Struggling with anxiety? This feeling is often a combination of fear, dread, or uneasiness and may be accompanied by physical symptoms, such as sweating or increased heart rate. Anxiety can be triggered by stressful life events, such as relationship problems or struggling to pay bills. For those with generalised anxiety disorder, the feelings may persist, even if there isn’t a trigger.
Doctors often prescribe medications for this disorder, but many cause blurry vision, fatigue, headaches, and loss of concentration. But there are natural, safer alternatives; you can use essential oils for anxiety relief, so you can manage it all day long.
The number of people with anxiety has increased tremendously over the last 20 years, especially in young adults. An estimated 355 million people suffer from it, and COVID-19 led to a 25% increase in its prevalence.
The short-term effects of anxiety are caused by the body’s natural fight-or-flight response, which releases stress hormones like cortisol. It also has long-term health effects, such as a weakened immune system, cardiovascular disease, hair loss, and diabetes.
Most anxiety medications are designed to relieve the symptoms of anxiety, but none of them treat the root cause. Essential oils can reduce cortisol, boost serotonin, and treat the root causes and side effects of anxiety, helping you to live a healthier, more peaceful life.
How do essential oils help manage anxiety?
When inhaled, essential oils stimulate olfactory nerves in your nose, sending calming signals throughout your nervous system. When applied topically, the oils dissolve through your skin to alleviate localised stress and anxiety. “The benefits of essential oils have been studied and are well-documented. Incorporating these powerful extracts into your self-care routine can help balance the mind and body, reducing stress and anxiety,” says Deby Atterby, a clinical aromatherapy practitioner and editor of Aromatherapy Today International Journal. They can also be combined with other oils and anxiety management techniques to positively affect your body’s chemical and energy balance.
Oils can also be used to treat the side effects of anxiety, like eczema breakouts, lack of sleep, and more.
Essential oils have a broad range of applications, aiding in digestion, inflammation, muscle & joint pain, sleep, and lack of energy. Many of these oils also have antiviral and antibacterial properties that can fight colds and sanitise household surfaces. And while many of them can improve a number of mental & physical conditions, these are the best essential oils for anxiety.
Best essential oils for anxiety
Lavender has been used to treat anxiety for hundreds of years in traditional medicine. The oil has natural anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) properties, which boost free serotonin levels in the brain. This increased level of free serotonin leads to reduced feelings of anxiety and stress.
Lavender contains linalool and linalyl acetate, which reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, both of which contribute to anxiety. And it can reduce anxiety whether you inhale it or apply it topically. As your skin absorbs the lavender oil, it enters the bloodstream and promotes relaxation.
How to use - Inhale directly, mix with a carrier oil and massage into your skin, or mix with a carrier oil and add the mixture to a relaxing bath.
Pairs with - clary sage, bergamot, frankincense, and ylang ylang
Cedarwood oil is derived from the bark and needles of cedar trees. It improves mood, promoting feelings of inner peace. It’s known to have sedative properties as well. Inhaling cedarwood oil triggers the release of serotonin, which is converted into melatonin.
It contains a chemical compound called cedrol, which a 2019 study confirmed is effective at reducing anxiety.
How to use - Inhale directly for quick relief, add a few drops to your diffuser before bed (1 hour limit), or massage a carrier oil mixture onto your wrists & temples when feeling anxious.
Pairs with - lavender, bergamot, frankincense, and chamomile
Its anxiolytic properties are effective whether it is inhaled or applied topically. It lowers stress & anxiety levels, blood pressure, heart rate, and serum cortisol. Ylang ylang oil also has aphrodisiac properties and can promote feelings of intimacy and connection, making it an effective antidepressant as well.
How to use - Massage a diluted mixture of carrier and ylang ylang oil onto your skin, add a few drops to your diffuser, or inhale directly.
Pairs with - Lavender, bergamot, frankincense, and clary sage
Clary sage has an herbal scent and acts as a natural muscle relaxant. Inhaling clary sage lowers the body’s cortisol levels, according to a 2014 study. The same study confirmed that clary sage oil increases serotonin levels, giving it an antidepressant-like effect.
This oil also has aphrodisiac properties and can boost your mood and energy.
How to use - Inhale directly when feelings of anxiety or nervousness begin to set in. In the morning or before bed, rub a diluted mixture of clary sage oil and a carrier oil onto your skin for sustainable, long-term relief.
Pairs with - lavender, roman chamomile, geranium, and bergamot
Orange essential oil contains antioxidants that reduce inflammation associated with anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders. Inhaling orange essential oil during childbirth reduces feelings of stress and anxiety. Similar studies confirm it effectively reduces acute procedural anxiety associated with medical, dental, or surgical procedures. It can be helpful with dental anxieties caused by the sight of a needle, the smell of antiseptic, or triggered by dental visits in general.
How to use - Inhale 30-60 minutes before a big presentation at work, medical procedure, or another situation that’s causing you anxiety. Or add 1-2 drops to a diffuser to steady yourself throughout a stressful day.
Pairs with - lavender, bergamot, ylang ylang, and frankincense
Frankincense oil promotes deeper breathing by relaxing the diaphragm. Improved breathing habits effectively reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.
Frankincense oil helps you sleep by calming the overactive mind. It enhances wakefulness and reduces non-REM sleep without increasing oxidative stress, ensuring you feel well-rested the next day. There are also a variety of sleep benefits associated with it, making frankincense an effective essential oil for anxiety triggered by insomnia or sleep deprivation.
How to use - Pair with a carrier oil and rub onto your hands, feet, and neck to promote relaxation. Or add to a diffuser for all-day anxiety prevention.
Pairs with - lavender, bergamot, vetiver, and sandalwood
Lemon oil has antidepressant qualities and can boost your immunity, better equipping your body to handle stressful situations. The anti-inflammatory properties are a result of lemon oil’s ability to inhibit pro-inflammatory proteins. Inflammation has been shown to have a profound impact on anxiety. Essential oils that reduce inflammation are ideal for those with anxiety or chronic pain.
Post-operative orthopaedic surgery patients often experience stress or anxiety because of the long road to recovery or lack of mobility. Inhaling lemon oil was shown to relieve anxiety in these patients.
How to use - If you’re feeling nauseous, anxious, or experiencing morning sickness, take a few deep breaths directly from the jar.
Pairs with - cedarwood, eucalyptus, peppermint, tea tree, and other citrus oils
Geranium’s floral scent is commonly used in hand & body soaps to promote relaxation. Geranium oil improved anxiety levels and diastolic blood pressure in women during their first stages of labour, according to a 2015 study. It has anti-inflammatory, antidepressant, sedative, and anxiolytic properties.
How to use - Add a few drops to your diffuser when you feel an anxious episode coming on; or inhale 3-4 times with your nose over the bottle. If you’re trying to wind down after a long day, pair with a carrier oil and massage into the palms of your hands and feet.
Pairs with - lavender, cedarwood, bergamot, and ylang ylang
Chamomile is known for its relaxing and sedative properties. It has a pleasant scent and can boost serotonin, relieving anxiety and depression symptoms. This oil has anti-inflammatory and sedative properties, making it ideal for relaxing after a stressful day. Long-term use of chamomile oil is an effective treatment for generalised anxiety disorder.
How to use - Dilute the chamomile oil with a carrier oil mixture and massage directly onto your skin. Or add just 1-2 drops to your diffuser and achieve instant relaxation. Or have a glass of chamomile-infused tea with dried herbs to enjoy a restful night of sleep.
Pairs with - lavender, ylang ylang, patchouli, and clary sage
Patchouli oil reduces tension throughout the mind and body, relieving anxiety and lowering stress levels. It’s so effective, in fact, that emergency room nurses who inhaled patchouli oil reported lower stress levels and higher levels of compassion for their patients during a 2020 study.
Patchouli oil has anti-inflammatory properties, making it an ideal essential oil for anxiety and pain relief. It also blends with other oils to enhance its beneficial properties; according to a 2015 study, “An aromatherapy oil blend of patchouli, with jasmine, ylang-ylang, sandalwood, rose and vetiver can definitely inspire clarity and a harmonious flow of energy that interacts with thyroid glands and balances hormonal secretion.”
How to use - Inhale directly, add to a diffuser, or add a few drops to your bath & shower soap.
Pairs with - sandalwood, bergamot, peppermint, geranium, lavender, and clary sage
Rosemary oil has a fresh, earthy fragrance and a variety of uses, even as an herb. It improves blood and oxygen flow to your brain and enhances cognitive performance. This oil was shown to boost serotonin production, alleviating depression and anxiety symptoms. The same study confirmed rosemary oil has anti-inflammatory, anti-spasm, pain-relieving, and memory-boosting properties.
How to use - Add 3 drops to a tablespoon of carrier oil before massaging on tense body parts like your neck, forehead, or temples. Before lying down to sleep or work on a big project, add a few drops to your diffuser to keep a cool, anxious-free mind.
Pairs with - lemon, lavender, and chamomile
Jasmine oil is known for its romantic scent that promotes joy and happiness. It has stimulant properties, so you shouldn’t inhale or diffuse jasmine oil before bed. It’s one of the few essential oils that effectively calms the mind without causing drowsiness, just one of the few benefits it possesses.
This oil has anti-anxiety properties and a positive stimulative effect without impacting motor coordination, as demonstrated by a 2012 rat study.
How to use - Add a few drops to your infuser or favourite skincare cream for a fresh, relaxing scent that keeps anxiety away all day.
Pairs with - rose, sandalwood, ylang ylang, lavender, and frankincense
Many essential oils have proven anti-anxiety effects. Some of these oils also treat inflammation, sleep deprivation, and other afflictions that cause anxiety. Now that you know which essential oils are best for anxiety and how to use them, you can choose the one that suits your needs.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do essential oils work for anxiety?
Essential oils can counteract situational anxiety, according to a 2017 study. Research also supports the idea that topical applications are effective at treating anxiety. Still, these oils affect everyone differently, so you must start with small amounts before using them frequently.
What scents alleviate anxiety?
Scents like lavender and rosemary boost serotonin levels, reducing anxiety and depression symptoms. Those like ylang ylang and clary sage lessen the stress hormone cortisol. A wide variety of other scents have anxiolytic properties as well, including bergamot, vetiver, jasmine, patchouli, and geranium.