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I love walking into a room filled with the fragrance of a scented candle. There's something about the way warm scents rise on the air and welcome you home.
Candles are soothing, and their fragrances can calm us down or lift our spirits. But why are candles relaxing? Can you really use scented candles for stress relief?
Let's examine some of the reasons why candles are good for stress relief—and justify your desire to bring more candles home. I mean, we all like to make excuses for our splurges!
Gentle, diffused light
The soft glow from a candle creates a soothing atmosphere that helps us calm down and create a quiet space. This gentle, diffused light is similar to early morning or late evening hours when the sun sits below the horizon, and our eyes are protected from the harsh brightness of midday (or fluorescent office lights).
Candles help us with meditation by giving us something to focus on. The mesmerizing dance of the flame helps us bring our thoughts back to the present moment.
Candles can help with meditation, yoga, and tai chi or add to the ambiance when we take a luxury bubble bath, sit quietly sipping tea, or when reading a favorite book.
If you'd like to try a candle gazing meditation for stress relief, just follow these simple steps:
Light a candle, and dim all other lights in the room. Place the candle where it will be at eye level a few feet in front of you when you are comfortably seated on the floor or in a chair.
Rest your hands in your lap, and take three deep, slow breaths with the out-breath lasting slightly longer than the in-breath. Then return to normal breathing.
Let your eyelids relax, but try to keep your eyes open, gazing at the candle's flame. Let the image of the flame be your focus. Imagine that you are breathing the light in and out with each breath.
If you feel the urge to close your eyes, allow them to softly close and visualize the image of the flame in your mind as you continue to breathe the light in and out.
Continue this practice as long as you feel comfortable.
You've heard the hype about essential oils, but how does aromatherapy work?
Aromatherapy stimulates our scent receptors. These receptors send messages to our nervous system and limbic system (which controls emotions). Different essential oils produce a variety of responses, including relaxation, improved sleep, and happier moods.
Kevill and Green, in their book Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art (Crossing Press, 2009), provide evidence that scented candles and aromatherapy oils can improve well-being.
To benefit from aromatherapy, choose candles made with pure essential oils (not artificial fragrances), and select scents known for their relaxing qualities.
Not sure which essential oil fragrance to choose for your aromatherapy candle? These are some of my go-to scents for stress relief:
Lavender is one of the most popular essential oils and aromatherapy fragrances. Believed to promote relaxation and encourage restful sleep (so long, insomnia!), lavender is a favorite for pillow sachets and nighttime diffusing. Add a lavender candle to your collection for those sweet dreams moments. I really like this Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day lavender-scented soy candle!
Clary sage might be related to culinary sage, but its sweet, herbaceous fragrance reminds me of an early morning herb walk. Clary sage is believed to help us release tension and inspire inner balance.
Sweet orange must be one of my favorite year-round fragrances. Combined with lemon in the spring or cinnamon in the fall and winter months, sweet orange brings its clean, citrus scent into my home no matter the season. Sweet orange has been shown to reduce anxiety and lessen feelings of depression.
Peppermint essential oil adds a bright note to any aromatherapy experience. Especially popular around the holidays (candy cane scented candles, anyone?), peppermint has been shown to improve mental function and reduce stress.
Vanilla is my favorite flavor, and I love the sugar cookie fragrance that fills my home when I burn a vanilla candle. This warm, comforting smell brings me back to carefree childhood days and freshly baked treats.
Vanilla pairs well with many other fragrances, too. Try combining it with almond—or sweet orange for a Creamsicle-inspired scent.
Frankincense has a sweet, woody fragrance that calms the mind and decreases feelings of stress and anxiety. If you're making your own soy candles (beeswax works, too!), combine frankincense with myrrh and sandalwood so you can de-stress after all those holiday parties.
Ylang ylang's bright floral fragrance is believed to soothe away stress, tension, and sadness. It combines well with jasmine or eucalyptus. Use ylang ylang scented candles during your meditation and envision yourself walking through a field of flowers on a warm, sunny day.
What if your favorite fragrance isn't an essential oil? Familiar fragrances, whether natural or artificial, evoke memories and emotions. If you've ever wondered if scented candles help with mental health, there is some evidence to show that the positive associations we make with certain smells can help restore feelings of calmness and relieve stress.
If the scent of clean linen (like this Yankee Candle) reminds you of grandma's house, or apple cinnamon brings back memories of a special holiday, I say go for it! Although artificial fragrances are not the same as aromatherapy, use the fragrances you love, and you will still benefit from the relaxing quality of scented candles.
Should I choose soy candles or beeswax candles?
Soy candles and beeswax candles are dominating the scented candle market, and for a good reason. Traditional paraffin wax candles (paraffin is a petroleum byproduct) release toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air. These toxins are known to be carcinogenic and can cause issues with asthma and allergies.
Some soy candles have paraffin added to make the wax harder and longer-lasting. But you can also find candles made from a blend of pure soy wax and beeswax. Soy candles and beeswax candles release fewer toxins into the air (without the soot!) and are considered by many to be a healthier alternative.
What about the candle wick?
If the crackling sound of a fire soothes your soul, look for candles with a wooden wick (a cotton wick is silent). Wooden wicks make a natural crackling sound that provides gentle background noise for your meditation or book snuggling.
What else should I know?
The US does not require manufacturers to list all ingredients in scented products, so if you have an adverse reaction, it might be to something that isn't listed on the label.
Use plant-based ingredients that are not tested on animals when making candles, and stick to natural essential oils for your fragrance combinations.
To sum it up …
If you're still asking yourself if candles can really be used for stress relief, the answer is yes.
By choosing a fragrance that evokes feelings of calmness and relaxation and selecting candles made with natural ingredients, you can add beauty and pleasing scents to your home, bath, or meditation practice.