One of the most effective uses for essential oils is to treat anxiety. It’s as simple as enjoying the oil’s scent or receiving a massage with a favorite essential oil blend. A UK study of psychiatric patients diagnosed with anxiety and depressive disorders found that aromatherapy, combined with massage, reduced anxiety and improved mood over a six-month period of use.
But besides increasing calm and well-being, using essential oils to treat anxiety also reduces the chances of developing stress and anxiety-related disease and complications like sleep problems, allergies, diabetes, arthritis, heart disease and cancer.
How Essential Oils Work in Anxiety Treatment
Essential oils contain active and highly concentrated plant essences. And treating anxiety with essential oils offers quick results. According to a study conducted by scientists at the Institute of Pharmaceutical Chemistry at the University of Vienna, Germany, the healing compounds in essential oils can be found in the bloodstream as quickly as five minutes after skin application.
While essential oils can be used topically, aromatherapy, or the inhaling of essential oils, is the most powerful way to treat anxiety.
[Aromatherapy] seeks to unify physiological, psychological and spiritual processes to enhance an individual’s innate healing process. — National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy
When you smell an essential oil, cells in the nose receive the aroma molecules and send signals to the limbic system of the brain. The limbic system rules the emotions, which is why smelling certain essential oils often triggers emotions including a sense of peace, joy, contentment or excitement.
Besides triggering emotions, the limbic system is directly connected to the parts of the brain that control blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, memory, stress levels, and hormone balance. Feeding the limbic system with healing essential oils balances emotions and the functions that the limbic system controls.
Further Reading: 9 Essential Oils For Hormonal Imbalance & How To Use Them
There are many creative ways to enjoy essential oils aromatherapeutically. While high-quality candles are a popular way, here are some other ways to use essential oils for treating anxiety through aromatherapy:
- Use an aromatherapy diffuser to spread the oil’s scent in the room. (Further Reading: 50 Aromatic Essential Oil Recipes To Try In Your Diffuser)
- Directly inhale by rubbing a few drops in your hands, rubbing them together to warm the oil and cupping your hands to your face. Another method is as simple as placing a drop on a cotton ball for use or rubbing a drop of oil just below your nose.
- Mix essential oils with an unscented carrier oil like almond oil or a favorite unscented body lotion to wear on the body.
- A warm bath containing a few drops of essential oil is a great way to encourage relaxation while enjoying the scent and healing powers of your favorite essential oil.
When Using Essential Oils for Anxiety, Less is More
According to a study published in the European Journal of Cardiology, one hundred young, non-smoking workers were placed in a room and exposed to an aromatherapy diffusion of bergamot essential oil for an hour before being measured for anxiety indicators like heart rate and blood pressure.
Results showed reduced blood pressure and heart rate for between 15 and 60 minutes after the start of exposure. “Our results suggest that exposure to essential oil for 1 hour would be effective in reducing heart rate and blood pressure,” said Dr Chuang.
Don’t overdo it, since exposure longer than an hour does not improve results and may actually over-stimulate you, creating the opposite effect.
Which Essential Oil Should You Use for Anxiety?
It’s often a matter of preference, since essential oils elicit emotional reactions unique to each person. If an essential oil uplifts your spirits, chances are it’s helpful in treating anxiety. Five of the most commonly used essential oils for anxiety include:
1. Clary sage
A 2010 research study conducted by the Department of Basic Nursing Science, Korea documented that clary sage essential oil has antidepressant-like effects useful after highly stressful situations. The same department also found that clary sage may even be more powerful than lavender for anxiety treatment in women.
Bergamot is part of the citrus family and is fresh and uplifting. A study conducted using bergamot essential oil concluded that even ten minutes of weekly inhalation of bergamot oil resulted in a significant reduction of blood pressure and heart rate, while balancing nerves and reducing anxiety. The study authors selected elementary school teachers known to work under significant stress as their subjects.
This plant’s name comes from the word angel. Folklore claims that an angel revealed the plant’s healing properties to a monk during a time of terrible plague.
A study involving three different lab tests with mice comparing the effects of angelica essential oil versus the anti-anxiety drug diazepam concluded that both angelica oil and diazepam create an anti-anxiety effect. The important takeaway of this study is that angelica oil is as effective in treating anxiety as its drug counterpart, but more natural and side effect-free.
4. Sweet orange
While all citrus essential oils are uplifting and great to combat anxiety and depression, Yale Scientific cited a study from the Mie University School of Medicine that found that patients with depression needed smaller doses of antidepressant medications after citrus aromatherapy treatments like sweet orange essential oil.
Perhaps the most versatile and popular of all essential oils, lavender is great for relaxation, heart health and well-being in general. There are many studies proving the effectiveness of lavender on stress, depression and anxiety.
A study showed that lavender essential oil aromatherapy reduced serum cortisol, which plays a main role in a healthy cardiovascular system and how the body responds to stress. The researchers concluded that, “These findings suggest that lavender aromatherapy has relaxation effects and may have beneficial acute effects on coronary circulation.”
Lavender essential oil is an effective substitute for anxiety medications. Researchers investigated the use of lavender for Generalized Anxiety Disorder. An oral lavender oil capsule preparation taken over six weeks was shown to effectively relieve generalized anxiety comparable to lorazepam, a powerful anti-anxiety drug.
Essential Oil Tips for Anxiety From the Experts
With all the options available in treating anxiety with essential oils, it’s time to put the studies to practice. We’ve asked 12 experts about their most effective ways to use essential oils in the treatment of anxiety. Here’s their advice:
1. Mitra Shirmohammadi
Registered Holistic Nutritionist and founder of Nutriholist.com
Essential oils can have a very powerful effect on our mood, emotions and behavior. For anxiety, essential oils such as Bergamot, Basil, Clary Sage, Frankincense, Lavender, Marjoram, Palmarosa and Ylang Ylang have been shown quite helpful.
2. Audrey “Christie” McLaughlin, RN
Registered Nurse and Certified Clinical Medical Assistant, wholebeingRN.com
Christie works with every age range from kids to the elderly to reduce anxiety including fear of flying. While each approach is different, Christie suggests, “Depending on the client, several different modalities may be used from topical to aromatic or even reflexology points,” when using essential oils.
3. Val Silver
Holistic Wellness Educator and Coach, holistic-mindbody-healing.com
Val loves using essential oils to treat mild to moderate anxiety:
My favorite EO when feeling stressed or anxious is lavender. Rose is also beautiful. Just the act of slowing down and taking a slow deep breath of the oil from my warmed cupped palms calms me down. I love to take an EO breath break when feeling stressed, overtired or anxious at work.
4. Nancy Illman
Plant-based Energy Healer, about.me/nancyillman
Nancy is a Harvard graduate and former attorney who now works with clients to achieve better health and happiness in their lives. She leads a mood management class in Takoma Park, MD on Wednesday evenings in which she helps people learn to find the right essential oils for their needs.
She is particularly fond of vetiver, a grass found in Haiti that is often used in men’s fragrances. Vetiver has been particularly helpful to herself and her clients in combating negative thoughts.
5. Marie Y. Lemelle, MBA
Publicist, Producer and Manager about.me/marie_lemelle/
Marie is a highly successful business woman managing clients and a busy lifestyle gracefully. Her anti-anxiety essential oil of choice is peppermint.
I never leave home without peppermint essential oil. I am addicted to its quick remedy to a variety of issues. I rub the oil only into the palm of my hands, cup my hands over my mouth and nose and breathe in until the feeling of anxiety, is gone. If I’m driving, I hold the open bottle up to my nose and breathe in deeply. It helps with anxiety, panic attacks, fainting, queasiness, allergies to pet dander, motion sickness, fear or uneasiness flying.
6. Sharon Dickey
Certified Health & Wellness Coach, myreasony.net
Sharon uses essential oils for anxiety daily in two ways: “I rub it directly on my skin and I diffuse it by mixing with water in a spray bottle for misting.”
7. Lewis Harrison
Healer and Spa Owner, www.TheCatskillsbedandBreakfast.com
Lewis has worked with essential oils for more than 30 years and uses a signature essential oil combination throughout his spa and private practice: “A mixture of jasmine and lavender oil works wonders for anxiety attacks. We use it in the hot tub, in foot reflexology and in atomizers.”
9. Madeline Given, CNC
Certified Holistic Nutritionist madelinenutrition.com
Madeline is a certified holistic nutritionist and essential oils user, educator and distributor. “My interest in essential oils came first and foremost from my desire to combat general anxiety.”
Her favorite soothing essential oil is cedarwood:
Cedarwood is woodsy, warm and the balsamic aroma is powerful when applied to the feet before bedtime — it includes natural compounds called sesquiterpenes that create a very comforting atmosphere when diffused.
10. Valerie Bennis
Certified Aromatherapist, Essence of Vali, http://www.essenceofvali.com
Valerie creates custom essential oil blends for her clients. She keeps an ever-growing recipe book of custom formulas with the names and profiles of the clients she created them for.
Three of my favorite oils for anxiety are: cedarwood, rosewood and spruce. They are grounding oils when one feels fragile, off-center and ridden with anxiety. Massaging the feet after mixing these oils in a carrier is very beneficial. Bathing with essential oils and using an aromatherapy mist will also take the edge off anxiety.
Valerie also suggests a drop of a favorite essential oil on the corner of a pillowcase for a good night’s sleep.
11. Denise Baron
Wellness Educator and Reikki Master, Ayurvedaformodernliving.com
Denise is a lifestyle expert, wellness coach and author of the upcoming book, Nourish, Heal and Discover. She took interest in essential oils in order to help her sister through anxiety and depression.
Denise uses a range of oils for her clients and friends but advises that, “What works for one may not work for another. Also take into account what season it is.”
12. Tony DeYoung
Digital Marketing and Growth Hacking Consultant, Hello Heart App
Tony combines the time-tested art of essential oils with the latest in high-tech innovation like the Hello Heart app for the iPhone and Apple Watch. “At Hello Heart, we research many non-pharmaceutical options for people with high blood pressure to actually try. We look at food, exercise and even essential oils,” he states.
Tony suggests using essential oils’ anxiety reducing properties to enhance heart function:
Apply [essential oils] using a coconut oil based salve and apply to reflex points for the heart like the sole of the left foot, and below the ring finger of your left hand.
Want to try any of the essential oils mentioned in this article to help treat anxiety? You can purchase all of the essential oils referred to in this article from Plant Therapy on Amazon.