Essential Oils for Anxiety: 10 Effective Options

Written by Varsha Patnaik , MSc (Biotechnology), Certified Diet & Nutrition Coach

Anxiety and stress are commonplace in the 21st century. Luckily some great smelling essential oils for anxiety can be added to your arsenal to combat debilitating feelings and stressed-out states of mind. Before we get into which ones, let’s answer the question: what is an essential oil? Simply put, it is an aromatic substance that is extracted from a plant through the process of distillation. The most commonly used plant parts for making essential oils are roots, leaves, and flowers. These oils are then used to promote wellbeing in the practice of aromatherapy.

Aromatherapy can work on various areas like pain management and the management of stress and anxiety (1). While essential oil blends for anxiety and panic attacks have been used widely for decades, modern science has only recently started looking into the impact of essential oils on various aspects of physical and mental wellbeing. Let’s take a deeper look into oils for anxiety and what the evidence around them suggests.

What You Need To Know Before You Use Essential Oils For Anxiety

Each essential oil has a distinct aroma and works variedly on your senses for impact. Now that you have a fair idea about what essential oils are and what they can do, you can proceed to understand how they generally work and some precautions you need to take heed of when you are working with them.

  • Essential oils for relaxation work by stimulating the receptors of smell located in your nose and using them to send signals to your brain and nervous system(2).
  • In aromatherapy, topical application of essential oils and inhalation of the diffused scent of oils to help with anxietyare the common methods of practice.
  • There is not enough evidence-based research regarding the safety of swallowing most essential oils. So, contrary to any advice on the internet, refrain from ingesting essential oils.
  • Essential oils are unregulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), so take caution as you practice and only opt for therapeutic grade oils from trusted sources.
  • Steer clear of essential oils with synthetic scents and only purchase oils where you can clearly read the labels.
  • It is important to note that many essential oils can cause allergic reactions or irritation on sensitive skin (3). It is best to adhere to instructions of use for specific oils to protect yourself against harm.

With some of the important factors noted, let’s dive into the best essential oils that you can use to get relief from anxiety.

The Most Effective Essential Oils To Calm Feelings Of Anxiety

All essential oils for calming smell amazing and can easily make you feel like you are in a fancy and expensive spa. But to get the benefits of essential oils for anxiety, you do not need to bleed through your pockets. Although a good day at a spa should be a treat on everybody’s self-care regimen, you only need to pick your favorite oils to carry around and use.

The sheer number of essential oils with different properties and benefits may be overwhelming for you if you are just starting out. So, to make things simpler, here are some of the best essential oils for anxiety that have been through trials or studies and come out as strong contenders to battle off the blues.

  • Valerian

One of the biggest challenges with anxiety is sleep. When your mind is racing and your heart seems to be wanting to beat itself out of your chest, all you may want is to lie down and fall asleep. Valerian essential oil may help you do just that. Derived from the roots of the herb valerian, it contains compounds that can soothe your nerves and promote restful sleep. With a woody, musky scent, valerian has been used as a sleep aid since ancient times.

A review of studies that were conducted to look at the effect of valerian oil on anxiety and troubles with sleep noted positive outcomes for valerian as an aid to combat anxiety (4).

To use valerian essential oil and feel sleepy and relaxed, you need to add just a few drops into a diffuser and inhale the vapor.

Potential Side Effects: There are no known side effects of valerian essential oil, according to a systematic review and meta-analysis of the use of valerian essential oil as a sedative (5)

  • Lavender

You have probably already heard about lavender oil for anxiety. It is one of the most popular calming essential oils that people use to alleviate stress and feelings of anxiety. It has a floral scent with a unique woody undertone and that makes it a great choice for beginners who are toeing the waters of aromatherapy. According to a study, the compounds in lavender work to soothe anxious feelings by influencing the limbic system— the part of the brain that is in charge of emotions (6).

Another review that evaluated studies using lavender to manage anxiety noted that inhaling lavender essential oil could lower anxiety levels significantly when measured on a clinical scale. It also noted that a massage with lavender oil could help to reduce levels of anxiety (7).

You can draw yourself a warm bath with drops of lavender oil mixed with a carrier oil like almond or jojoba or mixed with a bath gel that is unscented.  You can also put a few drops on your pillow for help with a relaxing sleep.

Potential Side Effects:Lavender oil has been linked to gynecomastia (enlargement of breasts) in pre-puberty boys (8). It can also lead to allergic reactions, so using a patch test before the direct topical application is recommended (9).

  • Vetiver

Vetiver is a lesser-known essential oil for anxiety, but in no way is it less effective. This oil, with its sweet and earthy scent, is derived from a grassy plant that is native to India. Another name of vetiver oil is khus oil, and it can help to reduce symptoms of anxiety and produce mental clarity. Although human studies with vetiver oil are limited, a study conducted on mice showed that vetiver’s anti-anxiety effects were similar to those of diazepam, a popular drug for treating anxiety.  It also showed the nootropic effect of vetiver which makes it great for improved cognitive function (10).

To get the benefits of vetiver essential oil, you can add a few drops to a carrier oil and gently massage the back of your wrist or simply use a diffuser so you can inhale the soothing aroma of this calming oil.

Potential Side Effects: Vetiver may pose risk to a growing fetus owing to its anti-angiogenic properties and hence should be avoided during pregnancy and childbirth (11).

  • Jatamansi

Jatamansi is an endangered plant belonging to the same family as valerian. It grows in the alpine mountains and has been used widely in ayurvedic medicine. The roots of this plant are used to make jatamansi essential oil, which has an earthy, woody scent. You can use it to calm your mind and promote a good night’s sleep. A study conducted on mice in 2018 revealed that jatamansi oil has a significant role in reducing anxiety and uses two neurotransmitters to bring about its anti-anxiety effects (12).

You can massage your temples or forehead with jatamansi oil by diluting it with another carrier oil of your choice for a relaxing lift-me-up.

Potential Side Effects: Jatamansi has no reported toxicity and side effects (13,14).

  • Jasmine

One sniff of jasmine essential oil can lift your mood up and make you feel better. Its beautiful floral scent has made jasmine popular in the health, wellness, and beauty industries. Dried jasmine petals are used in tea blends, and you can even find the use of jasmine in perfumes and cosmetic products. A study conducted to investigate the effect of jasmine oil on the nervous system and how it influenced mood responses revealed that inhaling jasmine oil can lead to positive emotions like feeling fresh, active, romantic, and a sense of general wellbeing (15).

You can use jasmine essential oil when you want to rid yourself of anxious emotions but don’t want to fall asleep. That’s because jasmine, according to a study conducted in 2017, can also significantly lower levels of anxiety (16).

The simplest ways to use jasmine oil are to inhale it directly from the bottle, use it in a diffuser, or add it on a tissue/handkerchief that you can smell at will. You can also use it as a massage oil.

Potential Side Effects:Jasmine essential oil is likely safe as there is lack of evidence or report of side effects. To rule out any allergic reaction to jasmine oil, a patch test should be conducted before using it for a massage.

  • Bergamot

Bergamot is one of the best essential oils for anxiety if citrus is your thing. That’s because this essential oil is processed from the zest of bergamot oranges. The strong citrus scent from the peel is also used widely in perfumes. You can make bergamot oil a part of your pack of essential oils for anxiety as there is evidence to support its anti-anxiety and mood regulatory properties.

A study from 2015 noted that bergamot could improve mood and relieve symptoms of anxiety in both human and animal trials (17).

Another study in 2017, conducted on a group of women, found that inhaling bergamot oil for 15 minutes could promote a rise in positive feelings (18). You can use this oil for relaxation by putting a few drops on a ball of cotton and inhaling it. As a precaution, avoid putting it directly on your skin.

Potential Side Effects: A study conducted to find the effects of bergamot essential oil in aromatherapy on the mood, the nervous system, and the cortisol levels of 41 healthy women noted that no side effects were reported during the study (19). Avoid exposure to sunlight or UV radiation after application of bergamot oil as it is photosensitive and may lead to burns (30).

  • Chamomile

You may be already familiar with the tiny daisy-like flowers that grow on the chamomile plant. You may have spotted them in herbal tea blends. Its relaxing properties are not new knowledge. Most teas that include chamomile are in fact promoted as herbal teas to help in sleep. Chamomile has a pleasant scent and can work as a mild sedative, but there has not been enough research on its anti-anxiety properties.

One study in 2017 looked at the effect of chamomile extract on individuals with GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) and found that it could relieve symptoms of mild to moderate GAD over a period of 8 weeks, bringing about significant improvement in 58.1% of the subjects (20). Further investigation into chamomile is required to establish its role in the long-term treatment of anxiety (21).

However, it still has a strong place among calming oils and you can keep it handy for stressful times. Chamomile is a strong oil, so you only need to use a little bit of it. You can either directly massage chamomile oil diluted with a carrier into your skin or pour a few drops in warm water for your bath.

Potential Side Effects:Drowsiness, nausea, diarrhea were among some mild side effects reported on oral consumption of chamomile extract according to the 2017 study (20). No evidence of safety has been presented regarding the consumption of chamomile essential oil and it should be avoided unless under the guidance of a certified professional.

  • Holy basil

Holy basil is a tad different from the basil used in Italian recipes. Though they are from the same family, holy basil has a minty and spicy aroma and flavor. Holy basil is widely used in Ayurveda for its healing properties. So much so that researchers have studied it thoroughly to find the secrets it holds and come up with evidence for its inclusion among essential oils for anxiety.

A study conducted to look up the efficacy of holy basil in reducing symptoms of stress-induced anxiety and depression found that it had a significantly positive impact (22). Another review of the clinical efficiency and safety of holy basil in humans notes that holy basil could reduce stress-related symptoms by up to 39 percent in individuals with psychosomatic problems and improve their mood (23). You can use it as well, especially after a stressful day, by adding a couple of drops into an aromatherapy diffuser and inhaling the fragrance as it drifts through the room.

Potential Side Effects:A systematic review of 24 studies on the safety and efficacy of holy basil or tulsi, reported that it’s extract did not cause any adverse effects except an occasional case of nausea in one study (23). There is inefficient evidence for ingestion of basil essential oil and you should avoid eating it.

  • Frankincense

You can look into frankincense essential oil if you are looking for a sweet and musky aroma.

Frankincense oil, derived from the aromatic resin found on the boswellia tree, is used widely in aromatherapy circles to combat stress. A study conducted on women in labor revealed that frankincense was successful in reducing anxiety associated with labor (24). You can dilute frankincense oil with carrier oil and massage your palms and feet with it. Alternatively, you can put it in a diffuser.

It is also effective if you want to manage your stress. That’s because another animal study found that topically applied frankincense oil on rats could counteract the impact of stress on them. This led them to conclude that frankincense oil may play an active role in stress management (25).

Potential Side Effects: There are not enough studies to suggest adverse effects associated with use of frankincense essential oil. You should never ingest essential oils.

  • Lemon Balm

Lemon balm oil comes not from lemons, but from a herb that smells amazingly lemonlike. Lemon balm grows as a weed in many parts of the world and has a fresh and uplifting smell. It is considered among the top essential oils for anxiety used in aromatherapy for the soothing and restorative effect it can have on individuals who are feeling stressed out (26).

Another study looked at the effect of lemon balm extract when used in a drink and found that it improved mood, lowered anxiety levels, and reduced cortisol levels in saliva (27). However, unless you are being guided by a doctor, it is best to refrain from ingesting essential oils. To use it, put it in a diffuser and let the fresh, invigorating scent waft through the cover and rejuvenate your senses. If you don’t have a diffuser or feel reluctant to use one, you can also inhale it directly.

Potential Side Effects: Lemon balm essential oil may lead to contact dermatitis if you are allergic to lemon balm. It may induce sleepiness, so combining it with alcohol or using it before driving is advised against. Oral consumption of lemon balm oil is not recommended. Ingesting lemon balm extract can cause nausea and diarrhea (28).

There are a variety of essential oils and essential oil blends for anxiety that you can work with to reduce stress, and soothe your nerves on difficult days. Not every aroma suits everyone and you may have to experiment with a couple of them before you find the perfect fit for you. You can also choose to work with a professional who can guide you better. As an aside, if you are going through overwhelming feelings of anxiety that you are having difficulty managing on your own, please do not hesitate to reach out to a mental health care professional. You are worth it.

Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions

Do essential oils really work for anxiety?

Yes, some essential oils for anxiety can indeed have an effect on anxiety and stress, including sleeping issues related to them. Many of them have anti-anxiety properties which can help to reduce the symptoms of anxiety and calm the nervous system, some can promote sleep and restfulness while others can have a positive effect on your mood (29).

Which essential oil is good for calming anxiety?

Lavender, valerian, bergamot, holy basil, jasmine, vetiver, frankincense, lemon balm, and jatamansi essential oils are all good for calming anxiety, as mentioned above.

Which is the most calming essential oil?

Lavender with its woody floral scent is one of the most calming essential oils that can benefit your mood and reduce anxiety (6,7).

How to use lavender oil for anxiety?

Lavender is quickly absorbed into the skin when it is applied topically. You can use a lavender oil roll-on to massage your wrists, the nape of your neck, or behind your ears in small amounts for a calming and relaxing effect throughout the day. Another way to use lavender oil is to apply a few drops on your pillow as you get ready to doze.

How can you use essential oils safely?

Follow the dilution ratio, duration guideline, and daily recommended dosage for individual essential oils when you use them. Avoid going out in the sun or exposure to UV radiation when using photosensitive oils, most notably, citrus-based essential oils (30).

Sources

Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

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