When planning the perfect romantic dinner or relaxing bubble bath, no event is complete without the warmth and beauty of a candle. We love to light candles as an accent for these special events, but can candles truly help us relax? Or is it the event itself that is responsible for how we feel? Let's take a closer look.
How Candles Help You Relax
Candles offer a gentle, low light, much different from the glaring blue lights we associate with screens or other unnatural sources. When we see a flickering flame, the gentle glow is something we associate with a time for relaxation. We light candles for ambiance, for special occasions, and yes, simply to relax.
Our association with that relaxed feeling is what contributes in part to how we feel when we see them. This is why those who light candles often report feeling like they've touched your soul, and in many ways, they have.
If you need to relax after a stressful day, lighting a few candles is a great way to let the burdens of the day go. You don't have to wait for a special occasion to get the benefits the warm glow of a candle can offer you.
Do Candles Help with Anxiety?
If you find yourself lighting up candles for relaxation purposes, you may be wondering if they can help you during times when your anxiety is at an all-time high. Even if you don't have clinical anxiety, we all have times when our stress response is in high gear.
Candles aren't just for happy occasions. Just as we light candles on our birthdays or to celebrate happy occasions, we also light them during stressful times. Candlelight vigils are common after the loss of a loved one, and candles are often lit in their memory even years afterward.
Candlelight is something we associate with hope. Hope for a better time. Hope for a way out of grief. Hope for a better tomorrow. We light candles in a lot of ways because we need that hope, and it's exactly this reason that they can be so helpful for anxiety.
The soft, warm light of a candle is very soothing during difficult times and can help improve mood and get us through those times. If your anxiety isn't situational, you may still be able to take advantage of the soothing effects of candles by triggering those same emotions.
Candles can help in a variety of different circumstances. They can help you get better sleep and may even help boost your immunity. Scented candles can be especially useful here, as many scents are linked with an emotional response.
How Candles Can Help You Sleep
A common symptom of stress and anxiety is the inability to sleep. As you toss and turn, your mind circles endlessly over whatever problem is keeping you up. Hours can go by before you get any sleep at all. If you're suffering from insomnia, candles could be a great solution.
While you may know to stop drinking caffeine early in the day or cut it out completely, caffeine isn't the only thing that stops you from sleeping. Another classic cause for insomnia is blue light, or the light commonly coming from our smartphones, tablets, and computers. When we can't sleep, it's common to look at social media on our phones or get up to play a quick game in order to pass the time. The theory is that if you try too hard to sleep, it'll make it harder to actually do so.
Whether this works or not in practice can be sabotaged by what we choose to do when we can't sleep, or in the activities we choose right before bed. When we spend time exposing ourselves to blue light, we hinder the melatonin in our brains. That means even more trouble sleeping, not less.
Candles can help promote sleep by changing your lighting. An hour before you go to bed, turn off all of your screens and light some candles instead. The low light will help clue your body in that it's night time and that it should start producing chemicals that promote sleep.
Choose quiet activities that avoid the use of screens, such as reading or listening to music. By the time you are ready for bed, your body will be primed for sleep.
Quality sleep is essential to reducing stress, anxiety, and depression. All of these mental health issues are associated with a lack of sleep, and even if it is not the direct cause of the problem, lack of sleep certainly won't help.
Candles for Stress and Anxiety
All candles are helpful in reducing stress and anxiety, but some candles are better than others. We don’t typically recommend the use of essential oils in candles, due to the difficulty of getting enough EO's into a candle in order to make it useful.
However, there do exist some effective essential oil-based candles. Or, fragrance oils of certain scents can also help you to relax. Scents that promote relaxation include:
Perhaps the most well-known scent associated with relaxation, lavender is a wonderful, calming scent. Lavender has not yet been studied using MRI procedures, but simpler trials have proven that lavender has anti-stress and anti-anxiety properties.
Our minds often have powerful associations between scent and certain emotions, and lavender is a top example of this. If you want a great scent that will help you feel your best, lavender is the right choice.
Most of us think of rosemary as a seasoning, but it also has a lot of other beneficial properties. Just inhaling the scent of rosemary can reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol is associated with our fight or flight response, which governs intense stress. While fight or flight was essential back when we had to run away from large predators thousands of years ago, today we often end up triggering this response on a daily basis, and it's not healthy.
Reducing stress any way we can is essential to good health, and rosemary can help.
Peppermint is typically associated with alertness and energy, but it can also help in reducing stress and anxiety. This is due to the fact that we typically associate the smell of peppermint with feeling refreshed, which can help reduce stress and improve mood.
Ylang ylang is made from the flowers of the cananga tree. This beautiful scent has long been used to promote relaxation, reduce stress, and has antidepressant properties. It's a great, romantic scent that can sweep you away on the beauty of its smell alone.
Even if you just want to relax as a general self-care step, this is a great choice.
Although not typically a scent we associate with stress relief, some studies have found that the smell of lemons can work as an anti-depressant. Citrus, in general, was also found to help boost mood for up to 30 minutes after smelling it and may improve the immune system.
If you're concerned about fragrances that aren't natural, you might benefit from defusing a scent separately while burning candles so you can get the best of both worlds. There's no reason that the scent you're enjoying as you look at the beautiful light of your candles has to be from the same source, so feel free to diffuse and light scent-free candles at the same time for a full spectrum experience.
Besides scents, your primary focus should be choosing the best quality candles you can find, so you don't accidentally end up causing yourself health problems, or damage to your home from soot.
Recommended Types of Candles
A good candle is ideally made from soy wax or other vegetable waxes like coconut. These candles are better for the environment and produce less harmful toxins. If a candle doesn't mention where it comes from, it may be made from petroleum byproducts, which are not healthy to inhale.
Keep the wick trimmed short so it doesn't smoke unnecessarily, and of course, don't burn them next to flammable products.
Candles are a wonderful way to help relax and destress. If you're struggling through difficult times, or are simply burned out from work, lighting a few candles is a great way to help.