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If you have anxiety, these 15 soothing essential oils may help promote clarity and calm.
While research suggests there are health benefits, the FDA doesn’t monitor or regulate the purity or quality of essential oils. It’s important to talk with your healthcare professional before you begin using essential oils and be sure to research the quality of a brand’s products. Always do a patch test before trying a new essential oil.
- Best overall: lavender
- Best for aromatherapy: bergamot, clary sage
- Best to boost your mood: lemon balm, ylang ylang
- Best to calm your mind: holy basil, neroli
- Best to help you sleep: valerian, vetiver
- Best for meditation: frankincense, cedarwood
- Best for relaxation: Roman chamomile, rhododendron
- Best for stress: damask rose, peppermint
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health conditions in the United States.
The Anxiety & Depression Association of America estimates that around 40 million American adults (18.1% of the population) are affected by anxiety each year.
There are many proven ways to treat anxiety disorders, including medication, psychotherapy, and mindfulness.
In recent years, research has shown that essential oils can help alleviate symptoms of anxiety. While every essential oil is unique and can produce a different effect, most can help promote some degree of relaxation to ease the body and mind.
Essential oils are extracted from plants and distilled to a highly concentrated liquid. These aromatic plant essences have been used by humans for thousands of years, dating back to ancient Egypt, India, and Persia. In fact, ancient Greeks and Romans traded early iterations of essential oils with countries of the Near East.
The most potent and fragrant essential oils, such as chamomile, sage, and lemongrass, are often derived from plants that grow in tropical climates.
Essential oils are usually made from the bark, flowers, fruit, or leaves of a plant, which are steamed or pressed. For context, it can take 10–20 pounds of lavender flowers to produce 1 ounce of essential oil and 2,000 rose petals to yield one drop of rose essential oil.
Essential oils are known for their medicinal properties, and many people use them for aromatherapy to reduce symptoms of anxiety and alleviate stress. Essential oils can also help boost your mood, relieve headache and migraine pain, promote sleep, and reduce nausea.
Some essential oils, such as tea tree essential oil, contain antimicrobial properties and can be used as an antiseptic.
Current research shows that inhaling essential oils in the form of aromatherapy has a soothing and therapeutic effect on the nervous system. However, much of the research has been in animal studies. Human studies that show promising evidence often lack rigor.
For instance, animal research from 2010 suggests that certain essential oil scents, such as bergamot, lemon balm, and peppermint, contain specific plant compounds to help induce relaxation.
Despite the lack of substantial evidence, many people find essential oil aromatherapy to be an enjoyable experience. This is due to the aroma of the oils traveling through the olfactory nerves to the amygdala in the brain, which elicits an emotional response to promote clarity and calm.
When to seek help
Essential oils may help reduce anxiety for some people, but for others, they may not be enough. If your anxiety feels unmanageable despite your current wellness regimen, seek help from a healthcare professional or mental health professional.
Also, if you’ve been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and your treatment includes medication, keep in mind that essential oils cannot replace your medication. If you want to try essential oils as an addendum to your regular treatment, it’s advisable to speak with your treatment team first.
We curated the 15 best essential oils for anxiety based on research that supports the effectiveness of the oils specifically or the active ingredients found in them. We prioritized human studies over animal studies when we could, and sourced some of the most up-to-date research from reputable sources.
You may recognize many of the essential oils on this list, as they’re well-known for their relaxation-inducing properties. If any of the oils are new to you and you’re unsure whether they could interfere with any medication you’re taking, ask your doctor or mental health professional for guidance.
As one of the most recognizable essential oils on the market, lavender essential oil (Lavandula angustifolia) is a household staple for its distinct floral scent and calming properties. It’s extracted from steamed lavender flowers, and the active ingredients include:
- linalyl acetate
- lavandulyl acetate
While a growing body of research suggests that lavender essential oil can help treat anxiety disorders, there are limitations to the evidence, and more clinical studies are still needed.
As one 2017 study notes, most research on lavender essential oil does not focus on specific anxiety disorders. For instance, evidence for panic and phobic disorders is lacking. In addition, there is insufficient evidence to show safety for long-term use.
Best for aromatherapy
Bergamot essential oil is produced from the rind of a bergamot orange (Citrus bergamia) and is revered for its citrusy floral aroma. Its main active ingredients include:
- linalyl acetate
Results from a 2015 study of 41 women indicate that bergamot essential oil aromatherapy regulated:
- mood states
- parasympathetic nervous system activity
- cortisol levels (the “stress hormone”)
The parasympathetic nervous system is also sometimes called the “rest and digest” side (in contrast to “fight, flight, or freeze“). It controls your bodily functions when you’re at rest.
However, the researchers noted the limitations of the study due to the small sample size and recommended that more large-scale research is needed.
Clary sage essential oil (Salvia sclarea), also known as “eye bright” or “clear eye,” is made from the leaves and buds of a flowering Mediterranean plant containing the following active ingredients:
- linalyl acetate
It has an invigorating scent and can be diluted in a topical salve or inhaled via aromatherapy to produce calming effects on the nervous system.
Best to boost your mood
Lemon balm essential oil (Melissa officinalis) is distilled from steamed leaves and flowers from the herbaceous lemon balm plant, a member of the mint family. Its active ingredients include:
This perennial plant is known for its uplifting lemony scent, comforting aroma, and mood-boosting properties.
Research shows that lemon balm essential oil may also promote heart health. For instance, a recent study found that lemon balm aromatherapy provided short-term stress relief to people with coronary syndrome, which is a reduction of blood flow to the heart.
Ylang ylang essential oil is extracted from the yellow leaves of the Canaga tree (Cananga odorata), a tropical species that grows in countries surrounding the Indian Ocean. Like other essential oils that may help alleviate anxiety, ylang ylang contains linalool as an active ingredient.
The slightly sweet aroma and floral notes of ylang ylang make it a favorite for aromatherapy as well as perfumes.
There is some research to support the use of ylang ylang essential oil for mental well-being.
A small 2014 study found that ylang ylang reduced anxiety and improved self-esteem when inhaled via aromatherapy or used topically. Older research from 2006 shows that essential oil aromatherapy including ylang ylang may help to lower blood pressure.
Best to calm your mind
Holy basil essential oil, (Ocimum tenuiflorum or Ocimum sanctum L.), also known as tulsi, is a perennial plant native to India that has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine. It also grows throughout Southeast Asia.
Known for its calming and stress-reducing benefits, holy basil contains:
- oleanolic acid
- ursolic acid
- rosmarinic acid eugenol
There’s a fair amount of evidence to show that holy basil can be beneficial for individuals with stress and anxiety. A recent review of human studies, several of which examined the use of essential oils specifically, shows that holy basil can help regulate mood and improve symptoms associated with stress and anxiety.
Neroli essential oil, also known as orange blossom oil, is made from the flowers of bitter orange trees (Citrus aurantium var. amara), which grow in tropical and subtropical climates. The active ingredients found in neroli oil include:
- linalyl acetate
Its floral, citrusy scent is calming and soothing, making it ideal for aromatherapy.
There isn’t a ton of research on the benefits of neroli essential oil, but
Best to help you sleep
Valerian essential oil (Valeriana officinalis), sometimes called “nature’s valium,” is extracted from the roots of the valerian plant and contains valerenic acids and iridoid glycosides to produce a soothing effect. It has a woody, musky aroma and its medicinal use dates back to ancient Greece and Rome.
Valerian root is known for its ability to interact with gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which helps to regulate the nervous system to produce an anxiety-reducing effect.
There’s a fair amount of research to support the health claims of valerian essential oil. For instance, a recent review shows that valerian essential oil may help promote sleep, but notes there are limitations to the current research.
Vetiver essential oil, also called khus oil, is extracted from vetiver plants native to India.
It has a smoky, earthy scent reminiscent of citronella or lemongrass and produces a balancing and grounding effect. Its main active constituents include:
Vetiver oil is also known for its calming properties. Animal research from 2014 found that vetiver oil aromatherapy reduced symptoms of anxiety. Another animal study published in 2016 found that vetiver oil inhalation promoted sleep.
Best for meditation
Frankincense essential oil (Boswellia carterii), also known as olibanum, is extracted from the resin of the Boswellia tree, which is native to the arid mountains of Africa, India, and the Middle East.
Its earthy scent is both grounding and balancing, making it an ideal essential oil to enhance a meditation practice.
Animal research suggests that Boswellic acids, the active ingredient found in frankincense, can help reduce symptoms of depression and lower levels of oxidative stress, but more research in humans is still needed.
Cedarwood essential oil, also known as red cedarwood or cedar oil, is derived from the bark, berries, leaves, and needles of juniper trees (Juniperus virginiana), a type of cedar tree. It’s composed of:
Cedarwood releases a woody scent reminiscent of fresh forest air. When used for aromatherapy, cedarwood essential oil can have a calming and grounding effect.
Animal research suggests that the wood of cedar trees may help reduce symptoms of anxiety and stress due to its cedrol content.
Best for relaxation
Roman chamomile essential oil (Chamaemelum nobile or Anthemis nobilis) is derived from the flowers of the chamomile plant and was used for medicinal purposes by ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans.
The leaves of chamomile produce a delicate, herbal aroma with notes of apple, making it a favorite among tea drinkers.
The active ingredients in Roman chamomile essential oil include:
- angelic acid
- tiglic acid
Chamomile, like lavender, has a significant body of scientific research to support its potential health claims.
A 2010 review indicates that chamomile has a long history of helping to treat a number of health conditions and ailments. As a commonly used sleep aid, chamomile is known for its ability to create calm and relaxation. You can also try German chamomile as an alternative, which contains higher levels of the active ingredient chamazulene.
In addition, a 2013 study found that Roman chamomile essential oil helped reduce anxiety and improve sleep in people admitted to intensive care units (ICUs). In 2017, animal research found that Roman chamomile aromatherapy may help reduce symptoms associated with depression.
A lesser-known essential oil, rhododendron (Rhododendron anthopogon) is made from the leaves, twigs, and flowers of the rhododendron shrub, a species of rhododendron plant that grows in the Himalayas, Tibet, Myanmar, and Pakistan.
It has a woody, herbal aroma that many proponents find calming and grounding, and contains the following active ingredients:
Research from 2010 indicates that rhododendron can be used medicinally as an anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial agent. While current research on the benefits of rhododendron is lacking, Himalayan aromatherapy suggests that it can be used to promote relaxation.
Best for stress
Damask rose essential oil (Rosa × damascena), also known as “liquid gold,” is extracted from rose petals and produced primarily in Turkey, Bulgaria, and Morocco. It includes the following key ingredients:
Rose oil is widely regarded for its sweet, floral aroma, and a growing body of research supports its potential health benefits.
For instance, a
Keep in mind that when using Damask rose essential oil, it’s highly concentrated compared to rose oil, which is often used as a carrier oil.
Peppermint essential oil(Mentha x piperita L.) is extracted from peppermint leaves, which grow naturally throughout the United States and Europe and contain menthol and menthone.
It’s known for its cool, refreshing aroma and has been used medicinally since ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman times.
Recent research shows that peppermint essential oil can help alleviate pain and anxiety among people receiving uncomfortable medical procedures like catheterization.
Essential oils should be used with care and kept out of reach of children. Keep in mind that some essential oils are poisonous to pets, especially cats.
In addition, essential oils are not recommended for infants, people who are pregnant, older adults, or anyone with a serious health condition, without consulting a healthcare professional.
Never ingest essential oils. If you intend to apply any oils topically to your skin you should do a patch test with a 1:30 dilution ratio and watch for an allergic reaction during the first 48–72 hours. To that end, essential oils should never be applied directly to your skin and should be diluted with a carrier or base oil.
We highly recommend you do your research to determine the best ratio of essential oil to base oil to avoid irritating or damaging your skin. Keep in mind that citrus oils, even when diluted, may react to sun exposure.
Consider an aromatherapy diffuser for inhaling essential oils instead of applying them topically. Simply add water to the base of the diffuser with about 5–10 drops of oil, depending on the size of your diffuser.
If your skin passes a patch test, you may also benefit from rubbing your diluted essential oil and carrier oil blend between your palms and then inhaling the aroma.
The best essential oils to help you manage your anxiety will come down to your unique symptoms and also your personal preference.
Some essential oils, such as holy basil or valerian, do not share the same uplifting scents as lemon balm or ylang ylang but have enough research behind them to make them worth trying.
If you’d rather stick with floral, aromatic scents, bergamot is a lovely choice. If woody aromas transport you to the tranquility of the great outdoors, then you might prefer cedarwood, frankincense, or vetiver.
Whatever essential oils you decide to try, be sure to follow the precautions and consider using a diffuser to optimize your aromatherapy experience. If you’re taking any medications, it’s recommended to talk with your doctor — research on potential drug interactions with essential oils is still lacking.
The next time you feel symptoms of your anxiety coming on, try to remember to pause for a few deep breaths to soothe your nervous system. Whether you use essential oils or not, there’s plenty of research to show that the breath is a powerful tool anyone can use to help manage their anxiety disorders.