Essential oils have practically an endless list of applications, including banishing stress and anxiety, depending on the type of oil. And, whether you want to boost your mood, or improve your overall health, the best strategy is to start with stress reduction.
Aromatherapy has become especially popular in recent years for stress relief, though its use dates back thousands of years. It offers a natural, organic alternative to pharmaceuticals, working to enhance lifestyle modifications that can further lessen stress, such as meditation, diet and exercise. Excess stress can cause digestive problems, wreak havoc on the immune system and raise the risk of developing heart disease. It can also affect blood sugar levels leading to increased hunger and insulin insensitivity. When not managed properly, stress can even lead to premature aging, pain and weight gain.
Considering the many negative effects of being overstressed, taking action to relieve it is an absolute must for good health and well-being, and aromatherapy is an especially effective way to do so.
How To Use Essential Oils To Relieve Stress
- Place a few drops onto a cotton pad and tuck it into a pocket, or your bra. The oil’s scent will help support you throughout the day, bringing a sense of calm to whatever challenges you might face. Alternatively, and probably more effectively, invest in an essential oil diffuser necklace. Not only do they look really pretty, but you’ll also be able to inhale the wonderful aromas throughout the day and easily change the pads to mix up the scents.
- Add several drops of essential oil onto your shower floor or into a bath. As you bathe, you’ll be immersed in its aromatic steam, helping you to start the morning out right for a better day. When adding to a bath you should first emulsify the oils in milk to avoid undiluted application to skin.
- Scent your living or working space by using an essential oil diffuser. Simply add 5 drops of your desired essential oil into a diffuser. We recently tested and reviewed five of the best diffusers here and the winner was this Bellasentials Dark Bamboo Essential Oil Diffuser.
- Most essential oils can also be massaged into your skin to experience their benefits. Simply add a couple of drops of your chosen essential oil to a carrier oil – such as sweet almond or melted coconut oil.
But the biggest question on your mind is likely to be which essential oils are the best at banishing stress?
10 Best Essential Oils For Beating Chronic Stress
Frankincense is an essential oil that’s often used in aromatherapy for a number of reasons. It’s known to help relieve pain and reduce inflammation, boost immunity, and fight chronic stress and anxiety. Also known as olibanum, it’s rich in sesquiterpenes, which are molecules that penetrate the blood-brain barrier enabling the oil to carry oxygen into the brain while stimulating its limbic area, including the hypothalamus, pineal and pituitary glands.
A 2008 study found that one of the compounds in Frankincense oil, incensole acetate, has properties that reduce anxiety as well as depressive behavior – the likely reason it’s been used since ancient times as a part of meditation practice. The oil immediately induces the feeling of peace and relaxation, and some believe that it boosts intuition too. In aromatherapy, frankincense is typically inhaled or diffused through a diffuser, working as a sedative to relieve anxiety, anger, and stress. When used in this way, it’s been shown to lower heart rate and reduce blood pressure, similar to an anti-anxiety medicine, but without the negative side effects that come from pharmaceuticals, including drowsiness.
Lavender is the ultimate adaptogen essential oil as it’s known to help balance issues for all types of personalities. A study conducted in 1998 that measured the EEG patterns of participants who inhaled lavender oil found that subjects became more relaxed, and their EEG patterns suggested they were in a state of drowsiness. Despite being so relaxed, the individuals still managed to carry out math computations faster and more accurately than they had before inhaling lavender essential oil.
The oil is renowned for its calming, relaxing effect, considered to be a “nervous system restorative” which helps boost inner peace, improve sleep, relieve irritability, anxiety and panic attacks, as well as a nervous stomach and general nervous tension.
There have been a number of other clinical trials involving lavender essential oil that have shown its ability to reduce stress and anxiety as mentioned in the The Handbook of Essential Oils: Science, Technology, and Applications, Second Edition. One study using oral lavender essential oil via capsules discovered that heart rate variation significantly increased compared to the individuals who took a placebo while watching an anxiety-provoking film. (Caution: We do not suggest using essential oils orally.)
Sandalwood is an essential oil that’s commonly used in cosmetics, perfumery and soothing or healing salves, but it offers many other time-tested properties, including the ability to calm. It’s been used as an aid in yoga and meditation in many cultures, regarded as a sacred oil. It’s not only effective for balancing the emotions, but it helps to strengthen the immune system too. If you’re under stress from studying, this is an especially good oil as it not only aids in relaxation and provides a sense of calm, but it helps to improve memory and concentration to save you from unnecessary worries and anxiety.
4. Roman chamomile
Chamomile tea is one of the most commonly prescribed beverages for relaxation and sleep – and, of course, chamomile essential oil can offer much of the same, only more. It not only offers relaxing and calming properties, but it can help lessen anxiety and dispel lingering anger.
A calming scent, the aroma of chamomile encourages inner harmony while reducing anxiety, irritability and the tendency to overthink everything. A study out of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine on the antidepressant activities of chamomile essential oil showed that it “may provide clinically meaningful antidepressant activity that occurs in addition to its previously observed anxiolytic activity.” Other research, published by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, discovered the chamomile was able to ease anxiety symptoms.
Bergamot has a sweet citrus scent and a distinctive floral aroma that makes it popular for use in perfumes – in fact, it was a major ingredient in the original 4711 Eau De Cologne by Johann Maria Farina in early 18th-century Germany. It also boasts of powerful antibacterial, analgesic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, and soothing properties making it useful for a number of physical and mental health conditions too.
Bergamot oil is considered to be calming, with the ability to aid insomnia, induce relaxation and lessen agitation so that one can get a better night’s rest, while also providing an energy boost that can help improve one’s mood. The oil has been shown in studies to reduce corticosterone response to stress in rats, research conducted in 2011 in particular hypothesized that applying a blended essential oil (lavender and bergamot) that included bergamot may help treat individuals suffering from anxiety or depression. Compared with a placebo, the oil offers multiple ways to lower blood pressure and heart rate, with study participants treated with the oil blend reporting they felt “more calm” and “more relaxed.”
6. Ylang Ylang
Ylang Ylang is an essential known for its aphrodisiac properties and is unique in that it can be either calming or stimulating. It helps to ease fears and promote optimism as well as relaxing the body. It can also be helpful for those who suffer from fatigue and/or insomnia, and is especially effective for use in managing anger-related stress by inhaling the scent which stimulates circulation and lowers blood pressure.
Research conducted by Korea’s Geochang Provincial College found that study participants using ylang-ylang essential oil combined with lavender and bergamot daily for four weeks experienced reduced “psychological stress responses, serum cortisol level and blood pressure.” If your blood pressure is already on the low side, you may want to speak with your healthcare provider before using ylang-ylang oil to avoid potentially harmful effects.
Valerian is well-known for its ability to help induce sleep, and while it’s aroma isn’t exactly pleasing (some equate it to dirty socks), it’s outstanding when it comes to the ability to relieve anxiety symptoms, and ultimately, stress. Science has shown that valerian raises the amount of a compound known as GABA (gamma animobutyric acid) in the brain, which regulates nerve cells and calms anxiety. Common pharmaceutical drugs like valium and xanax work by increasing the amount of this chemical in the brain. Valerian contains valerenol and valerenic acids which acts in the same way as these anti-anxiety medications, all without the side effects that commonly come with prescription drugs.
A 2000 study out of Germany that compared the sleep improvements of two groups of patients, one that took a valerian extract and one that took a prescription sedative, found that the group that used valerian experienced far fewer side effects with as much relief.
8. Rose oil
Rose oil is known to boost confidence and self-esteem, improve mental strength and fight depression as well as anxiety, including panic attacks. It’s widely used in aromatherapy for helping to heal a broken heart, invoke positive thoughts and feelings of joy and happiness.
Research published in the Iranian Red Crescent Medical Journal showed that women who received a 10-minute inhalation of rose essential oil or a 10-minute foot bath with the oil, both enjoyed reduced anxiety, as compared to a control group who received neither.
9. Vetiver essential oil
Vetiver essential oil, also known as khus oil, has an earthy fragrance similar to patchouli, but with a touch of lemon. It’s been shown to be quite calming, stabilizing and grounding, and has often been used to help in times of trauma. Considered a nervous system tonic, it lessens that jittery feeling and can help treat panic attacks. Researched published in Natural Product Research that examined anxiety-like behaviors in rats found that the oil could be useful for reducing the affects of anxiety.
A 2015 study conducted by researchers at Srinakharinwirot University in Bangkok, Thailand and the School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Nottingham in the UK, looked into the oils effects as a tool for helping those who suffer with anxiety, and the neurological actions in the central amygdaloid nucleus. The central amygdaloid nucleus connects with areas of the brainstem that control the expression of innate behaviors. It’s what’s responsible for our emotions, as well as changes in blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration.
The oils ability to calm and soothe are also believed to help dispel irritability and anger, as well as to reduce neurotic behavior, which works to reduce stress and overall tension. Used in traditional medicine in West Africa, Southeast Asia and South Asia for thousands of years, many cultures consider it a sacred herb, valued for its uplifting, healing and protective properties. In India and Sri Lanka, it’s actually known as the “oil of tranquility.”
10. Jasmine essential oil
Jasmine is another great oil for banishing stress as a stimulating aroma that uplifts helps to produce optimistic, confident feelings that can help alleviate depression. It’s been used for hundreds of years in parts of Asia as a natural remedy for anxiety, depression, emotional stress, low libido and insomnia.
Research has suggested that jasmine oil is effective due to its positive influence on the nervous system. Via aromatherapy or penetrating the skin, the oils from the jasmine flower offer a positive effect on a number of processes, like heart rate, body temperature, stress response, alertness, blood pressure and breathing.
Many studies have found improvements in mood and sleep after using jasmine oil either as an aromatherapy treatment or topically on the skin, as well as it being a way to boost energy levels. Results demonstrate that jasmine oil has a stimulating/activating effect of the brain and also helps improve mood at the same time.
One particular study, published in Natural Product Communications found that when jasmine essential oil was used daily on the skin for eight weeks, participants found that they experienced better moods and a greater level of energy. To try it for yourself, be sure to dilute the essential oil in a carrier oil first.
Thanks to the oil’s relaxing effects, it can also work as an excellent natural sedative for better sleep. In fact, researchers from Kyoto University in Kitashirakawa Oiwake-cho, Japan published a study in 2005 in the European Journal of Applied Physiology that showed the fragrance of jasmine had sedative effects on the state of one’s mood and autonomic nerve activity.