You may associate essential oils with aromatherapy products and fancy day spas. But did you know certain varieties of these fairly inexpensive oils may have legit benefits when it comes to relieving anxiety and stress?
According to Yufang Lin, MD, an integrative medicine specialist at the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Integrative Medicine, essential oils work through inhalation or through topical application and have mind-body benefits. For inhalation, essential oils can be easily used as a room spray or via diffuser. A few drops on a pendant worn close to skin also allows for a slow release over time.
Topically, essential oils can be added to a carrier oil and used as perfume, massage oil, cream, or salves. Last but not least, adding an essential oil to your bath is a wonderful way to relax at the end of a busy day, says Dr. Lin.
“The quickest way to change one’s mood is through smell, thus essential oil is an excellent way to reduce anxiety and support relaxation,” says Dr. Lin. “However, it takes a lot of herbs to make a small amount of essential oil, which makes it a strong medicine that should be used judiciously.”
While research on essential oils for mental health benefits is still expanding, there is some info to suggest that certain oils may work for things like stress relief, better sleep, and more. The thing is, though, even if one study shows that a particular scent is great for, say, reducing anxious feelings, it may not work for every single person. If you don’t enjoy a scent, you probably won’t feel much better after sniffing it, for instance.
Which essential oils help with anxiety?
The essential oils below have been shown to reduce anxiety in human studies, says Dr. Lin. Other scents are also commonly used to reduce anxiety and support relaxation, but research beyond animal studies is needed to know if they have real benefits for people.
- Sweet marjoram
Which essential oils promote relaxation?
The essential oils ahead have been shown to help people feel calmer and more relaxed, says Dr. Lin. One potential caveat is that most people have scent memory. So, for instance, if a person has a negative memory associated with a particular scent, they may not feel relaxed when they smell that scent, she explains.
- Sweet orange
What are the potential side effects of essential oils?
It’s important to keep potential side effects in mind, as they can be mild to severe. For one thing, certain essential oils (citrus in particular) can cause photosensitivity—meaning you can get a sunburn more easily after using orange essential oil on the skin, says Dr. Lin. (This is why it’s a common recommendation to dilute oils before applying them topically, just to be extra cautious.)
Additionally, some essential oils are safe in small amounts but can dangerous in higher doses. “Tea tree and eucalyptus essential oils are commonly used for their antimicrobial benefits, but in excess, can cause nerve and liver damage,” says Dr. Lin. “Some essential oils are toxic in general and should not be used—arnica, parsley, rue, and tansy are a few that fall into this category.”
Finally, do not ingest essential oil without supervision from a trained herbalist, and be extra cautious using essential oils around young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and small pets because they are most at risk for toxicity and side effects, she says.
The bottom line: Research on using essential oils to ease anxiety or for stress reduction is growing, but remains limited. But if you’re a healthy adult and are using essential oils safely and at the guidance of your doctor, there is little harm in testing some oils out to see which ones help you feel mentally better.
Curious about trying essential oils for anxiety and stress relief? Read on for several expert-recommended oils that you can buy online.
CourtesyMajestic Pure Lavender OilMAJESTIC PUREamazon.com$21.50SHOP NOW
According to a 2012 study, lavender essential oil has been shown to help treat symptoms of anxiety and depression. This might be due to how it impacts the limbic system of the brain, which controls your emotions.
CourtesyBergamot Essential OilHealing Solutionsamazon.com$17.40$8.69 (50% off)SHOP NOW
Bergamot oil, which comes from bergamot oranges and thus has an energizing citrusy scent, has been shown to improve mood and reduce symptoms of anxiety, according to 2015 research.
CourtesyNow Essential Orange OilNow Foodsamazon.com$8.37SHOP NOW
If you’re pregnant and hoping for a Zen birth experience, a 2015 study suggested that orange essential oil may help to lower feelings of anxiety during labor.
CourtesyPlant Therapy Peppermint Organic Essential OilPlant Therapyamazon.com$7.95SHOP NOW
The menthol content in peppermint oil has been shown to help relieve tension and discomfort, which can in turn help you feel more calm and relaxed.
CourtesyFrankincense Essential OilSun Essential Oilsamazon.com$8.99SHOP NOW
Frankincense comes from the resin of the Boswellia tree. Within 2008 research, massaging a blend of this oil in combination with bergamot and lavender oils helped to relieve anxiety, depression, and pain in terminal cancer patients.
CourtesyPure Gold Myrrh Essential OilPure Goldamazon.com$17.99$8.99 (50% off)SHOP NOW
Similar to lavender, myrrh essential oil (which has a woodsy scent) may help you to feel relaxed and less stressed in general.
CourtesyMajestic Pure Rose OilMAJESTIC PUREamazon.com$24.50SHOP NOW
Rose essential oil, which has similar effects to those of orange oil,has been shown to reduce anxiety during labor in pregnant women when used in a foot bath, according to 2014 research.
CourtesyPlant Therapy Marjoram Sweet Essential OilPlant Therapyamazon.com$9.95SHOP NOW
Although more research is needed, sweet marjoram (also known as oregano) is believed to help relieve headaches and anxiety, as well as promote calmness.
CourtesyEucalyptus Essential OilHealing Solutionsamazon.com$5.79SHOP NOW
Similar to peppermint oil, eucalyptus oil contains menthol, which has a cooling effect that may help to relieve aches and tension, which can in turn promote relaxation and reduce feelings of anxiety.
CourtesyHandcraft TeaTree Essential OilHandcraft Blendsamazon.com$14.95SHOP NOW
Although there isn’t substantial research on it, tea tree oil is believed to reduce stress and even boost immunity and ward off sickness.
CourtesyRoman Chamomile Essential OilHealing Solutionsamazon.com$20.00$9.99 (50% off)SHOP NOW
Chamomile isn’t just a relaxing tea that can help you sleep. The oil can also have the same calming effect if added to an aromatherapy diffuser or hot bath.
CourtesyJasmine Essential Oil AromatherapyRAINBOW ABBYamazon.com$8.22SHOP NOW
You may already love jasmine for its uplifting floral scent, but 2013 research showed that it can also promote feelings of well-being as well as reduce sleepiness and symptoms of anxiety.
CourtesyValerian Essential OilDiffuse Essential Oilsamazon.com$30.00$15.99 (47% off)SHOP NOW
If you tend to have trouble falling asleep, valerian oil can help you feel more relaxed and calm your nerves at bedtime.
CourtesyPatchouli Essential OilHealing Solutionsamazon.com$7.49SHOP NOW
Although there isn’t sufficient research available, patchouli oil is believed to promote calmness and relaxation if you’re suffering from anxiety, depression, or stress in general. It can be added to a warm bath or diffuser in combination with lavender oil.
CourtesyNOW Foods 100% Pure Clary Sage Essential OilNow Foodsamazon.com$15.99$11.44 (28% off)SHOP NOW
According to 2015 research, clary sage can relieve tension and help to maintain optimal levels of the stress hormone cortisol in women. This is beneficial because high cortisol levels have been shown to increase the occurrence of anxiety and depression.
CourtesyPure Gold Holy Basil Essential OilPure Goldamazon.com$17.99$8.99 (50% off)SHOP NOW
Rest assured: This isn’t the same basil you put in your pasta sauce. Holy basil (also known as tulsi) has a minty scent and, according to 2014 research, it may help to alleviate mental stress.
CourtesyBest Ylang Ylang Essential OilNature’s Oilamazon.com$13.01SHOP NOW
If you’ve ever gotten a professional massage, you’re likely familiar with ylang ylang and the fact that it promotes relaxation. Additionally, per 2013 research, ylang ylang can help to reduce symptoms of anxiety and promote better sleep.
CourtesyGeranium Essential OilHealing Solutionsamazon.com$12.95$9.99 (23% off)SHOP NOW
Similar to rose and orange essential oils, geranium oil has been shown to reduce anxiety for pregnant women in labor, in addition to decreasing blood pressure, according to a 2015 study.
CourtesyCliganic Organic Rosemary Essential OilCliganicamazon.com$9.95SHOP NOW
Another one that isn’t just for cooking, rosemary essential oil has been shown to reduce cortisol (stress hormone) levels, which can then, in turn, relieve anxiety, according to 2007 research.
CourtesyArt Naturals Lemongrass Essential OilArtnaturalsamazon.com$11.95SHOP NOW
While research on lemongrass oil is fairly limited, a 2015 study showed that it can possibly provide a rapid response when used by people who experience anxiety and tension.
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