Anxiety and anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses, with one in thirteen people affected worldwide. With a rapidly increasing amount of people looking for help outside of pharmaceuticals for such issues, it’s no wonder essential oils and aromatherapy have become more popular and mainstream. Using essential oils has been shown to positively impact one’s emotional health, physical health, and overall well-being.
How do you use essential oils?
Aromatherapy is the practice of inhaling the scent of essential oils to improve wellbeing. Although this ancient practice has been around for centuries, interest in and use of essential oils to manage anxiety and depression have rocketed in recent years.
Aromatherapy is just one way to use essential oils. It’s believed that inhaling steam infused with the essential oils allows the essential oil molecules to travel from the olfactory nerves to the brain. Inhaling essential oils using a diffuser or humidifier is a great way to begin exploring this modality. You can also try essential oils by dabbing a cotton ball with just a few drops and inhaling without touching the cotton to your skin.
Though inhaling diluted essential oils is the safest way to consume them, it comes with its own set of risks. People with sensitive skin or breathing problems, like asthma, should avoid directly inhaling undiluted essential oils. If you’re looking to begin incorporating essential oils into your routine, be sure to consult with your doctor or healthcare team before starting.
The 11 Best Essential Oils for Anxiety Relief
Chamomile is a popular bedtime tea, and for good reason: The soothing scent of this daisy-like flower can promote feelings of calm and relaxation. A 2017 study found that more than half of participants reported reduced symptoms of anxiety after using chamomile extract.
Other uses for chamomile oil: Relieving upset stomachs and skin rashes, providing pain relief
2. Clary Sage
Clary sage is distinctly different from the herb that graces many holiday dinner tables. The aroma of this purple-leafed plant has shown to lower cortisol levels when inhaled and naturally release symptoms of stress, re-centering mind and body. More research is needed, but a small study from 2013 demonstrated how inhaling clary sage helps reduce stress.
Other uses for clary sage oil: Alleviating menstrual cramps, as well as symptoms of menopause
Lavender essential oil is one of the most popular and versatile essential oils used in aromatherapy. Many people look for lavender to help with sleep support, either diffusing the oil throughout the night or applying to their pillows to help induce a state of calm.
Other uses for lavender oil: Resolving fungal infections
4. Holy Basil
Despite its name, holy basil isn’t just for religious ceremonies. Holy basil has long been used in Ayurvedic practices, and a recent review of human studies found that holy basil can help regulate mood and improve symptoms associated with anxiety.
Other uses for holy basil oil: Lowering high cholesterol, easing joint pain, protecting against infection
Frankincense essential oil is a popular option in meditation practices and as a massage oil. Its anti-inflammatory properties are helpful in managing asthma and arthritis, and it’s gaining popularity as an anti-anxiety treatment as well.
Other uses for Frankincense oil: Alleviating symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease, maintaining oral health
Floral, citrusy bergamot promotes feelings of calm and joy. During times of stress and anxiety, our fight or flight response (our parasympathetic response) activates, and bergamot essential oil has shown to reduce that response, and thus feelings of anxiety. Although more research is needed, what studies have shown so far is promising.
Other uses for bergamot oil: Clearing up your skin, reducing the severity of food poisoning
Valerian root and valerian essential oil are often referred to as “nature’s valium,” which goes to show how helpful it can be for reducing anxiety. Valerian is commonly used as an ingredient in sleep aid supplements as well.
Other uses for Valerian oil: Getting a full night’s rest, alleviating pain associated with menstrual cramps
8. Lemon Balm
Although it has the word “lemon” in its name, lemon balm comes from an herb (not the fruit) and is a member of the mint family. Most of the research surrounding the efficacy of lemon balm for anxiety involves ingesting the oil, which isn’t recommended unless under careful supervision of a medical professional.
Other uses for lemon balm oil: Settling your stomach, treating cold sores
Cedarwood essential oil is the extract of the bark, berries, leaves, and needles of juniper trees. This woodsy fragrance contains cedrol, which has shown to have a calming effect. Cedarwood essential oil is also used as a sedative, with studies showing the oil helped animals stay asleep longer.
Other uses for cedarwood oil: Banishing skin blemishes, promoting hair growth
10. Ylang Ylang
Ylang ylang oil is a popular oil for sleep, and its sedative properties make it useful for anxiety as well. It hasn’t been studied as heavily as some other oils, though initial results show ylang ylang provides relief from anxiety, especially when combined with lavender and bergamot.
Other uses for ylang ylang oil: Treating candida infections and malaria
This essential oil won’t get you high, but it can invoke feelings of calm and reduce your anxiety. Patchouli oil comes from patchouli plants, which have a fair bit of research behind them. Most of that research centers around the anti-inflammatory properties of patchouli oil, but a 2020 study researched emergency room nurses and the effects of inhaling patchouli oil. Nurses who inhaled the patchouli oil reported lower levels of stress.
Other uses for patchouli oil: Promoting skin health, managing symptoms of depression, providing pain relief
Is Aromatherapy Effective at Resolving or Reducing Anxiety?
If you need help finding relief from anxiety, aromatherapy is one option you have. How much of the benefit is a placebo effect versus actual benefits is still being studied, but if it helps, it helps! Aromatherapy is not a replacement for checking in with a medical professional, especially if anxiety is disrupting your day-to-day activities.