Using essential oils for anxiety has been getting a lot of attention over the last few years – and for good reason.
And it turns out that all those years ago, we were onto something. Far from a pseudoscience, hundreds of peer-reviewed studies have now evidenced the positive impacts that essential oils can have on your health and well-being.
In this article on essential oils for anxiety, we’ll cover:
- What are essential oils?
- How do they work?
- How to choose the right essential oils for anxiety.
- The 9 best essential oils for anxiety.
Let’s get into it!
What are Essential Oils?
Whenever you peel an orange, pluck a stalk of lavender, strip a sprig of rosemary, or sniff a rose, the beautiful scent that fills your nose is the essential oil of the plant.
Essential oils are liquids containing the natural fragrant essence extracted from flowers, leaves, bark, roots, fruit peel, berries, and other natural sources.
Essential oils are named so because these liquids capture the plant’s unique fragrance or “essence” by concentrating their unique aromatic compounds through the process of extraction.
Commonly, once extracted these essential oils are mixed with a neutral carrier oil or blended with other essential oils for reasons including reducing toxicity, optimizing their desired health effect, or just creating a new fragrance.
How do essential Oils for Anxiety work?
So, now we know that essential oils are concentrated plant extracts that carry the unique fragrance of whichever plant they were sourced from. But how do they work?The practice of using essential oils to achieve therapeutic benefits such as soothing anxiety is the backbone of aromatherapy. While the incredible benefits of aromatherapy have been recognized for centuries, it’s only recently that research has been able to explain them.
Our smell is one of our most robust and powerful, yet underused senses. Indeed, studies have found that smells are amongst the strongest stimulants of the limbic brain system – the part that manages our feeling, memories, and emotions.
The science of aromatherapy goes like this:
When we inhale essential oils, the fragrance molecules stimulate our olfactory nerves (kind of like our ‘smelling’ nerves!). From here, they trigger messages to the limbic system such as the hypothalamus and the amygdala, known as ‘the emotional centers’ of our brains.
And this effect on the limbic system is a large contributor to the power of essential oils to evoke potent emotions, nostalgic flashbacks, and even induce physical reactions such as reduced blood pressure, feeling sleepy, and so on.
The best part? Aromatherapy is super easy to integrate into your daily routine, making it a quick and simple way to improve your wellbeing. All you need is an essential oil diffuser, essential oil roll-on, a few drops in the bath, or the like – and you’re good to go!
The 9 Best Essential oils for anxiety
Bergamot essential oil is sourced from the Citrus Bergamia, a citrus tree native to Italy. The peel of its citrus fruits is mechanically cold-pressed (also known as ‘expressed’) to extract the oils.
Uplifting, crisp, and fruity, bergamot is one of the most recognized essential oils for anxiety. In aromatherapy, bergamot is used to soothe and calm unbalanced emotions, with studies finding that inhaling this essential oil dramatically reduces anxiety.
Bergamot blends well with Neroli, Frankincense, and Black Pepper essential oils.
#2: Clary Sage
Also known as Salvia sclarea or the clary, clary sage is an approved medicinal herb, and has been used for millennia as an essential oil for anxiety, with uses dating as far back as the 4th century BCE in the writings of Theophrastus.
Recent peer-reviewed studies have found the relaxing effect of clary sage oil to be so effective that it could significantly reduce anxiety in those waiting for medical examinations and even calm its users’ to the extent that their blood pressure and respiratory rate reduced.
Clary sage essential oil is extracted via steam distillation of both the leaves and flowers of the herbaceous plant, leaving behind a deeply warming and calming aroma that is perfect to use not only to ease anxiety but also to aid sleep at bedtime.
P.S. – Clary sage isn’t the same as regular cooking sage, by the way!
Lavender is one of the most popular and versatile essential oils, boasting not only a lovely fresh and floral scent but also countless health benefits. Like clary sage, the lavender essential oil is extracted via steam distillation of both the flowers and the leaves.
Recognized for its cleansing and relaxing properties, lavender essential oils are a regular feature in sleep aids, massage oils, and even ADHD treatments.
And the powers of lavender essential oils for anxiety are well documented, with studies evidencing lavender oil’s ability to relax individuals in various anxiety triggering situations.
And the calming properties of lavender not only ease our minds and emotions but also have been shown in various studies to reduce muscle tension and inflammation in the body – which are common physical manifestations of anxiety.
Lavender essential oil blends well with chamomile, tea tree, and vetiver.
#4: Chamomile Blue
Chamomile is another flower heralded for its powerful calming properties, coming, in the form of everything from tinctures, capsules, tea, and – you guessed it – essential oils.
Steam distilled from the leaves and daisy-like flowers, chamomile blue has a soothing, sweet, and herby fragrance that has awarded its reputation as not only one of the most recognized essential oils for anxiety, but also one of the most researched.
Indeed, countless studies testify to the remarkable relaxing benefits of chamomile for both the mind and body. For example, it has been found to reduce anxiety in cancer patients, aid sleep, and have potent anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) and antidepressant properties.
Number 5 on our list of the best essential oils for anxiety is patchouli. Patchouli is a member of the herb family Lamiaceae, otherwise known as the mint family.
However, rather than energizing and fresh like its cousin mint, patchouli has a woody and grounding scent that is deeply calming.
Steam distilled from the stems and the leaves of this shrubby flowering plant, patchouli essential oil has been used in ayurvedic medicine to address various physical and mental ailments – with reducing stress and anxiety being its most prominent use.
Previously patchouli was one of the lesser researched essential oils for anxiety, and its reputation was largely down to personal testimonies. However, emerging studies have found patchouli oil to significantly reduce stress and promote physical and emotional relaxation.
Patchouli blends well with bergamot, geranium, and rose.
Also known as orange blossom essential oil, Neroli oil is sourced from the Citrus aurantium, a bitter orange tree native to the foothills of the Himalayas – all sounds quite idyllic, right?
Before the fruit forms, the blossoms of this magical tree are harvested and the oil is extracted via steam installation, leaving a deeply zesty and floral-scented essential oil, slightly more earthy than bergamot citrus oil listed above.
Neroli is recognized not only for being nutrient-rich and nourishing for the skin but also to be relaxing and uplifting for the emotions.
Related Article: The 11 Best Essential Oils For Cold Sores.
Amongst the best essential oils for anxiety, studies of neroli oil have shown its potent benefits for those suffering from insomnia, reducing stress and agitation, and reducing chronic anxiety.
Neroli oil blends well with mandarin, cardamom, and vetiver.
#7: Ylang Ylang
Next on our list of essential oils for anxiety is the exotic ylang-ylang flowers of the Cananga odorata tree, a plant native to the warm climates of India, Indochina, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Australia.
The oil is extracted through steam distillation to produce a warming, sensual and floral fragrance which has a soothing effect on the emotions and has been found to help create a sense of calm when inhaled.
As well as having its anxiolytic properties testified by aromatherapists around the world, studies have found that ylang ylang oil reduced anxiety and improved self-esteem with research even finding it to decrease blood pressure and balance body temperature.
Ylang ylang blends well with grapefruit, bergamot, and patchouli essential oils.
Native to humid climates of India and other areas of tropical Asia, vetiver (also known as khus), is a fragrant type of bunchgrass belonging to the plant family Poaceae.
Rather than originating from the grass itself, the vetiver essential oil is actually obtained from the roots of the plant via steam distillation and has a fresh, sweet, and earthy scent.
While vetiver is one of the lesser known essential oils for anxiety, it is by no means less effective, with studies testifying its calming and restorative powers.
Vetiver essential oil blends well with rose, ginger, and bergamot.
Many of us might recognize frankincense as one of the gifts brought to Jesus by The Three Wise Men. Heralded all those thousands of years ago as a precious gift with magical effects, frankincense remains a valuable natural compound revered for its versatile benefits.
Frankincense is a hardened gum-like substance (otherwise known as tree sap or resin) produced in Boswellia bark, a tree native to the horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. The oil has an aromatic, fresh scent and is extracted from the resin via steam distillation.
Known for being rejuvenating and calming when diluted and applied topically to the skin, frankincense is also amongst the recognized essential oils for anxiety. Studies have shown the oil to reduce stress, reduce anxiety during labor and ease cancer-related depression.
Frankincense essential oil blends well with chamomile, lemon, grapefruit, and myrrh.
Choosing The Right Essential Oils For Anxiety
While each essential oil has a dominant recognized effect such as being relaxing, energizing, or cleansing, choosing the right essential oil is largely a matter of personal exploration.
This is because these oils work by activating the memory and emotional centers in your brain, meaning they trigger people differently depending on personal experience and preference, such as memories associated with particular smells or simply whether you like a scent or not.
So when choosing your essential oils, simply decide how you want to feel – energized, relaxed, and so on – find the corresponding oils then give them all a smell to find which work for you. For this reason, we always recommend buying essential oils in person.
When looking for essential oils for anxiety, you want to look for those recognized for their relaxing properties. Avoid energizing oils as these can exacerbate feelings of anxiety.