Since ancient times, essential oils have been used to prevent illness and address diseases. Modern-day science confirms their positive effects on many aspects of well-being, including mental health and, specifically, their ability to ease feelings of anxiety. (8)
Essential oils are highly concentrated compounds extracted from aromatic plants via steam distillation, hydrodiffusion, or pressure that are then used as aromatherapy for a variety of conditions including anxiety and stress. (10) Keep reading to learn more about the best essential oils for anxiety and how to use them.
Best essential oils for anxiety
Breathing in essential oils, whether applied topically or inhaled when diffused in the air, has been shown to improve mood and mental wellness by triggering the release of calming neurochemicals, such as GABA, in the nerve centers of the brain. (3)(4) There are many essential oils for anxiety. Here we focus on eight unique essential oils for anxiety that have been featured in scientific literature.
The citrus essential oil bergamot (Citrus bergamia), either alone or with other oils, has been shown to help ease symptoms of anxiety and stress. A 2017 pilot study found that bergamot oil diffused into the air helped reduce anxiety and improve mental health and overall well-being in patients in the waiting room of a mental health treatment facility. (5)
2. Clary sage
The earthy floral scent of clary sage (Salvia sclarea) may also help with anxiety. A 2013 study featuring women undergoing a stressful medical exam found that inhaling clary sage essential oil not only led to a subjective relaxation response but also lowered blood pressure. Researchers noted a decreasing trend in salivary cortisol concentrations; however, it was not significantly different compared to placebo. Nevertheless, the decreasing trend suggests that clary sage may have stress-lowering capabilities. (11)
Frankincense (Boswellia sacra) comes from the resin of the Boswellia tree and, therefore, has a woody aroma. A 2011 study found that anxiety levels were decreased in the first stage of labour when a combination of frankincense and other calming oils were used topically. (7)
Lavender (Lavandula) oil has long been used topically and aromatically as a calming agent. Research has shown the benefit of inhaling lavender oil in a variety of anxiety-provoking medical scenarios including cosmetic surgery, preoperative anxiety, and postpartum anxiety. While most essential oils should not be taken orally, standardized lavender essential oil found in dietary supplement form has been shown to be safe and effective in easing anxiety when inhaled and taken orally. (9)
5. Lemon balm
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis L.) has been shown to have anxiolytic, mood-enhancing, and cognitive-improving effects in a variety of human clinical trials. As a dietary supplement and inhaled as an essential oil, lemon balm may help reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety. (12)
Neroli oil comes from the Citrus aurantium plant and has been shown to help with symptoms of stress and anxiety. In a 2014 randomized controlled trial involving menopausal women, inhalation of neroli essential oil not only helped with menopausal symptoms and stress but also lowered blood pressure, improved sexual desire, and helped balance cortisol and estrogen levels. (2)
As with most other essential oils, rose (Rosa) water has been used since ancient times to enhance health and healing, including mental health. A 2016 study involving hemodialysis patients found that inhaling rose water helped noticeably improve symptoms of anxiety. (1) A 2019 randomized controlled trial found that inhalation of both rose and neroli essential oils help improve the psychological, physical, and social symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS). (6)
8. Ylang ylang
Often used in the fragrance industry, ylang ylang (Cananga odorata) has a slightly sweet and floral aroma. Research shows that inhaling the essential oil of ylang ylang may help reduce blood pressure, and symptoms of depression and anxiety. (13)
How to use essential oils for anxiety
Essential oils can be applied topically when diluted with a carrier oil or inhaled to improve anxiety. The graphic below describes some of the methods for using essential oils.
The bottom line
Essential oils have a long history of use as potent healing agents. When inhaled or applied topically, many of these potent aromas can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and stress and contribute to improved overall wellness.If you are interested in using essential oils for anxiety, consider consulting with an integrative practitioner for further guidance.
- Barati, F., Nasiri, A., Akbari, N., & Sharifzadeh, G. (2016). The effect of aromatherapy on anxiety in patients. Nephrourol Mon, 8(5).
- Choi, S., Kang, P., Lee, H., & Seol, G. (2014). Effects of inhalation of essential oil of Citrus arantium L., var. amara on menopausal symptoms, stress, and estrogen in postmenopausal women: A randomized controlled trial. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med, 2014.
- Frandelos, E., & Komini, A. (2015). The use of essential oils as a complementary treatment for anxiety. American Journal of Nursing Science, 4(1), 1-5.
- Fung, T., Lau, B., Ngai, S., & Tsang, H. (2021). Therapeutic effect and mechanisms of essential oils in mood disorders: Interaction between the nervous and respiratory systems. International journal of molecular sciences, 22(9), 4844.
- Han, X., Gibson, J., Eggett, D. L., & Parker, T. L. (2017). Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) essential oil inhalation improves positive feelings in the waiting room of a mental health treatment center: A pilot study. Phytotherapy Research, 31, 812-816.
- Heydari, N., Abootalebi, M., & Akbarzadeh, M. (2019). The effect of aromatherapy on mental, physical symptoms, and social functions in females with premenstrual syndrome: A randomized clinical trial. J Family Med Prim Care, 8(9), 2990-2996.
- Lee, M.K., & Hur, M.H. (2011). Effects of the spouse’s aromatherapy massage on labor pain, anxiety and childbirth satisfaction for laboring women. Korean Journal of Women Health Nursing, 17(3), 195-204.
- Lizarraga-Valderrama, L. R. (2021). Effects of essential oils on central nervous system: Focus on mental health. Phytotherapy Research, 35(2), 657-679.
- Malcolm, B. J., & Tallian, K. (2017). Essential oil of lavender in anxiety disorder: Ready for prime time? Ment Health Clin, 7(4), 147-155.
- Manion, C. R., & Widder, R. M. (2017). Essentials of essential oils. American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, 74(9), e153-e162.
- Seol, G., Lee, Y., Kang, P., You, J., Park, M, & Min, S. (2013). Randomized controlled trial for Salvia sclarea or Lavandula angustifolia: Differential effects on blood pressure in female patients with urinary incontinence undergoing urodynamic examination. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 19(7), 664-670.
- Swiader, K, Startek, K., & Wijaya, C. (2019). The therapeutic properties of Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis L.): Reviewing novel findings and medical indications. Journal of Applied Botany and Food Quality, 92, 327-335.
- Tan, L., Lee, L., Yin, W., Chan, C., Kadir, H., Chan, K., & Goh, B. (2015). Traditional uses, phytochemistry, and bioactivities of Cananga odorata (Ylang-Ylang). Evid Based Complement Alternat Med, 2015.
- Department of Health. (n.d.). Essential oils — Health warning. https://www.healthywa.wa.gov.au/Articles/A_E/Essential-oils
- Lakhan, S. E., Sheafer, H., & Tepper, D. (2016). The effectiveness of aromatherapy in reducing pain: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Pain Research and Treatment, 2016, 8158693. https://doi.org/10.1155/2016/8158693
- Lillehei, A. S., & Halcon, L. L. (2014). A systematic review of the effect of inhaled essential oils on sleep. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (New York, N.Y.), 20(6), 441–451. https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2013.0311
- Manion, C.R., & Widder, R.M. (2017). Essentials of essential oils. American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, 74(9), e153–e162. https://doi.org/10.2146/ajhp151043