Some people regularly light candles as part of a religious tradition. Others light them as a decorative element during celebrations. And there are times when lighting a candle is even more personal. It can be one of the things that we do to alleviate stress or anxiety. But why do candles help us feel calmer?
The ambient glow of unscented candles can help slow our breathing. Candles scented with essential oils offer aromatherapy benefits. Depending on the oil, we can feel more rested. Whether unscented or scented, candles have been proven to add much needed relaxation to your life.
Continue reading to learn about the effects that candles can have on your mood and body. I’ll also share which fragrances are suggested to create a calming atmosphere.
How Can Candles Promote Relaxation?
We live in a fast-paced and increasingly geographically fluid society. That means we are always, “on.” Constantly bombarded with information, special reports, professional, cultural, and personal expectations – life is increasingly hectic.
It’s important for us to seek out ways to take a breath and generate calm from the inside out. Candles can play a significant role in this process.
Being near an open flame can have a grounding effect. Humans can experience an immediate sense of calm and ease. One study examined the effects of exposure to campfires and hearths. Participants experienced a decrease in blood pressure and were more likely to engage in prosocial behaviors. They were found to have more of a capacity to relax. This response is basically coded into our DNA.
Candles with wooden wicks can simulate the campfire or hearth experience. Candles like those made by WoodWick also offer the multi-sensory experience of crackling wood, fragrance of burnt wood, and the glowing light.
But if lighting wooden wick candles adds to your sensory overload instead of encouraging relaxation, then you’ll like this next point.
Lighting Unscented Candles for Relaxation
Simply seeing a candle flame sends signals to the human brain that it’s time to relax. Gentle flames are soothing to the eyes and its effects travel throughout the body. Our bodies settle down, and you may feel inner peace.
When our minds are in a flurry, constantly thinking and doing, that’s considered a beta brainwave state. Dr. Negrin states that by simply staring at a candle flame, the brain transitions into an alpha brainwave state. This is when the brain is calmer, more creative, and easygoing.
The doctor goes on to state that if you allow yourself to sink into these feelings even longer, you may then experience the theta brainwave state. Continuing to stare at the flame becomes meditative.
And it doesn’t take long to reach the theta brainwave state. Giving yourself a few minutes to unwind can make a positively significant difference. You don’t have to say or do anything, simply allow yourself to be in the moment – just you and the flame.
How Scent Aids in Relaxation
Fragrance adds another layer of relaxation. In addition to the ambient light and gentle flame, scented candles add even more benefits to lighting a candle.
Studies have shown that scent has an impact on your thoughts, feelings, and the way that you interact with those around you. Lighting pine scented candles during the holiday season is a good example of this. It immediately connects people to feelings of warmth, coziness, and the joy of being with family and friends
In the past I’ve also written about how companies like Yankee Candle and Bath & Body Works go to great lengths to offer certain fragrances that you’d connect to positive memories.
For instance, Pink Sands is one of Yankee Candle’s most popular scents because it transports customers to the beach and memories of a family vacation.
Scents like these are fun and can produce an enjoyable experience. But for truly relaxing scented candles, selecting ones fragranced with essential oils will offer more benefit.
For instance, in this 2014 study, stress hormone levels significantly decreased for menopausal women who inhaled clary sage essential oil. Women who previously experienced depression symptoms benefitted even more from exposure to the clary sage oil.
Essential oils can benefit the body in ways that fragrance oils cannot.
Intensive care patients who struggled to fall asleep experienced reduced anxiety levels and higher sleep quality after inhaling lavender essential oil.
In this post I go into great detail about the complexities of scent in the human body. Because your sense of smell is so deeply connected to your emotions and thoughts, what you smell can positively or negatively impact your mood, body, and interactions with others.
So combining aromatherapy with lighted candles can potentially enhance relaxation effects because you’d be responding to two forms of pleasant stimuli.
What Are the Benefits of Relaxing by Candlelight?
There are a number of reasons why you might want to consider lighting a candle in order to relax. Here are some of the benefits you might experience in the process:
Prepares You for Sleep
Lowered lights are an automatic signal to your body that it is time to rest. When it’s dark, melatonin signals the brain that it’s time to fall asleep. Lighting a candle supports this bodily communication.
Improves Quality of Sleep
In addition to helping you fall asleep, the aromatherapy benefits of relaxing by candle can even help improve the quality of the sleep you get. Fragrances like rose are especially helpful in this way.
When you give yourself downtime and you’re able to fall asleep, stay asleep, and experience high quality sleep, your body, mind, and soul are all revitalized. It gives you more energy to carry out day to day activities.
Adequate rest leads to mood stability. When you’re able to rest and sleep regularly, you’re also better equipped to engage with others. Sharing this downtime with others can also improve social interactions.
Strengthens Your Immune System
Your body needs rest in order to combat illnesses. Restoring the body for seven to nine hours helps produce cytokine proteins and T-cells. Cytokine proteins fight infections and inflammation. T-cells are white blood cells in your body which fight off infectious diseases.
Which Scented Fragrances Are Most Relaxing?
Lavender is a relaxing scent but not everyone likes this herbaceous fragrance. A person who dislikes lavender is unlikely to feel calm and relaxed when they smell it. Scent is very nuanced and can have very different effects from one person to the other.
With that said, there are some fragrances that are generally more relaxing than others. These scents have a positive effect on large numbers of people, which is why they are more widely available in the marketplace.
- Amber – helps relieve anxiety and stress; decreases symptoms of depression
- Apple – controls anxiety
- Bergamot – combats anxiety and depression
- Cedarwood – increases sleep time, prevents you from waking up prematurely
- Chamomile – decreases anxiety; has a sedative effect
- Clary Sage – antidepressant effects
- Frankincense – relieves stress; reduces anxiety
- Geranium – decreases anxiety, stress, fatigue and sadness; aids in emotional balance
- Jasmine – offers an emotional lift; helps alleviate stress, anxiety, depression
- Lavender – relaxes mind and body; reduces mental stress
- Rose – reduces anxiety and depression; relaxes the body
- Vanilla – lowers blood pressure; reduces depression symptoms
- Ylang ylang – reduces anxiety and depression; lowers blood pressure; supports more calm and ease.
Sanari’s Sanam aromatherapy candle combines rose, jasmine and pomegranate essential oils with organic coconut wax to help you relax.
Voluspa’s Baltic Amber scent combines amber resin with sandalwood and vanilla orchid for a luxurious fragrance to help you wind down at the end of the day.
These are just examples. Sandalwood relaxes and calms the body and mind for some people but for others, it can act as a stimulant. You’ll have to test it out for yourself to determine how your body will respond.
When Can You Best Experience Relaxation from Candles?
Whenever you feel the need to take a moment to yourself, you can light a candle. It doesn’t have to be at night.
In the morning, you can incorporate candle lighting into your daily ritual. If you journal before your day starts, lighting a candle can help you relax during that time.
You can also enjoy the relaxing effects of candle lighting while stretching, doing Pilates or Yoga, meditation, or scripture reading.
During the evening you can light a candle after returning home from work, while bathing, reading a book, or right before going to bed.
When you take time to relax, it can improve your overall daily functioning – mentally, emotionally, and physically.
The extent to which lighting candles will aid in relaxation varies by individual. But their low light output prompts your body to prepare for rest. Adding scent into the mix can enhance the quality of your rest.
Always safely burn candles and talk to a medical professional before attempting to treat a pre-existing mental health condition.