Besides making your home feel like a spa, using essential oils for anxiety treatment has risen in popularity in recent years. Whether one is adding these compounds extracted from plants to a bath for relaxation or diffusing them in the bedroom to promote a long night’s sleep, the holistic use of aromatherapy to heal physically and mentally is something worth looking into if it helps ease any stress or anxious thoughts.
And it’s not surprising that people are looking for new treatments when you consider that we’ve seen a 25% increase in anxiety and depression worldwide since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, seeking professional mental health care is the first step toward identifying and treating anxiety. A new survey from Minded revealed that more than 80% of participants found mental health medication to be most effective for their mental health condition, but 66% of those same people say misinformation, stigma, or fear prevented them from trying meds sooner.
Aromatherapy is mostly used as a short-term solution to calming nerves. But do these essential oils work? Are essential oils safe? And do essential oils actually have health benefits?
First, let’s start with the basics: What is aromatherapy? According to Hana Tisserand, cofounder and COO of the Tisserand Institute, it is the practice of using essential oils for therapeutic purposes. Essential oils, which she describes as “plant-created volatile compounds extracted through distillation,” can be used alone or through massage, psychotherapy, herbal supplements, or diffusers. “For the general public, the practice of inhaling essential oils to provide extra psychological support is the easiest and safest way to harness the power of essential oils,” she explains.
For people with anxiety, Tisserand says, smelling an essential oil can be used along with other strategies that help ground someone in the present moment. “For a more long-term anxiety management strategy, people can use essential oils as a means to create a mental anchor,” she says. “They use an essential oil or a blend around a time when they feel calm and relaxed, whether it’s when they are sitting outside and drinking tea or when they are with friends and feel happy and safe. They can then harness the smell when they don’t feel well. Just experiencing the smell can trigger a memory and bring someone back to that happy place.”
This positive association to a particular smell may help someone become at ease if they are trying to ground themselves while suffering from an anxiety attack. “When we inhale essential oils, especially certain ones that can create a sense of calm and peace, these oils can quickly stimulate our bodies to influence our emotions through olfactory receptors in our nose that can stimulate the brain,” Jaclyn Tolentino, senior doctor at Parsley Health, tells Glamour. “Essential oils used via aromatherapy can also have an effect on the body’s endocrine system. For example, the cortisol hormone is often heightened during anxiety, and a series of slow breaths with the aroma of an essential oil can calm down the cortisol response (the stress hormone) and create a grounding and soothing effect.”
Dr. Tolentino notes that calming essential oils can have more “profound effects” when the oils are used together in blends. “Their synergistic effects can be amplified when combined through different preparations and recipes,” she explains. She emphasizes the importance of purchasing essential oils from reputable companies whose products have been vetted for quality, purity, potency, sourcing, and overall effectiveness.
“The scientific research we have on this is promising, but it’s really very limited,” Dr. Tolentino cautions. “We need a lot more in-depth data on the benefits of aromatherapy for specific conditions, and I currently recommend it as part of a holistic treatment recommendation rather than a stand-alone solution.”
Below, are some common essential oils for easing anxiety.
One of the most extensively researched natural oils for anxiety is lavender. In various studies it has been found that the inhalation of lavender oil can reduce anxiety levels to some degree. Because of the relaxing effects lavender has on the nervous system, one could take a lavender supplement or drink it in tea form as a way to potentially help ease stress, at least temporarily.
Plant Therapy Lavender Essential Oil
Sweet Orange Oil
A 2012 study had patients undergoing hemodialysis smell sweet orange essential oil for 15 to 20 minutes during their procedure, and patients stated that the orange oil aromatherapy helped reduce some anxiety. Another study stated that the smell of orange oil in a dental office helped reduce anxiety in patients and even improved the overall mood of some patients.
Gya Labs Sweet Orange Essential Oil
A 2009 study found that the use of lavender and rosemary essential oil sachets helped reduce the overall levels of test-taking stress in a group of graduate nursing students. Another study suggests rosemary can be used by itself therapeutically as antianxiety support.
Maple Holistics Pure Rosemary Essential Oil
Surprise! Not only does geranium smell good, but it’s also one of the best essential oils for anxiety. In 2015 a study on women who smelled geranium during the first stage of their labor showed that the essential oil may help decrease anxiety and diastolic blood pressure. So if you’re waking up with anxiety, you may want to look into the benefits of geranium.
Hiqili Geranium Essential Oil
“Valerian the herb is well established for sleep and anxiety, but there is limited evidence for the essential oil,” Tisserand says. “Plus, the smell is quite peculiar and may not be liked by everyone.” Still, the woody herb has been used for centuries as a mild sedative, and there have been several studies that suggest it can be used to help ease anxiety. You could try pairing it with one of these sleep meditations the next time you’re looking to relax before bed.
Gya Labs Valerian Essential Oil
“There is a little bit [of research] on eucalyptus and anxiety, though it would not be my first choice for anxiety,” Tisserand says. “It’s great for respiratory support and a part of our olfactory training protocol.” In a 2014 study, a trial of 62 patients saw that the inhalation of eucalyptus essential oil prior to their operation decreased overall anxiety.
Handcraft Blends Eucalyptus Essential Oil
Perhaps best known as a romantic scent in many perfumes, the floral jasmine scent may also help put you at ease. Although studies on anxiety in humans have been conducted, a 2017 study on rats found that this essential oil helped lower anxiety.
Rainbow Abby Jasmine Essential Oil
It turns out this zesty orange scent not only smells good but can help ease anxiety and improve your mood after just 15 minutes of inhalation. So when it comes to oils for diffusers, this is a solid choice.
Handcraft Blends Bergamot Essential Oil
Rose petal spa treatments aren’t just for aesthetics. Multiple studies have found that when rose essential oil is applied topically, it can help reduce anxiety and even relieve menstrual cramps. Mix the oil with shea butter or coconut oil to dilute before applying to your skin.
Rainbow Abby Rose Essential Oil
While Tisserand says ylang-ylang may be “unpleasant” to some, both she and Dr. Tolentino recommend it to help ease anxiety. Limited studies have discovered that, when combined with a blend of other oils like lavender and bergamot, the scent may help ease anxiety and stress.
Cliganic Ylang-Ylang Essential Oil
When used as an essential oil for aromatherapy, it was found that clary sage can help decrease the stress hormone in women’s bodies. Lower levels of cortisol means a decrease in overall anxiety and bodily tension.
Plant Therapy Clary Sage Essential Oil
There’s a reason many yoga studios have patchouli incense burning. Although there is still limited research on patchouli’s overall effects on the body, a 2015 review found that when used in aromatherapy, it can help alleviate stress and depression.
Majestic Pure Patchouli Essential Oil
Originally Appeared on Glamour