Soothing Scents: Top Eight Essential Oils for Anxiety ReliefJul 29, 2022 ● By Karolyn Gazella and Natacha Montpellier
Essential oils are highly concentrated compounds extracted from aromatic plants that are used in aromatherapy for a variety of conditions. These fragrant oils have been incorporated into wellness practices for thousands of years, and decades of research confirm their benefits, especially their effects on mental health and well-being.
Breathing in essential oils, whether applied topically or inhaled when diffused in the air, has been shown to improve mood and mental wellness by triggering the release of calming neurochemicals such as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the nerve centers of the brain. In particular, eight unique essential oils for anxiety have been explored in scientific literature.
The citrus essential oil bergamot (Citrus bergamia), taken either alone or with other oils, has been shown to help ease symptoms of anxiety and stress. A 2017 pilot study found that bergamot oil diffused into the air helped reduce anxiety and improve mental health and overall well-being in patients in the waiting room of a mental health treatment facility.
2. Clary Sage
The earthy, floral scent of clary sage (Salvia sclarea) may also help with anxiety. A 2013 study featuring women undergoing a stressful medical exam found that inhaling clary sage essential oil not only led to a subjective relaxation response, but also lowered blood pressure. Researchers noted a decreasing trend in salivary cortisol concentrations, a measure of stress; however, it was not significantly different compared to a placebo. Nevertheless, the reduced pressure suggests that clary sage may have stress-lowering capabilities.
Frankincense (Boswellia sacra) comes from the resin of the Boswellia tree and has a woody aroma. A 2011 study found that anxiety levels of women were decreased in the first stage of labor when a combination of frankincense and other calming oils were used topically.
Lavender (Lavandula) oil has long been used topically and aromatically as a calming agent. Research has shown the benefit of inhaling lavender oil in a variety of anxiety-provoking medical scenarios, including cosmetic surgery, preoperative anxiety and postpartum anxiety. While most essential oils should not be taken orally, standardized lavender essential oil found in dietary supplement form has been shown to be safe and effective in easing anxiety when inhaled and taken orally.
5. Lemon Balm
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis L.) has been proven to have anxiolytic, mood-enhancing and cognitive-improving effects in a variety of human clinical trials. As a dietary supplement and inhaled as an essential oil, lemon balm may help reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Neroli oil comes from the Citrus aurantium plant and has been found to help with symptoms of stress and anxiety. In a 2014 randomized controlled trial involving menopausal women, inhalation of neroli essential oil both helped with menopausal symptoms and stress, but also lowered blood pressure, improved sexual desire and helped to balance cortisol and estrogen levels.
As with most other essential oils, rose (Rosa) water has been used since ancient times to enhance health and healing, including mental health. A 2016 study involving hemodialysis patients found that inhaling rose water helped noticeably improve symptoms of anxiety. A 2019 randomized, controlled trial found that inhalation of both rose and neroli essential oils helped improve the psychological, physical and social symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome.
8. Ylang Ylang
Often used in the fragrance industry, ylang ylang (Cananga odorata) has a slightly sweet and floral aroma. Research shows that inhaling the essential oil of ylang ylang may help reduce blood pressure and symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Some of the methods for using essential oils include:
- Added to bath water (six to 12 drops)
- Spread through the air via a room diffuser (three to four drops)
- Inhaled directly from a cotton pad or tissue (one to two drops) or from a bottle itself
- As a massage fragrance by adding one to two drops per two tablespoons of massage oil or lotion
- As a spray by adding 10 to 15 drops to a two-ounce spray bottle of distilled water
- As a steam fragrance when adding one to two drops to a bowl of boiling water and inhaling with a towel placed over the head and bowl
To learn more about using essential oils for anxiety, consider consulting with an integrative practitioner for further guidance, or visit Fullscript.
Karolyn A. Gazella is the founder of the Natural Medicine Journal and the host of the Natural Medicine Journal podcast. Natacha Montpellier, ND, is a registered naturopathic doctor with the College of Naturopaths of Ontario whose clinical practice focuses on women’s hormonal and reproductive health. They are both associated with Fullscript, an online platform helping integrative practitioners provide personalized patient care and supplement information.