Essential oils for stressShare on Pinterest

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Aromatherapy can be a natural remedy for stress relief. The practice involves inhaling the scent of essential oils, which are extracted from plants, in order to promote health and well-being.

Your olfactory system directly affects the part of your brain that regulates emotion. That’s why smells can trigger memories and elicit feelings — both negative and positive. Aromatherapy can help in reducing stress and anxiety to engage a general state of calm.

A 2016 review even found that aromatherapy was effective at reducing pain, when combined with conventional treatments.

Essential oils are highly concentrated, which means you should exercise caution when trying them for the first time. They should also be used in moderation, especially if being applied topically, since they’re absorbed into the skin.

There are several ways to use essential oils for stress, from applying topically to inhaling the scent after diluting with water. A general rule of thumb is to follow the specific instructions for each essential oil you try. If you’re going to apply it topically, it’s best to test the oil on a small area of skin first to identify a potential reaction.

We chose these essential oils for their stress-reducing and anti-anxiety properties. We also took a look at any studies that supported the effectiveness of these properties.

Essential oils are generally considered safe to use when used properly.

However, as with any substance you introduce to your body, it’s best to take several precautions. Essential oils require dilution to prevent adverse reactions. As a general rule, you should keep concentration levels of essential oils below 5 percent.

Pay attention to dosage, purity, application method, and any possible drug interactions. Some oils are considered safe if inhaled, but they may be irritating if applied to the skin in concentrations as low as 3 to 5 percent.

When diffusing oils, use these safety precautions:

  • Follow proper dilution guidelines.
  • Make sure you diffuse in a well-ventilated area.
  • Diffuse intermittently, typically 30 to 60 minutes on, then 30 to 60 minutes off.

Best for relaxation

Lavender

Lavender is one of the most popular essential oils for beginners and aromatherapy experts alike. As one of the several essential oils with anxiolytic, or anti-anxiety, properties, lavender can create an overall calming effect.

In a 2013 study, aromatherapy using a 3 percent lavender oil spray on clothing was shown to reduce workplace stress.

Lavender emits a floral, aromatic scent and has many uses. You can add a few drops to a diffuser, apply it directly to your skin, or combine it with other products or oils.

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Best for sleep

Chamomile

A popular ingredient in tea, the chamomile plant is known to have sedative effects. Chamomile essential oil is no different and has relaxation properties that can aid with sleep.

Chamomile essential oil has some solid research behind it. Over the years, it’s been used for a variety of ailments and conditions, such as digestive upset, anxiety, wounds, pain, and sleep problems.

A 2017 study found that, after 8 weeks, 58.1 percent of participants experienced reduced symptoms of moderate to severe generalized anxiety disorder when using chamomile extract.

A small 2018 study found that chamomile therapy helped reduce anxiety symptoms and increased morning cortisol levels.

Try diffusing or applying a few drops of Roman chamomile essential oil before bed to experience the calming effects.

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Best for meditation

Orange

Another essential oil with anxiolytic properties, orange essential oil is a citrus-based oil that can create a relaxing state.

A 2012 study found that participants who inhaled sweet orange essential oil didn’t have an increase in anxiety or tension during an anxiety-inducing situation, unlike those who inhaled a control aroma (tea tree oil) or a placebo.

The bright scent, however, can also heighten the senses and increase alertness that, when combined with the calming effect, can create a balanced mood that’s great for meditating.

Orange essential oil can be diffused or distilled with other products.

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Best for anxiety

Sandalwood

Sandalwood oil comes from the wood and roots of Santalum album, or the East Indian sandalwood tree. This is one of the most valuable trees in the world.

Earthy and warm, sandalwood essential oil also features anxiolytic properties, which make it great for reducing anxiety.

A small 2006 study found that sandalwood oil was effective at reducing anxiety among participants. The sample size was too small to draw conclusive findings, but the results were promising.

The gentle and woodsy essential oil can be diffused, applied topically, or directly inhaled.

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Best for stress

Clary sage

Clary sage (Salvia sclarea) is a flowering herb that’s native to the Mediterranean basin. It’s best suited to address stress, because it can have an effect on cortisol, the stress hormone.

According to a 2014 study, clary sage was effective at decreasing cortisol levels and produced an antidepressant-like effect for menopausal women when inhaled.

Consider diffusing this essential oil to create a calming effect throughout a room, or inhale it directly when applied to a cotton ball or tissue. It can also be applied directly onto your skin when diluted.

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Best mood lifter

Lemon

Lemon, sourced from the leaves of the lemon plant, have been found in preliminary animal studies to have sedative and anxiety-reducing properties.

Lemon essential oil is a natural mood lifter and stress-reducing oil with a bright aroma and many properties that can contribute to a positive mood.

According to a 2018 study, lemon essential oil had an effect on dopamine activities in mice. A 2005 study also found that lemon oil significantly enhanced the attention level, concentration, cognitive performance, and mood of students during the learning process.

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Best for diffusing

Bergamot

Bergamot is another anxiolytic essential oil with a citrus aroma. It’s sourced from the peel of a citrus fruit known as Citrus bergamia.

While research on the effects of bergamot essential oil is fairly limited, some studies show that the oil may help reduce stress and promote relaxation.

A 2017 study found that inhaling bergamot essential oil for 15 minutes improved positive feelings of participants in the waiting room of a mental health treatment center.

Bergamot is best when diffused or directly inhaled. However, this oil has photosensitive properties that cause it to react to the sun. When applied topically, bergamot can have a negative reaction to the sun and can potentially burn your skin.

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Best for topical use

Rose

Distilled from the flower, rose essential oil not only creates a gentle floral aroma, but it also carries stress-reducing properties.

A 2009 study found that rose oil caused a significant decrease of breathing rate, blood oxygen saturation, and systolic blood pressure when applied topically. The study participants also reported feeling much more relaxed after the oil treatment.

A 2014 study involving over 100 pregnant women found that rose oil lowered their anxiety levels during delivery.

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Best for depression

Jasmine

Jasmine oil is an essential oil derived from the white flowers of the jasmine plant, also known as Jasminun officinale. Jasmine essential oil is popular for its calming and uplifting properties.

A 2013 study examined the effects on brain activity when participants inhaled jasmine oil. Participants reported a significant decrease in negative emotions and an increase in overall mood.

A 2010 study that looked at jasmine essential oil found that, when compared with a placebo, jasmine oil increased blood oxygen saturation, breathing rate, and blood pressure. The participants in the jasmine oil group also reported feeling more alert.

The researchers concluded that the stimulating and activating effect of jasmine oil could be useful for relieving depression and improving mood.

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Best for rest

Ylang ylang

Ylang ylang is a yellow, star-shaped flower that grows on the Cananga tree (Cananga odorata). The tree grows in countries like India, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and parts of Australia.

Derived from the ylang ylang flower, preliminary research from 2006 suggested that ylang ylang can help decrease blood pressure and create a relaxing effect.

The sweet floral aroma is great for when you need to rest and relax, but you aren’t seeking a sedative effect.

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There are many essential oils with stress-reducing properties, whether you’re seeking a remedy for anxiety, a natural way to improve your sleep, or something to balance your mood during a meditation session.

If you’re experiencing severe stress or physical symptoms related to stress, it’s always best to consult a healthcare professional.


Sam Lauron is a freelance lifestyle writer based in Austin, TX. When she’s not writing about wellness, creativity, or personal development, she spends her time reading, listening to true crime podcasts, and soaking up the sunny Austin weather with her partner and their dog. Connect with her on Instagram or Twitter, or by visiting her website.