The Relaxation Alternative To Benzos -- Heavily Featuring Lavender

A shelf-full of relaxation aids is keeping me one step further away from the crazy hospital.
Publish date:
November 5, 2012
relaxation, bath oils, lavendar

I don’t know if it’s the weather, or a vitamin D deficiency, or a meds adjustment, or simply because I’ve got a lot going on at the moment but recently my anxiety has gotten a lot more tedious to manage. It’s sort of a vicious cycle –- I feel a little anxious, so I get worried about feeling more anxious, and then start to lose my mind a little.

I find it incredibly hard to be tolerant of my own mental health, having internalized a lot of long-standing messages of how I ought "just get over it." When I get palpitations, or my vision starts going funny, or numbers start to confuse me, or I get a little depersonalization-y, my immediate response is anger and frustration rather than compassion toward myself.

I try and do a gratitude list every night, and featuring near the top of that list, every time, is how desperately thankful I am that my anxiety is more manageable than it was, that I am able to leave my bed, able to lead a normal(ish) life. When I feel like this might be taken away from me, I panic.

A huge part of my recovery process has been learning how to manage uncomfortable feelings without the aid of drugs –- like how to calm down without stuffing handfuls of benzos down my throat or smoking something that envelops me in numbness. Learning how to relax has been agonizing but has helped infinitely; spending a night in watching movies without feeling ashamed of my lethargy, forcing myself out of the house to go on a walk when my chest feels tight. These are things that it has taken me years of therapy to be able to achieve, things that feel like they ought be automatic mechanisms built into my psyche but aren’t.

A lot of people talk about anxiety attacks as something that makes them feel like they are dying. I haven’t ever really felt that, the actual manifestation of a panic attack has always come as a bit of a relief to me, a climactic outpouring of built-up adrenaline. It is the hours (or days) before an attack, where I stop feeling entirely lucid, where I can’t remember my phone number or PIN code or what bus to get on, where time feels like it is a completely abstract measurement, that really upsets me.

However, there are things that help outside of continuing about 40 different types of therapy, or playing around with medication adjustments (under consultant supervision, these days) or just praying that things will change.

My number-one relaxation product of all time is Aromatherapy Associates Deep Relax Bath and Shower Oil. It’s like Valium in a bottle or something, the tiniest bit either rubbed onto your chest and arms before you shower or poured into your bath has the most amazingly soothing effect. The first time my mother gave me some, she gave me a disclaimer on how I ought to have done everything I needed to do for the evening because I would just fall straight asleep afterward, like she was giving me a box of Ambien.

She was pretty on point. It is potently lavender-y (although the scent is a little deeper than a Radox bubble bath, which I also enjoy), comes in a beautiful glass bottle and feels incredibly luxurious and special and I buy it for everyone. I find it hard to lie in a bath in silence for too long, so I put on YouTube mindfulness meditation playlists and light candles and try to pretend I am in a spa. It makes your skin super-soft and when you get into bed, you smell so thoroughly peaceful that it is amazing and a tiny bit goes a long, long way. Yet again, I am using superlatives all over the place but seriously, buy some. It’s ace. Buy it for everyone you know. Christmas presents list, sorted.

If you are somehow repelled by the smell of lavender, which does remind me a little bit of old ladies (my 50-year old housemate keeps laughing at my far-from-chic nighttime rituals) then Docteur Renaud’s Peach Essential Oil Bath is pretty amazing, too. If I have enough time to have a bath before I go out, I use this because it is less sedative and makes me smell less like someone’s nan and more like a peachy dessert.

With Ylang-Ylang, sage, pepper and orange it is revitalizing as well as soothing and it makes bubbles, which Aromatherapy Associates doesn’t. It leaves me calm and serene but not sleepy -– as well as being pretty skin-nourishing. I seriously love it and sort of wish I could drink it. Fun fact: My favourite drink as a sober lady is peach juice and my wonderful sister brings me bottles of it to toast special occasions. I may have a scent bias here.

If you thought I was just going to give you recommendations for the bath, fear not, my product advice extends far beyond bathing accouterments (although if you have an aversion to lavender, sorry, I don’t know how much I can help you, you might be doomed). Ole Henriksen do a wonderful lavender body oil that is a little more discreet than a lot of lavender products so isn’t quite as cloying.

As a means of moisturising, it is amazing (particularly after shaving) and is therefore perfect for winter when my skin is scaly and dry; it contains almond oil which is one of my favourite ways to nourish my skin. I use it when I get out of the bath or shower and am not feeling sufficiently soothed, or if I’m too lazy to get in a bath and shower I just rub it on my chest and arms. Also, the bottle is gigantic.

I think the difference between drugstore lavender products and ones like Aromatherapy Associates and Ole Henriksen is that you get a better blend and therefore a deeper complexity of scent in the more niche brands. There is something a little bit boring about an exclusively lavender smell, I like something which has woody or spicy undertones, and although Ole smells incredibly strong in the bottle, when applied and absorbed it is delicious and fairly light.

Also apparently it is an amazing massage oil but if I had a willing masseuse on hand, I probably wouldn’t feel as stressy and anxious anyway. Someone must have a fetish for giving massages, right? I might put up a Craigslist ad. I will take a massage off of anyone, no exceptions.

I hope you all remember the Nourish Argan Skin Oil that I recommended a few weeks ago? I have been so thoroughly enthusiastic about how much it has changed my life (read: face) that I also got their Relax Hydrating Peptide Serum which, again, is Lavender scented. It is specially formulated for sensitive skin, and works on the premise that it pacifies stressed skin as well as soothing your mental wellbeing.

It is a watery serum (in the best possible way) -– it isn’t gloopy or sticky, which I hate, and I’ve been using it after home extractions and plucking my eyebrows as well as when I come home and my skin is all chapped from the cold. It very faintly scented and amazing at dealing with red blotchiness, as well as simultaneously promoting collagen production so making you look fresh-faced and youthful.

I know that some of you struggled to find Nourish in the States/anywhere outside of England, so I emailed them and they told me that if you go to you can get it with free US delivery. Don’t say I don’t spoil you. Also -– get the Argan face oil, too –- it’s really great.

Finally, This Works have an amazing selection of sleep and relaxation aids that I am completely besotted with. Their Deep Sleep pillow spray is completely amazing, enough to conceal the fact that my linen is going to smell of cigarettes however much Lenor I use, and makes me feel like I’m sleeping in a meadow or something else that you see on adverts for fabric softener. I even bought some for my best friend, so enthusiastic am I about making my linen smell as nice as my body.

They also have a sleep balm, which I rub on my temples and chest and an aromatherapy rollerball type thing that I carry around in my handbag to rub on my pressure points when I am feeling anxious. It’s like a portable bath. I would like to point out that I consider these things so effective that they now live in my medicine drawer next to my bed –- a lofty accolade if ever there was one.

I just love that they have an entire range devoted to sleeping well and relaxing, because I look like shit when I’m anxious, so feeling good is like step one of looking vaguely appealing. Seriously, gnawed, bloody cuticles and lips and big bags under my eyes are a struggle to combat even with the most effectual beauty products.

I'll tell you what doesn’t ever look good, though -- a hospital gown and psych-ward slippers. I feel like a shelf-full of relaxation aids is keeping me one step further away from the crazy hospital (even if I do miss the daily acupuncture, I do not miss the bars on the windows). And if that isn’t a recommendation, I don’t know what is.