Winter brings enough holiday parties, shopping sprees, and travel to wear down even the hardiest among us. How can you refresh and rejuvenate for the new year? Try essential oils, the natural or volatile oils derived from plants. These vaporize easily in the air, releasing beneficial compounds that contain a variety of health benefits. Read on to learn about four distinct techniques—bathing, inhaling, massaging, and misting—for using essential oils to reduce stress, lift your spirits, enhance your love life, and boost your energy.

Soak away

When holiday stress becomes overwhelming, Minneapolis-based registered aromatherapist Mindy Green recommends relaxing in a warm bath with soothing essential oils. To bathe away winter anxiety, try Green's combination of essential oils: 3 drops of uplifting orange (Citrus sinensis), 5 drops of frankincense (Boswellia carteri), and 2 drops of clary sage (Salvia officinalis) with 1 ounce of a moisturizing carrier oil, such as sweet almond oil. Add 1/2 teaspoon of this mixture to a warm bath. "Add the oils just before getting into the bath so you can inhale the volatile compounds in the air while you soak," says Green. "If you add the oils while the tub is filling up, the beneficial volatile substances will evaporate too quickly."

In one study, men and women who inhaled volatile compounds from orange essential oil relaxed more than when exposed to unscented air (Physiology of Behavior, 2000, vol. 71, nos. 1–2). In addition, the women in the study experienced less anxiety and better moods.

Essential safety

Registered aromatherapist Mindy Green recommends using powerful essential oils carefully. "It is best for beginners to cut all essential oils with carrier oils, use the blends sparingly, keep the pure undiluted oils and blends out of the reach of children, and not ingest the oils or apply them directly to the face," says Green.

Breathe in happiness

To combat winter blues, Green recommends making an easy and portable scented salt that you can sniff throughout the day. Simply mix 10 drops of essential oils, such as Green's mood-boosting recipe containing 4 drops of stimulating rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), 3 drops of relaxing lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), 2 drops of uplifting lemon (Citrus limon), and 1 drop of refreshing peppermint (Mentha piperita) oil, with 1/2 ounce of common rock salt. According to a recent study, participants sitting in cubicles were more content when they inhaled the volatile compounds from either rosemary or lavender than those who inhaled unscented air (International Journal of Neuroscience, 2003, vol. 113, no. 1). Store the mixture in a dark glass jar and gently inhale this merry-making combination whenever you need wintertime cheer.

Sensual massage

Use the extra time spent indoors during the cold winter months to give or receive a relaxing massage with romantic scents. To create a sensual aromatherapy massage, Green recommends mixing 10 drops of essential oils, such as 4 drops of relaxing sandalwood (Santalum album), 3 drops of heady rose (Rosa centifolia), 2 drops of soothing lavender, and just 1 drop of the powerful spicy aphrodisiac ylang ylang (Cananga odorata) with either 1 ounce of carrier oil, such as sweet almond oil, or 1 ounce of an unscented natural lotion. Because the face can be sensitive to certain oils in this blend, Green recommends using this recipe only for body massages.

A recent study found that adults who breathed in rose oil were more relaxed and had reduced blood levels of adrenaline.

These scents can do wonders for your well-being. Women who inhaled lavender in one study experienced a "comfortable feeling" (Journal of Physiological Anthropology and Applied Human Science, 2000, vol. 19, no. 1). In another study, adults who breathed in rose oil were more relaxed and had significantly reduced blood levels of the heart-pumping and blood-pressure-raising hormone adrenaline (Japanese Journal of Pharmacology, 2002, vol. 90, no. 3).

Spray on energy
When your energy reserves are low—say, after New Year's celebrations—Green recommends using a convenient, affordable, and portable stimulating spray-on body mist. Make Green's invigorating "second wind" mist in a dark spray bottle by combining 10 drops of essential oils, such as 4 drops of rosemary, 3 drops of grapefruit (Citrus paradisi), 2 drops of lemon, and 1 drop of peppermint, and adding this blend to 2 ounces of water.

In a study of adults performing a series of standardized cognitive tests, those who inhaled rosemary had higher memory and alertness scores than those not exposed to any scents during testing (International Journal of Neuroscience, 2003, vol. 113, no. 1). In other research, adults who inhaled peppermint essential oil in a darkened room during daytime were less sleepy than adults in an unscented darkened room (International Journal of Psychophysiology, 2005, vol. 55, no. 3).

"The best way to use a mist is to spray the air or the body," says Green. "But don't forget to shake the mixture before every use, because the oils can separate from the water easily."

Santa Cruz, California-based Adina Licht is a nutrition and food scientist who loves mixing her own essential oil blends.