productive, calm feeling I had earlier in the week, I reached for a lavender aromatherapy mist I picked up at Bed Bath & Beyond and went to town on my bedroom. With Billy Joel blasting through my apartment speakers, I doused blankets, sheets, and pillows with a generous spritz. Although the apartment smelled great, it didn't feel like I had the same effect as days prior.

3. You can mix them together.

Lying in savasana in yoga class, the instructor walked by and rubbed her hands above my nose. Immediately, I recognized the scent of an oil I'd used (chamomile), but something about it was different than I recalled. After our final head bow, I walked over to her to ask about what it was. "A blend of chamomile, sweet orange, and ylang ylang." (FYI, here are a bunch of other essential oils you probably haven't heard of.)

I immediately Googled ylang ylang (it's an oil made from the flowers of the herb Cananga odorata genuina and promotes relaxation) and was intrigued: What was I missing out on by going the single-oil route? Throughout the next few weeks, I tried a few combinations: chamomile, geranium, and cedarwood, and a combo of lavender and lemongrass. I wouldn't say these "special blends" had any sort of direct impact on me more so than going the single-oil route. But that familiar lemongrass scent from my gateway drug massage at Terranea made me feel extra zen.

4. It may not work every single time, and that's OK.

Fact: If essential oils were foolproof, there would be a helluva lot less people spending money on therapy and expensive drugs. Which was something I had to remind myself as I sat on my couch at 8 p.m. on a Thursday night looking to wind down after a long day. This particular night, I reached for sweet basil oil. Which… made me crave Italian food. And on this particular night, I indulged in that instead. In my small New York City apartment, I made myself pasta, poured myself a glass of rosé, and found my zen in the kitchen instead of what I put on my skin. And you know what? That's fine by me.

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