When I did research for my How To Overcome Anxiety series, I found some intriguing literature on anxiety and stress, and how essential oils and aromatherapy can provide relief.
The idea behind aromatherapy is that scents from certain essential oils stimulate the limbic system of the brain, which controls emotion, motivation, long-term memory, behavior, and olfaction (smell).
Therefore, certain aromas may stimulate an improvement of mood, a sense of calm, reduction of stress, and a more positive, focused outlook.
While the idea of relieving stress, reducing anxiety, and uplifting mood through the inhalation of pleasant, all-natural plant compounds sounds a bit woo-woo, it actually has some science behind it.
There is enough published studies (although all of them used a very small sample of participants) to suggest that certain essential oils may provide some relief from symptoms of anxiety, stress, tension, and poor sleep through aromatherapy.
This article includes information on 30 different essential oils that are often recommended for stress, worry, and anxiety.
What Is An Essential Oil?
An essential oil is a concentrated, hydrophobic liquid derived from plants. It contains volatile aroma compounds that provide a powerful, possibly therapeutic scent.
How To Use Essential Oils
I recommend diffusing essential oils into the air via an aromatherapy diffuser. This is the most effective way to diffuse the oil and aroma into the air.
My sister has a nice bamboo diffuser (this one <-- Amazon affiliate link), and I really like it. I plan to get one of these for myself. You can find a host of other essential oil diffusers on Amazon.com.
You can also apply 2-3 drops onto a cotton ball and place it nearby – like on a bedroom nightstand, or next to your desk. Be sure to protect wood surfaces from contact with oil. (While this method is free and simple, it generates needless waste.)
You can also simply open the bottle of essential oil and inhale the aroma.
Essential Oil Safety
Essential oils are NOT a replacement for necessary medications. Always work with your doctor before discontinuing any prescription medications, or when attempting to treat a serious medical (or psychiatric) condition through alternative means.
Essential oils may relieve symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression, but they are not cures. Essential oils cannot take the place of a licensed therapist who can help you train your thought patterns in order to become more resistant to anxiety, stress, and depression.
Women who are pregnant or nursing should exercise caution around essential oils, and should avoid using them topically (on the skin) or internally (as a dietary supplement). Same goes for using essential oils on children.
The essential oils listed below have been studied for their aroma-therapeutic properties, and are not intended to be ingested, or taken as a dietary supplement.
1) Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Lavender is one of the most popular essential oils out there as it has many uses, but it is particularly known for boosting mood, inducing relaxation, and improving sleep.
A 2007 study published in the International Journal of Cardiology showed that a lavender essential oil aromatherapy treatment in men reduced serum cortisol levels. (Cortisol is a hormone that your body produces under stress.)
A study in Iran showed that new mothers who were stressed from, well, being a new mother, had better sleep after 8 weeks of a nightly aromatherapy treatment with lavender essential oil.
I will also toss in a piece of anecdotal evidence here. As someone who lives with an anxiety disorder, I often struggle with insomnia. I have to take a 5mg melatonin tablet to get to sleep most nights.
After reading about lavender essential oil, I tested it out by placing a few drops on a cotton ball on my nightstand before bed. After over a year of having to take melatonin every night in order to fall asleep, I was able to fall asleep on my own 5 out of 7 nights during my experiment!
2) Bergamot (Citrus aurantium)
Bergamot essential oil has a citrus aroma.
A small study in Taiwan showed that 10-minute inhallation of bergamot essential oil once per week reduced heart rate and blood pressure.
Several studies have also shown that bergamot essential oil, when used as an aromatherapy treatment, can reduce heart rate, blood pressure, and stress response.
A few of these studies were conducted using bergamot in a blend of other essential oils including lavender, cedarwood, ylang ylang, and frankincense.
3-9) Citrus Essential Oils
Besides bergamot, there are a several other citrus essential oils that may help alleviate stress and anxiety. They include:
3) Sweet Orange (Citrus sinensis)
I know that the fresh, cheery smell of oranges in the wintertime helps relieve the winter blues. But sweet orange essential oil can also lift mood.
A small study found that an aromatherapy treatment with orange (and rose) oil increased “comfortable, relaxed, and natural” feelings.
4) Lime (Citrus latifolia)
Lime has a cheery, invigorating aroma, and likely provides similar aromatherapy benefits as lemon, and other citrus essential oils.
5) Lemon (Citrus limon)
A study in the UK showed that lemon essential oil was one of a few aromatherapy scents that reduced stress in cancer patients.
6) Grapefruit (Citrus paradisi)
Grapefruit is a popular essential oil, and smells really good when blended with bergamot.
7) Neroli (Citrus aurantium)
Neroli essential oil is extracted from the blossoms of orange trees and has an aroma that is a blend of citrus and floral.
A study conducted on post-menopausal women showed that inhalation of neroli essential oil resulted in lower stress and increased sexual desire.
8) Yuzu (Citrus junos)
A Japanese study showed that inhalation of Yuzu essential oil “reduces negative emotional stress”.
9) Tangerine (Citrus reticulata)
Tangerine is one of my favorite aromas, and is said to have a calming effect.
10) Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea)
With a woody, herbaceous aroma, clary sage is one of the most popular essential oils attributed with calming, antidepressant effects.
A small study showed that inhalation of clary sage essential oil aroma reduced heart rate, blood pressure, and slowed respiration in women undergoing urodynamic assessment.
Another study showed that clary sage essential oil had an antidepressant effect in menopausal women.
11) Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata)
The sweet and spicy aroma of ylang ylang essential oil has been found to lower heart rate and blood pressure after aromatherapy treatment.
Another study used ylang ylang essential oil for an aromatherapy massage. Particpants in the study reported a heightened sense of calm and relaxation.
12) Cinnamon Leaf (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)
With a more earthy, cinnamon aroma, cinnamon leaf essential oil is said to have either an invigorating, or calming effect.
While I could not find any human clinical trials, there is a small study that showed that cinnamon leaf oil aroma reduced anxiety in mice.
13) Sandalwood (Santalum album)
Sandalwood is one of my favorite aromas, so it always puts me in a good mood. It has an intoxicatingly sweet, woody scent.
There is limited published literature on the effects of sandalwood essential oil on humans, but one study suggested that it may reduce anxiety.
14) Roman Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis)
Chamomile is well known for its sedative, calming effects. It is sometimes used as a sleep aid.
An article published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine noted that chamomile essential oil had “stress relieving properties [that] ease out depression, worry, and overactive mind.”
15) Frankincense (Boswellia carterii)
Frankincense is a popular essential oil that is often suggested for use as a stress reliever.
It has been used in various aromatherapy oil blends in a few clinical trials, but I am not aware of any clinical trials that used frankincense on its own.
16) Jasmine (Jasminium officinale)
A small study showed that the aroma of jasmine tea had a sedative effect on participants.
I am not aware of any studies conducted using jasmine essential oil, but the aroma from the tea would be caused by the same compounds that are distilled and concentrated into essential oil.
17) Rose (Rosa damascena)
A study on rats found that inhalation of rose essential oil reduced anxiety.
It has also been found to have a relaxing effect on humans, too.
18) Marjoram (Origanum majorana)
Marjoram is often used in cooking, but the essential oil has been shown to reduce anxiety.
19) Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens)
Geranium essential oil was found to reduce anxiety and stress in women entering the early stages of labor.
20) Spikenard (Nardostachys jatamansi)
Spikenard is a less common essential oil with a woodsy scent, and there isn’t a lot of evidence for its effectiveness on humans.
However, a study has found that when administered as an aromatherapy treatment, it has a sedative effect on mice.
21-30) Other Essential Oils For Anxiety & Stress
The following essential oils are often recommended for anxiety and stress relief, however, there aren’t any peer-reviewed, clinical research on them (that I am aware of).
21) Lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosus) – Has an herbal lemon scent, and is said to be uplifting.
22) Copaiba (Copaifera reticulata) – Often used in “stress” essential oils blends and products.
23) Vertiver (Vetiveria zizanoides) – Earthy, woody, smokey scent. Said to reduce stress, anxiety, and promote sound sleep.
24) Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) – Sweet and earthy, the aroma is said to revitalize and ease worry, without sedative effects.
25) Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin) – Used by aromatherapists to soothe the nervous system and ease worry.
26) Valerian (Valeriana jatamansi) – Spicy, musky, and earthy scent. Often sold as an herbal supplement for sleep and stress/anxiety.
27) Cedarwood (Cedrus atlantica) – Spicy, woody scent that is said to promote a positive mood.
28) Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus & Eucalyptus radiata) – Herbaceous, woody aroma said to enhance focus and boost mood.
29) Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) – Invigorating scent keeps you alert and focused, while lifting your mood.
30) Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) – One of the most popular essential oils, the aroma can impart a sense of calm and cleansing.
So there you have it, 30 essential oils for stress, worry, and anxiety.
Have you used any of these? If so, what effect have they had? Which is your favorite?
Please leave a comment below and let me know!
Where To Buy Essential Oils
Essential oils have become quite popular, so they are getting easier to find locally.
Most places that sell natural products will likely carry essential oils. Health food stores are a good bet, but so are local apothecaries and new age shops. Yoga studios may also be a source for essential oils. I actually found a (very limited) selection of essential oils at my local Rite Aid drug store.
The Internet is also a great place to buy essential oils.
Caution: There are a LOT of bogus essential oils – especially sold online (even through Amazon).
Since there is no regulation on essential oil purity, many of the least expensive brands are not pure (even though they may have that on the label).
Some cheap essential oils may be diluted with a carrier oil that has no therapeutic benefits. In some cases, synthetic scents may be added. Some people are tricked into buying “scented oils” that are not true essential oils.
When choosing an essential oils brand, I avoid:
Super low price (14 bottles for $20 sounds like a great deal, but it’s likely too good to be true as far as purity and quality.
Zero information (or vague info) on sources for their ingredients, or lack of testing.
Claims that a particular brand is the ONLY true “therapeutic quality” essential oil (it’s just a marketing term), or somehow better than any other brand.
Specific claims about healing serious medical conditions.
After searching around for a brand of essential oils that are high quality and good value, I purchased a starter set from a company called Plant Therapy. Their prices are great, and their oils are third-party tested for purity.
I purchased the Essential Oil Gift Set #1 from the Plant Therapy website for $25.98, which is an incredible deal for six 10ml bottles of Lavender, Orange Sweet, Peppermint, Eucalyptus, Lemongrass, and Tea Tree essential oils.
I also received a generous coupon code by signing up to their e-mail newsletter before I purchased.
I am very happy with the aroma and quality of this set! I’m currently diffusing eucalyptus while I write this and I think this has become my favorite!
You can also find essential oils on Amazon.com.
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