12 Best Essential Oils for Anxiety: Feeling Anxious?
If you are struggling with feelings of anxiety from time to time, you’re definitely not alone. Life can often be very difficult and sometimes it can feel like we’re just trying to keep our heads above the water. Everyone copes with their anxiety in different ways, but those ways aren’t always the best ways. Plus, not everyone has a loved one or family members to hold or encourage them in those rough times. Feeling panicky and anxious is a natural reaction to difficulties we don’t know how to handle.
For some people, the frequency of those anxious times may very well be the sign of an underlying condition or disorder. In that case, medical attention should be sought after as opposed to mere self-diagnosis and treatment. But, for those of you who have demonstrated the ability to cope with anxiousness from time to time, essential oils and aromatherapy will prove to be one useful way to promote relaxation and ease. Studies have shown that essential oils are quite helpful for promoting relaxation in a number of scenarios.
Perhaps you have other proven methods of finding time to relax? You might take a walk, soak in a warm bath, read a book, paint, pray, read the Bible, listen to music, stretch, or take a nap. Whatever the case, each of these ways can be coupled with the benefits of aromatherapy and essential oils. So, let’s go ahead and consider some of the research that’s been done in relation to anxiety and essential oils, then look at which oils are the very best to use for relaxation and ease.
Essential Oils For Relaxation: Current Studies and Research
The sense of smell is something we’ve all treasured in those most memorable moments of our lives. It’s no secret that scents and fragrances can promote relaxation, we’ve all experienced that much. But in regards to essential oils specifically, it is helpfully intriguing to take a brief look at how their effectiveness has been demonstrated in the few studies that have been conducted. So, let’s take a brief look at 3 published studies that will give us an inside look at some of the research that’s been done with essential oils for anxiety relief.
Study 1: Aromatherapy and Hand Massage on Terminally Ill Hospice Patients
This 2008 study was conducted for the purpose of observing the possible effects of aroma hand massage in relation to pain, anxiety, and depression in terminally ill hospice patients. A group of 58 hospice patients was separated into two groups for the duration of the study.
Group 1 consisted of 28 patients that would be given a daily hand massage for 5-7 minutes at a time for 7 days. Their massage blend consisted of sweet almond oil as a carrier oil as well as an essential oil blend. The essential oils used in the blend were bergamot, lavender, and frankincense.
Group 2 consisted of the 30 remaining patients that would be given daily hand massages for 5-7 minutes at a time for 7 days as well, but without the essential oil blend. This group’s hand massage was done only with sweet almond oil.
The study showed that those patients in group 1 which received hand massages, coupled with essential oils, experienced significant positive differences in pain and depression over group 2, the control group. Therefore, with essential oils being the only deliberate variable here, it can be concluded that this study demonstrates their positive effectiveness for the reduction of pain and depression in the group of individuals selected for the study.
Study 2: Aromatherapy Massage With Cancer Patients
This 2007 study consisted of a total of 288 cancer patients across 4 UK cancer centers as well as a hospice. The 288 patients in the study were referred to therapy services for the purpose of treating clinical anxiety and depression. They were randomly separated into two main groups. One group would receive a course of aromatherapy massage while the other group would only receive traditional care used for anxiety and depression.
The study goes on to describe how patients who were given aromatherapy massage noticed a significant improvement when compared to the group given traditional therapy. When measured at 6 weeks, those who experienced clinical anxiety and/or depression noticed significant improvement. However, there was no significant improvement when measured at week 10 for clinical anxiety. This means that in patients with clinical anxiety and depression, aromatherapy has clinically important short-term effects for up to two weeks after the intervention.
Also, there was greater improvement in self-reported anxiety in this group at weeks 6 and 10. Therefore, this study demonstrates the usefulness and effectiveness in of aromatherapy and essential oils, coupled with massage, for patients with self-reported anxiety and/or depression. These benefits were even seen at week 10 suggesting there may very likely be long-term lasting effects.
Study 3: Inhalation Aromatherapy In Patients Before Operation
This 2011 study was a clinical study in which 72 heart and abdominal surgery candidates were divided into two groups. The case group was given aromatherapy for 20 minutes with a handkerchief containing lavender. The control group was given a handkerchief that only contained water as a placebo. The study notes that the participant’s anxiety level was measured via the Spielberger measuring method.
The findings of this study, like the others, are very encouraging. Researchers observed a substantial 32% decrease in average anxiety levels (51 down to 38.61) in the case group that was given aromatherapy, from the time before the treatment was given to the time after. On the other hand, the control group that was only given the placebo noticed an inconsequential 1.14% decrease in average anxiety levels.
Therefore, this study shows a significant decrease in anxiety with those patients given lavender inhalation therapy over those given the placebo before undergoing surgery. Pre-operative anxiety is problematic because it can cause delayed wound healing and an increased use of narcotics and anesthetics before and after surgery. The study also notes that since aromatherapy is indeed quite effective at reducing pre-operative anxiety, it can be provided as an effective complementary medicine for these uses.
Extra: Essential Oils with Anxiolytic Effects
There are many essential oils that have been used and are currently in use to relieve anxiety and depression. The National Institutes of Health actually lists the most commonly used anxiolytic oils for anyone to read. So, if you’ve ever wondered which oils were the very best for anxiety, here they are!
NIH List of 9 Popular Anxiolytic Essential Oils:
- Clary Sage
- Roman Chamomile
- Rose-Scented Geranium
The above listed isn’t at all comprehensive, but all the essential oils listed are quite popular for anxiety, stress, and depression relief. That being said, there are a few others that are useful besides the ones mentioned above, so I added a couple more as you’ll see in our list of essential oils below.
The 12 Best Essential Oils for Anxiety
As we’ve discussed at some length already, there are numerous reasons to use essential oils during those stressful times when you might feel anxious or depressed. We’ve discussed 3 separate studies that show essential oils to be very effective at reducing these feelings. Each essential oil in our list not only smells amazing but will settle you when you’re in need of soothing relaxation too. So, here’s the list you’ve been waiting for, enjoy.
1. – Rose
Rose essential oil is one of the most popular essential oils used for alleviating anxiety. In a 2009 study with 40 participants, researchers observed that rose oil had the significant effect of decreasing breathing rate, blood oxygen saturation, and systolic blood pressure when applied to the skin. It’s important to note that this study excluded any effect the subjects may have had from inhaling the fragrance by preventing any possible inhalation with breathing masks. The study concludes that rose oil likely has a relaxing effect in aromatherapy inhalation as well.
In a more recent 2014 study published in the Iranian Red Crescent Medical Journal, a group of female participants in Tehran who had first-time pregnancies was subjected to rose oil footbaths and aromatic inhalation for ten minutes. Another group was advised to take warm water footbaths without any presence of essential oils or fragrances. The results from the two groups were later analyzed and compared. The study found that those women who had the aromatic foot baths had significantly lower anxiety scores than those who didn’t.
This very well may be the most popular essential oil in use today. Now that I think of it, it’s probably the first essential oil I’ve ever had the pleasure of smelling. Who doesn’t love the scent of lavender essential oil? Of its most promising benefits, the ability for the scent of lavender to calm the soul is quite pleasing. Hence, it is a great solution for treating anxiety as well.
Clinical trials and tests have shown that lavender essential oil does result in the reduction of anxiety and stress when inhaled (Source). Furthermore, one 2009 study shows lavender oil’s effectiveness when used to treat Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). In this study, the effects of lavender capsules (Silexan) taken orally were compared with a powerful psychoactive drug called Lorazepam (benzodiazepine) over a 6 week period.
The results of the study showed that the lavender capsules effectively relieved GAD when compared with the benzodiazepine drug, but without sedation-like side-effects. The study also notes that since there’s not potential for drug abuse with Silexan (the lavender capsule), it appears to be an effective and well-tolerated alternative to other less desirable drugs.
It’s important to note that the lavender used in the above studies was Latin name Lavandula angustifolia and not Lavandula intermedia which can have stimulating effects.
3. Sweet Orange
The smell of sweet orange essential oil is one that will fill your home with that relaxing, fresh, and inviting smell that everyone in your family will appreciate. This oil is thought to have anxiolytic effects in humans but further research is necessary before drawing any definite conclusions.
One 2012 study tested a total of 40 male participants that would be separated into 5 different groups for the inhalation of sweet orange essential oil (test aroma), tea tree essential oil (control 1), and water (control 2, non-aromatic) while experiencing a situation that would induce anxiety. This study found that there were no significant increases in anxiety with the group of men that were given the sweet orange essential oil as there were in the other groups.
The study also notes that this serves as scientific evidence that sweet orange essential oil does have tranquilizing effects.
Bergamot has a characteristically uplifting and citrusy floral aroma. This essential oil is derived from cells inside the rind of the bergamot fruit that gives Earl Grey tea a slightly zingy taste of citrus . This oil is commonly used to treat depression since it has a calming effect. You also might remember that this was one of the essential oils used in the first study we mentioned earlier in this post. It’s said that this oil has also been used to treat insomnia as well as for the minimization of agitation.
In one study published in 2011 with rats, Bergamot essential oil was found to have anxiolytic effects by reducing corticosterone response to acute stress. Also, as we already mentioned, studies in humans show the effectiveness of this essential oil as well. Remember, this is a photosensitizing oil, so it can heighten the risk of getting a rash or sunburn. As it’s suggested with any photosensitizing essential oil, avoid any considerable sun exposure for 12 hours after use.
Not only is lemon essential oil great for all of your homemade household cleaners and dish soaps, but it’s also said to have anti-anxiety effects. Findings from one particular 2014 study done on rats hint that perhaps lemon essential oil’s effect of reducing anxiety is present. However, as noted with some of the other oils, further research needs to be conducted before drawing any definite conclusions.
One of my favorite scents, sandalwood essential oil may have calming and relaxing effects too. While research on sandalwood oil in terms of anxiety reduction is limited, studies have shown positive results.
One pilot study published in the 2006 edition of Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice evaluated the effectiveness of the oil in 4 different countries with patients receiving palliative care. The participants were separated into 3 groups. Group A received an aromatic massage with a 1% sandalwood oil solution, group B received a massage with sweet almond oil, and group C received aromatherapy with sandalwood oil via an aroma stone.
Since the participant sample was rather small in this study, no coherent statistical conclusions were drawn at the time. However, the study does mention that even though no direct conclusions could be drawn, the results “do seem to support the notion that Sandalwood oil is effective in reducing anxiety“.
7. Clary Sage
This beautifully delicate purple flower looks similar to lavender and smells amazing too. Clary sage essential oil has been shown to have relaxative effects on women with urinary incontinence while undergoing urodynamic examinations in a 2013 study.
Actually, in this particular study, it notes that even though lavender essential oil is known to have anti-stress benefits, clary sage essential oil was more effective at inducing relaxation on women undergoing these assessments. The clary sage group was observed to have significant decreases in systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, and respiratory rate.
8. Roman Chamomile
Chamomile is another widely used and well-known essential oil that just happens to be the main ingredient in one of my favorite kinds of teas as well.
As it relates to its ability to relax, a 2009 study carried out by the University of Pennsylvania found that chamomile provided clinically meaningful antidepressant activity vs. the placebo, alongside its already well-known anxiolytic activity.
The backdrop of this study mentions that anxiety and depression are the most commonly reported psychiatric conditions. It’s also noted that though conventional drug therapies may be available with the advent of simplified treatment options, many people may not want to turn to those options for financial, cultural, or personal reasons. So there’s a need to demonstrate the efficacy of possible alternative therapies.
Also, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health states that preliminary studies suggest that chamomile as a dietary supplement might be helpful for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) as well. This essential oil is safe to use unless you’re acutely allergic to ragweed. As a further precautionary note, they also mention that those with chrysanthemum, marigold, or daisy allergies may also be at a higher risk for an allergic reaction when exposed to chamomile.
9. Rose Geranium
Apart from having a pleasant aroma, Rose geranium essential oil is said to be one of the most effective herbal essences for reducing menstrual-related anxiety.
In terms of anxiety during childbirth, the general effect of aromatherapy on anxiety hasn’t been fully studied as of yet. However, a 2012-2013 study has been conducted with rose geranium to test its efficacy on childbirth anxiety.
The study was conducted in the North Khorasan province in Iran and was carried out on 100 nulliparous women (women who have never given birth) that were separated into two groups. The group that was exposed to rose-geranium inhalation therapy experienced significantly decreased anxiety over the placebo group. Furthermore, there was also a significant decrease in diastolic blood pressure as well.
With the promising findings from the study, it was concluded that rose geranium essential oil was able to effectively reduce anxiety during labor and could also be recommended as a non-invasive anti-anxiety solution during childbirth.
Now really, if rose geranium essential oil is useful for reducing anxiety during childbirth, just imagine what it can do if you’re feeling anxious for any other reason!
10. Ylang Ylang
Also named scientifically as Cananga odorata, ylang-ylang is popularly used for reducing anxiety. It has a quite unique looking tropical flower that can be found in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Ylang Ylang essential oil is commonly used for a variety of reasons as we discuss elsewhere, but it’s also been researched for its ability to reduce stress, depression, and anxiety due to its calming effects and sweet fragrance.
In a study published in 2006, Ylang Ylang essential oil was researched to test it’s effectiveness on blood pressure and stress responses when used in aromatherapy with participants diagnosed with hypertension. The study consisted of 52 subjects that were randomly divided into 3 groups. The test group received an aromatherapy application through an inhalation blend of lavender, ylang-ylang, and bergamot once daily for 4 weeks. The findings from the study showed that these essential oils could be considered effective at reducing blood pressure, as well as psychological stress responses in those with hypertension.
However, this essential oil should be used in moderation since it’s said that it can be sensitizing or irritating to the skin in higher concentrations. Remember, any essential oil should be used in a very diluted state with a carrier oil or in an essential oil diffuser.
While further research with vetiver essential oil is required before drawing any hard-fast conclusions, there is some support that it reduces jitteriness and unsettledness. One study found that there was a 100% improvement in children with ADD and their ability to focus when exposed to Vetiver oil.
Another study conducted by the Thailand Institute of Scientific and Technological Research showed that Vetiver oil had a strong sedative effect in rats when compared to the control group after just 1 hour of inhalation exposure. The results from this study agree with the traditional use of this oil since it is commonly used to provide relaxation and sedation in some cultures.
Vetiver essential oil is a tranquil scent said to promote self-awareness while also calming the mind.
Last but not least in our list of essential oils for anxiety is frankincense. This Frankincense essential oil has been known to calm and relax in many cultures all around the world for centuries. From experience, I know that I feel relaxed when I diffuse frankincense in my own home, especially with a drop of lavender or another floral scent.
Also, as noted in a past study we mentioned earlier, frankincense was mixed together with bergamot and lavender essential oils in 1:1:1 ratio and was found to have a positive effect on patients suffering from cancer.
Frankincense essential oil is an ancient fragrance that’s very exciting to smell for the first time in your home. It was also used in Biblical times when the wise men brought gifts to Jesus when he was born in Bethlehem. Don’t pass up a chance to relax to a scent used by cultures for thousands of years.
How to Use Essential Oils for Anxiety: Precautions and Tips
As we’ve seen in the many studies regarding the use of various kinds of essential oils for anxiety, there is accumulating scientific data and research that’s quite positive in terms of their effectiveness. However, the effectiveness of specific essential oils can often depend on their quality, or, lack thereof. Furthermore, marketing strategies present in the essential oil industry oftentimes include vague and downright deceptive product claims.
Recommended Reading 1
If you’re unsure of the quality of your essential oils or aren’t sure what to look for when purchasing your oils, be sure to read “Where to Buy Essential Oils: Important Facts You Need to Know“. In that post, we discuss some of the most common misconceptions among essential oil buyers. We also reveal many of the false product claims of quality that most of us have probably seen before, as well as a quick checklist to navigate through all the fluff when attempting to purchase quality oils.
Recommended Reading 2
Another very important factor related to essential oil use has to do with how to use essential oils safely. While it can be easy to read about essential oils studies and uses on the internet, it’s not recommended to ever use essential oils internally or undiluted unless you’ve been directed to do so by a trained health care or medical professional.
To read more about how to use essential oils safely and safe application methods, you need to read “How to Use Essential Oils Safely: 7 Ways to Enjoy Them Carefully“. Also, you’ll find a pretty amusing satirical video in that post about some of the thinking regarding essential oils today. While I don’t agree with everything in the video, some of it is actually based on a few stark realities in an industry with a necessity for greater examination and scrutiny.
Anxiety is something that most of us all have to deal with at some time or another. It’s crucial in these times to be deliberate about trying to find time to relax and recollect. During those times, the calming and relaxing effects of essential oils can and should be utilized and enjoyed.
Whether that means that you take a warm lavender and frankincense bath, take a walk outside while wearing your essential oil diffuser necklace, or diffuse a tranquil blend of essential oils in your essential oil diffuser as you read or pray, you will find that aromatherapy will be quite useful for melting away all your tension.
Now that you’ve been given plenty of essential oil choices to try in those times of anxiety, go ahead and put them to good use. Also, one final tip: Don’t merely find time to relax during stressful times in life, but find time to relax before they happen so that you’re better prepared for how to deal with your anxiety in those times. Thanks for reading.
Which essential oils and blends provide you with the most comfort during times of anxiety and stress? Let us know, we’d love to hear your ideas. Comment below.