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Essential oils are aromatic substances that can be extracted from plants using distillation. It’s possible to obtain essential oils from many different parts of a plant, including, but not limited to the leaves, flowers, and roots.
In addition to being used as scents for a variety of consumer and natural products, some essential oils may be used for various health applications. When essential oils are used to promote well-being, it’s referred to as aromatherapy.
Some of the possible uses of essential oils in aromatherapy include things like managing pain, helping with digestion, and reducing stress and anxiety. While scientific evidence for many of these uses is lacking, research is ongoing to learn more about the benefits of essential oils.
The article below will examine 18 essential oils that may help with symptoms of anxiety. We’ll discuss:
- their potential benefits for anxiety and other conditions
- how they can be applied
- the things to keep in mind before using them
One theory of how aromatherapy works is that essential oils can stimulate the smell receptors in your nose, which then sends messages to your nervous system. Some also believe that essential oils can have a subtle effect on the body’s chemical and energy systems.
Because of this, aromatherapy is often used as a natural remedy to help relieve anxiety and stress. Topical applications and inhalation are some common ways that essential oils can be used for aromatherapy.
Essential oils should never be ingested, despite claims on the internet that suggest otherwise. There’s not enough research on any one essential oil to prove it’s safe to swallow. Each essential oil is very different, and some are toxic.
It’s important to know that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate essential oils, so be diligent in your practice. You should only use therapeutic-grade oils that don’t contain synthetic fragrance and only purchase from a trusted source.
Valerian is an herb that has been used since ancient times. Valerian essential oil comes from the roots of the plant and has a bold scent that may be described as woody, earthy, or musky. Some individuals may find this scent to be unpleasant.
Valerian is thought to contain compounds that promote sleep and calm nerves. It can have a mild sedative effect on the body. Because of this, it’s often used as a sleep aid.
- How to use: Add a few drops of valerian oil to an aromatherapy diffuser and inhale. Valerian may make you sleepy or relaxed.
- Best used for: In addition to its uses for sleep and anxiety, valerian can also be used to help with headache, trembling, and heart palpitations.
Jatamansi is in the same plant family as valerian. You may also see it referred to as spikenard. The essential oil is made from the roots of the plant and has an earthy or woody scent. Jatamansi is used in ayurvedic medicine to calm the mind and encourage sleep.
According to a
- How to use: Massage diluted jatamansi oil into your temples or forehead.
- Best used for: Jatamansi can be used as a sleep aid and to help ease symptoms of depression. It may also help relieve pain and inflammation.
Lavender is one of the most popular aromatherapy oils. It has a sweet floral scent with a woody or herbal undertone.
Lavender oil can be used to calm anxiety. It also has a sedative effect and may help with sleep troubles, including if feelings of stress or anxiety are keeping you up at night.
According to 2012 research, lavender aromatherapy is thought to calm anxiety by impacting the limbic system, the part of the brain that controls emotions.
A 2019 review evaluated 71 studies that used lavender to ease anxiety. It found that inhaling lavender could significantly lower anxiety levels measured using a clinically validated scale. Massage with lavender oil was also found to help reduce anxiety levels.
- How to use: Enjoy a relaxing lavender bath by combining several drops of lavender oil with a teaspoon of carrier oil, such as almond oil or jojoba oil, or an unscented bath gel. Stir the mixture into warm bathwater just before entering.
- Best used for: In addition to helping lower anxiety, you can also use lavender oil for many other things. Some examples include as part of a skincare regimen to help with conditions like eczema, acne, and burns. It may also help ease muscle pain and headache pain.
Jasmine oil has a gorgeous floral scent and is often used in perfumes and other cosmetic products. You may also see jasmine used as a base for various types of teas. According to a 2013 study, inhaling jasmine oil can promote a sense of well-being and romance.
Unlike some other essential oils used for anxiety, jasmine oil is thought to calm the nervous system without causing sleepiness. In fact, it can actually have a stimulant effect in some individuals.
- How to use: You can inhale jasmine oil directly from the bottle, by adding a few drops onto a tissue and inhaling, or by placing the tissue in your pillowcase as you sleep. You can also allow the scent to fill the room through a diffuser.
- Best used for: Jasmine can be used to help regulate your mood. It may also be used as an aphrodisiac.
Holy basil, also called tulsi, isn’t the basil you use when making lasagna. But it’s from the same family. It contains eugenol, a compound that gives it a spicy, minty aroma.
- How to use: The eugenol in holy basil has a powerful fragrance, so a little goes a long way. Add a few drops to an aromatherapy diffuser and inhale as the oil is dispersed throughout the room.
- Best used for: Holy basil may be used for cough, digestive upset, and inflammation or pain due to arthritis. It may also help lower blood glucose and cholesterol.
Sweet basil essential oil comes from the same herb that you use to make marinara sauce. It has a crisp, herbal scent.
In aromatherapy, sweet basil is thought to help calm the mind and relieve stress. Research into using sweet basil for anxiety is rather limited, with many studies focusing on animal models.
According to a
- How to use: Add several drops of sweet basil oil to a room diffuser or inhale through an inhaler tube.
- Best used for: Sweet basil oil may be used for digestive upset, skin care, and pain or inflammation.
Bergamot oil comes from bergamot oranges, a hybrid of lemon and bitter orange. The essential oil is derived from the peel or zest of the fruit and has an invigorating citrus scent. It’s a popular ingredient in perfumes, and Bergamot is also the herb used in Earl Grey tea.
Bergamot essential oil can have a calming effect and can help reduce anxiety. According to a
When used topically, bergamot may increase sun sensitivity, which can increase your risk for experiencing a severe sunburn. Because of this, don’t apply bergamot essential oil to your skin if you’re planning on going out in the sun.
- How to use: Place a few drops of bergamot oil onto a cotton ball or handkerchief. Inhale the aroma two to three times to help relieve anxiety.
- Best used for: In addition to helping ease feelings of anxiety, bergamot essential oil can help ease pain and inflammation or lower cholesterol. It also has antimicrobial properties.
Chamomile oil comes from the daisy-like flowers of the chamomile plant. It’s well known for its relaxing and sedating properties and pleasant scent. In fact, you may often see it as an ingredient in herbal teas that aim to promote peaceful sleep.
Researchers found that chamomile supplementation reduced the symptoms of mild to moderate GAD. However, it did not reduce the rate of relapse of anxiety symptoms.
- How to use: Massage diluted chamomile oil into your skin or add it to a warm bath. It’s important to note that chamomile oil is strong, and a little can go a long way.
- Best used for: Chamomile oil can also be used to help with digestive upset, healing of wounds or ulcers, and easing pain and inflammation.
Rose essential oil is extracted from rose petals. Roses have an enchanting sweet, floral scent known to relax the senses.
A small 2011 study looked at the effects of self-massage with a mix of essential oils, including rose oil, on menstrual pain and anxiety. It found that aromatherapy self-massage of the abdomen with the essential oil mixture was associated with lower levels of pain and anxiety.
- How to use: Soak your feet in a basin filled with warm water and diluted rose essential oil. You can also add rose oil to your favorite non-scented moisturizer or shea butter and massage into skin.
- Best used for: Rose oil may help lift mood or ease the symptoms of PMS, such as menstrual cramps. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and may help with wound healing. Some may choose to use it as an aphrodisiac.
Vetiver may be less known than other essential oils, but it’s not less effective. You may see it referred to as khus oil. Vetiver oil comes from the grassy vetiver plant that’s native to India. It has a sweet, earthy scent.
Vetiver oil can help calm the nervous system and can help with sleep. As such, it may also help alleviate feelings of stress or anxiety.
Like other essential oils we’ve discussed, research into vetiver and anxiety in humans is currently limited. However, there are studies in animals that show that it can help reduce anxiety.
According to a
- How to use: Enjoy a relaxing massage with diluted vetiver oil or add it to a diffuser.
- Best used for: Vetiver oil may be helpful for boosting immunity and promoting skin health. It also has anti-inflammatory properties.
Ylang ylang comes from the yellow flowers of the tropical Cananga tree. It has a sweet fruity or floral scent.
Ylang ylang can be used in aromatherapy to help lift an individual’s mood. It can also have a calming effect and may help lower blood pressure.
Overall, research into using ylang ylang for anxiety is limited. According to a 2006 study involving nurses, inhaling a blend of ylang ylang, lavender, and bergamot lowered stress and anxiety levels, blood pressure, heart rate, and serum cortisol.
- How to use: Apply diluted ylang ylang to your skin, add to a room diffuser, or inhale directly.
- Best used for: Ylang ylang can be used for its antidepressant properties. Some people may also use it as an aphrodisiac.
Frankincense oil is made from the resin of the Boswellia tree. It has a musky, sweet aroma.
Few studies on frankincense oil and anxiety have been carried out in humans. A
- How to use: Massage diluted frankincense oil onto your hands or feet. You can also add frankincense to a diffuser.
- Best used for: Frankincense essential oil may help ease inflammation due to arthritis and may also help with symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease.
Clary sage is different from the common herb used to make stuffing at Thanksgiving. It has a woody, herbal odor. The essential oil is derived from the leaves of the plant, which have a purple tint to them.
According to a 2015 systematic review, clary sage can help ease tension and help manage cortisol levels in women. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone. High cortisol levels may increase your risk for anxiety and depression.
- How to use: Inhale clary sage oil directly when you feel anxious or massage the diluted oil into your skin.
- Best used for: Due to its calming abilities, clary sage oil is often used as an aphrodisiac. You can also use clary sage to help ease menstrual and muscle cramps. It may even act as an antidepressant.
Musky patchouli is used in ayurvedic medicine to address a variety of conditions, including stress and anxiety. It’s made from the leaves and stems of the patchouli plant, which is a type of herb.
Patchouli can be used on its own but is often combined with other essential oils such as lavender. It’s thought to promote calmness and relaxation, though most evidence is anecdotal.
A 2020 study assessed the effects of inhaled patchouli oil on emergency room nurses. Compared to the control group, nurses who inhaled the patchouli oil reported lower levels of stress and higher levels of compassion.
- How to use: To relieve anxiety, inhale patchouli oil directly or add it diluted to a warm bath or room diffuser.
- Best used for: Patchouli can be used to help with depression. It may also have anti-inflammatory properties, help ease pain, and help to promote skin health.
Geranium oil is distilled from the geranium plant and has a sweet, floral scent. It’s often used as a scent in soaps, cosmetics, and perfumes.
This essential oil has sedative properties. Due to this, it may be used to help reduce feelings of stress or anxiety.
According to a
- How to use: Apply a few drops of geranium oil to a cotton ball and waft under your nose a few times.
- Best used for: Geranium oil can also be used on the skin to help address inflammation, eczema, and skin aging. You can also use geranium oil to help with nerve pain and conditions associated with diabetes.
Lemon balm has a fresh, uplifting aroma that smells like lemons. Although it has the word “lemon” in its name, it actually comes from an herb. In aromatherapy, it has a soothing, restorative effect.
Most success stories on inhaling lemon balm for anxiety are anecdotal. But according to a
- How to use: Lemon balm is a great oil to add to a diffuser for a fresh scent that covers an entire room. You can also inhale it directly.
- Best used for: Lemon balm may boost cognitive function and help with digestive upset.
Sweet marjoram is a type of herb that’s native to the Mediterranean and is now grown in many parts of the world. The essential oil is extracted from the flowers of the plant.
Sweet marjoram is also used to ease headaches, a common symptom of anxiety. Despite the lack of scientific evidence, it’s a go-to folk remedy for many aromatherapists.
- How to use: Dilute marjoram with a carrier oil and rub into your temples, using caution to prevent the oil from dripping into your eyes. You may also dilute and apply to your wrists or add to a diffuser.
- Best used for: In addition to headache, sweet marjoram oil can be used for aches and pains, digestive upset, and asthma.
Fennel is best known as a cooking spice. It’s an herb that has an anise (licorice) aroma. Fennel essential oil is made from the seeds of the fennel plant. It’s believed to have a calming effect, reducing nervousness and stress.
According to a 2017 study, fennel supplements helped with menopause symptoms such as anxiety, hot flashes, sleep problems, and depression. It’s unclear if inhaling fennel would have the same effect, but it may be worth trying.
- How to use: Add diluted fennel oil to a warm bath to help relax your body and your mind.
- Best used for: You can also use fennel oil for digestive problems, which are a common symptom of anxiety. It has also been used for menstrual irregularities, to help ease cough, and as a diuretic.
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Dilutions are different for adults and for children:
- For adults: Every 15 drops of essential oil should be diluted with 1 ounce of carrier oil.
- For children: The mixture is much more diluted with a ratio of 3 to 6 drops of essential oil to 1 ounce of carrier oil. Use of essential oils in children should always be under the supervision of their doctor.
Because essential oils may cause an allergic reaction when used topically, it’s important to do a patch test on a small area of skin before use. To do this:
- Place a few drops of diluted essential oil on your wrist or elbow.
- Cover the spot with a bandage.
- Check the area in 24 hours. If you experience any redness, rash, or itching, the oil isn’t safe for you to use on your skin.
When inhaling essential oils, make sure that the room you’re in is well ventilated. This can help prevent potential side effects like respiratory irritation or headaches.
Essential oils aren’t safe for everyone. Talk with your doctor before using essential oils if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or have an underlying medical condition. You should also always consult your doctor before using essential oils on children.
Remember: Not all essential oils are created equal, so you should only buy them from a reputable source. The FDA does not regulate or monitor essential oils.
Although research has shown that aromatherapy may help relieve anxiety, it’s no substitute for seeing a healthcare professional.
If you have a stressful day at work or you’re anxious because you have an important appointment, an aromatherapy session or two might be just what you need.
If you’re looking to find information on specific essential oils for anxiety or you need more information on aromatherapy in general, you can talk with a certified aromatherapist.
But if you experience chronic anxiety that interferes with daily activities, call a doctor or mental health professional. They can work with you to develop a management plan tailored to your needs.