Essential oils have been around for centuries, dating back as far as Biblical days when Jesus was anointed with frankincense and myrrh upon his birth. They’ve been utilized since ancient times in various cultures, including China, Egypt, India and Southern Europe.
Some essential oils have even been applied to the dead as part of the embalming process. We know this because residues have been found in tombs dating over 2,000 years old! Essential oils are also prevalent in aromatherapy, which was advanced by French surgeon Jean Valnet, who learned that essential oils could help treat soldiers during World War II — a time when medications were scarce.
The beauty of essential oils is that they are natural, extracted from flowers, leaves, bark or roots of plants. While it’s best to make sure you use pure essential oils, meaning oils that have not been diluted with chemicals or additives, they can provide much needed relief and healing for a variety of ailments, including as a natural remedy for anxiety.
Top Essential Oils for Anxiety
Anxiety is a tough battle to face day in and day out, which makes having a natural solution, such as an essential oil blend, important.
In a recent 2014 study by the American College of Healthcare Sciences, 58 hospice patients were given hand massages once a day for one week with an essential oil blend in 1.5 percent dilution with sweet almond oil. The essential oil blend consisted of these essential oils in equal ratios of bergamot, frankincense and lavender. All patients who received the aromatherapy hand massage reported less pain and depression, concluding that aromatherapy massage with this essential oil blend is more effective for pain and depression management than massage alone. (1)
Here are some of the best essentials oils for anxiety:
1. Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Considered the most common essential oil, lavender oil benefits include having a calming, relaxing effect. It’s considered a nervous system restorative and helps with inner peace, sleep, restlessness, irritability, panic attacks, nervous stomach and general nervous tension.
“The Handbook of Essential Oils: Science, Technology, and Applications, Second Edition” states that there have been a number of clinical trials involving the inhalation of lavender essential oil that indicate a reduction in stress and anxiety. (2) One study using oral lavender essential oil via capsules found that heart rate variation significantly increased compared to the placebo while watching an anxiety-provoking film. (3) This suggested that lavender had anxiolytic effects.
2. Rose (Rosa damascena)
One of the benefits of rose essential oil is it’s very settling to the emotional heart and perhaps the second most popular after lavender for relieving anxiety and depression, helping with panic attacks, grieving and shock. In study of women who were pregnant for the first time published in the Iranian Red Crescent Medical Journal, one group of women was received a 10-minute inhalation and footbath with oil rose, another group received a 10-minute warm-water footbath, and they were compared to a control group. The findings showed “aromatherapy and footbath reduces anxiety in active phase in nulliparous women.” (6)
3. Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanioides)
Vetiver oil has a tranquil, grounding and reassuring energy, often used in trauma helping with self-awareness, calmness and stabilization. A nervous system tonic, it decreases jitteriness and hypersensitivity and is also useful in panic attacks and shock. A study published in Natural Product Research examining the anxiety-like behavior in rats concluded that vetiver oil may be useful in lowering anxiety effects, though more research is needed to confirm this finding. (7)
4. Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata)
This popular essential oil can treat anxiety and depression due to its calming and uplifting effects. Ylang ylang helps with cheerfulness, courage, optimism and soothes fearfulness. It may calm heart agitation and nervous palpitations and is a moderately strong sedative, which can help with insomnia.
In a 2006 study conducted by Geochang Provincial College in Korea, using ylang ylang oil, along with bergamot and lavender oils, once a day for four weeks reduced “psychological stress responses and serum cortisol levels, as well as the blood pressure of clients with essential hypertension.” (8)
Be careful when using ylang ylang, as it can be sensitizing or irritating to the skin; avoid using in conditions of low blood pressure.
5. Bergamot (Citrus bergamia)
Bergamot is commonly found in Earl Grey tea and has a distinctive floral taste and aroma. Bergamot oil is calming and often used to treat depression by providing energy; however, it can also help with insomnia induce relaxation and reduce agitation.
It’s been proven to reduce corticosterone response to stress in rats, and another interesting study conducted in 2011 hypothesizes that applying blended essential oil that includes bergamot to participants helps in treating depression or anxiety. (9, 10) The blended essential oil consisted of lavender and bergamot oils.
Compared with the placebo, blended essential oil caused significant natural ways to reduce blood pressure and pulse rate, and participants in the blended essential oil group rated themselves as “more calm” and “more relaxed” than the control group.
Bergamot is generally safe, but it is photosensitizing, meaning it can increase the risk of sunburn and rash. It is best to avoid use within 12 hours of sun exposure.
6. Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile)
A peaceful, calming scent, chamomile benefits inner harmony and decreases irritability, overthinking, anxiety and worry. An explorative study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine on the antidepressant activity in chamomile found that this essential oil “may provide clinically meaningful antidepressant activity that occurs in addition to its previously observed anxiolytic activity.” (11)
Another study published by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health found that chamomile capsules have been shown to ease anxiety symptoms. (12) Chamomile oil is generally safe, except for a some small risk of allergy, especially with anyone who has an allergy to ragweed.
7. Frankincense (Boswellia carteri or boswella sacra)
Frankincense is great for treating depression and anxiety because it provides a calming and tranquil energy as well as spiritual grounding. In aromatherapy, it helps deepen meditation and quiet the mind.
Mixed with bergamot and lavender oils in a 1:1 ratio in an aroma hand massage, frankincense was found to have a positive effect on pain and depression in hospice patients with terminal cancer in a Keimyung University study in Korea. (13)
How to Use Essential Oils for Anxiety
Essential oils can be used in three different ways: aromatherapy, ingestion or topically.
Aromatherapy for anxiety is very popular because our sense of smell triggers powerful emotional responses. We process so much information through our sense of smell — in particular, in an area of the brain adjacent to the limbic region, according to “Freedom from Anxiety: A Holistic Approach to Emotional Well-Being” by Marcey Shapiro and Barbara Vivino. (14) This is the area of emotional processing and memory recall.
When the scent of an essential oil is inhaled, molecules enter the nasal cavities and stimulate a firing of mental response in the limbic system of the brain. These stimulants regulate stress or calming responses, such as heart rate, breathing patterns, production of hormones and blood pressure. Aromatherapy can be obtained by using it in a bath, as direct inhalations, hot water vapor, vaporizer or humidifier, fan, vent, perfume, cologne, or — one of my favorites — through aromatherapy diffusers.
Many essential oils can be ingested by the mouth; however, it is critical to make sure that the oils you use are safe and pure. Many oils on the market may be diluted or blended with synthetics that are unsafe for ingesting. The Food and Drug Administration has approved some essential oils generically for internal use and given them the generally recognized as safe (GRAS) designation for human consumption. (15)
The most effective way to consume them, according to “The Healing Intelligence of Essential Oils: The Science of Advanced Aromatherapy,” is to add a drop of oil in a glass of water or in a teaspoon with honey. (16) You can simply add a drop or two underneath the tongue. This is beneficial because the blood capillaries are so close to the surface of the tissue under the tongue, allowing them to pass more quickly into the bloodstream and travel to the different areas of the body where they’re needed. (17)
Other oral application options include capsules, adding a drop or two to your favorite beverage, making a tea, and cooking.
Many prefer topical uses of essential oils. Topical application is a process of placing an essential oil on the skin, hair, mouth, teeth, nails or mucous membranes of the body. When the oils touch the skin, they penetrate rapidly.
Since they are so potent, it is important to dilute and blend with a carrier oil, such as sweet almond, jojoba, olive, avocado or coconut oil. You can apply the blend directly to an affected area, on the bottoms of the feet, rims of the ears, using compresses, in baths or through massage.
Essential Oils Recipes for Anxiety
Easy Lavender Neck Rub
- 3 drops pure lavender oil
- 1 teaspoon fractionated coconut oil or almond oil
- Blend the lavender oil and coconut or almond oil in your palm and rub onto your neck for natural anxiety relief. You can also rub onto the bottoms of your feet. This is perfect for anytime or just before bed.
Here are some more essential oils for anxiety recipes:
Risks of Essential Oils for Anxiety
Never ingest any essential oils or apply undiluted to the skin without proper training or medical supervision. It is critical to understand how best to use them. Always consult a specialist and test the area, proceeding with caution as they may react differently to different individuals, especially children and pregnant women.