Mindfulness & Anxiety

4 Essential Oils for Anxiety That Are Worth A Try

By Justin Fowler-Lindner
Jaron Whelan

Essential oils have many health benefits, but anxiety management is where they really shine.

Like a bullet straight to the heart of your biochemistry, their phytochemicals can swiftly enter the bloodstream and relieve anxiety fast.

Here are the four best essential oils for anxiety:

  • Lavender
  • Bergamot
  • Rose
  • Chamomile

What makes these essential oils so effective at calming the nervous system?

Keep reading to find out.

What Are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are extracted from the roots, stems, flowers, leaves, and bark of certain plants.

Their therapeutic compounds can promote relaxation, improve mood, reduce anxiety, and ameliorate depression.

How Essential Oils May Help Anxiety

Most compounds have to be digested or injected in order to enter the bloodstream.

However, the phytochemicals in essential oils, like linalool and linalyl acetate, are small enough to pass through the skin and nasal cavities.

From there, they can readily travel across the blood-brain barrier to potentially relieve anxiety.

People with anxiety often have concurrent digestive issues that inhibit nutrient absorption, making essential oils an especially valuable treatment.

How to Use Essential Oils for Anxiety

Essential oils can be ingested, applied topically, or inhaled.

Aromatherapy massage, however, can provide particularly fast-acting relief.

A 2008 study found that aromatherapy hand massages with a blend of bergamot, lavender, and frankincense can effectively reduce anxiety, pain, and depression in hospice patients better than regular massage alone. The essential oil blend contained a 1.5 percent dilution of essential oils, using sweet almond oil as a carrier oil. 

Carrier oils like almond, coconut, and hemp seed oil can spread the essential oil across a wider surface area and extend its aromatic effects.

However, oral lavender oil can be effective as well.

A 2009 study published in the journal Human Psychopharmacology found that oral lavender oil capsules can reduce anxiety in participants watching stressful film clips.

4 Best Essential Oils for Anxiety

Essential oils can reduce stress hormone production and boost calming neurotransmitters.

Here’s a closer look at the four best essential oils for anxiety:

1. Lavender

Lavender is the queen of anti-anxiety oils, and there’s a mountain of evidence to prove it.

Over the years, lavender essential oil has been studied as a treatment for wounds, burns, and seizures, but recent research suggests that it may also have potent anti-anxiety, mood stabilizing, and sedative effects.

It can also be consumed as a lavender tea.

Here’s what the research as to say about lavender essential oil for anxiety:

  • According to a 2013 meta-analysis, lavender may promote the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA and reduce glutamate, which tends to be overactive in anxious individuals. 
  • A 2012 study published in the journal Phytomedicine found that lavender may reduce anxiety by acting on acetylcholine: the primary neurotransmitter involved with higher thinking. 
  • Inhaled lavender may target the limbic system by targeting the hippocampus and amygdala: the emotional center of the brain.
  • Animal studies show that inhaled lavender can reduce cortisol: the main hormone linked to chronic stress and anxiety. 
  • In a 2014 human study, researchers determined that oral lavender oil can outperform the prescription anxiolytic paroxetine in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

Although the FDA does not officially recognize lavender oil as a treatment for anxiety disorders, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) does.

Recent research shows that lavender oil may also reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure,  and slow heart rate.

2. Bergamot

Bergamot is another widely-researched essential oil that may reduce anxiety, pain, stress, and inflammation.

According to a 2011 rodent study published in the journal Phytotherapy Research, “Both BEO [bergamot essential oil] and diazepam [prescription medication] exhibited anxiolytic-like behaviours and attenuated HPA axis activity by reducing the corticosterone response to stress.

In other words, bergamot treated stress and anxiety by calming the stress response.

Human studies are also promising.

A 2017 pilot study found that bergamot oil aromatherapy can enhance positive feelings in the waiting room of a mental health treatment center.

3. Rose

Studies show that rose essential oil may balance hormones, reduce stress, and treat anxiety.

Here’s what the research has to say about the health benefits of rose essential oil:

  • In a 2007 Japanese study, rose oil aromatherapy effectively reduced cortisol levels in both female and male volunteers. Plus, it decreased testosterone in women but had no effect on testosterone in men.
  • According to a 2016 clinical trial, patients undergoing hemodialysis treatment may experience reduced anxiety with rose oil aromatherapy. 
  • On a similar note, a 2014 study indicates that inhaling rose oil may increase feelings of comfort by inhibiting neurotransmitter activity in the prefrontal cortex. 
  • According to another 2014 study, rose oil foot baths can be significantly more effective at reducing anxiety than regular foot baths.

Rose essential oil also contains eugenol: one of the strongest antioxidants in the world.

4. Chamomile

Chamomile tea is widely used as a natural sleep aid, and that’s because the plant contains several therapeutic phytochemicals, including the soothing compound chamazulene.

These properties also make chamomile well-suited for reducing stress and anxiety.

Both chamomile aromatherapy and oral chamomile appear to be equally effective.

In one 2009 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, researchers at Pennsylvania State University tested the effects of oral chamomile capsules on 57 patients with mild generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

Compared to the placebo, participants experienced a statistically significant reduction in anxiety symptoms.

According to the study’s authors, “These results suggest that chamomile may have modest benefits for some people with mild to moderate GAD.”

At the same time, a 2013 aromatherapy study found a significant difference in the anxiety scores between the chamomile group and the control group.

To top it all off, chamomile contains several terpenes and flavonoids that may treat gastrointestinal inflammation and reduce pain.

What to Know Before Using Essential Oils for Anxiety

Other anti-anxiety oils to check out include, sage, frankincense, geranium, and orange oil.

It’s also a good notion to never ingest essential oils without first making sure they’re food-grade. Many oils are manufactured with synthetic perfumes that can upset and irritate the stomach.

If you have a history of serious medical conditions or are currently taking prescription drugs, make sure to consult a specialist before adding essential oils to your regular health practice.

All in all, many people have found aromatherapy and other essential oil applications to be very beneficial in the reduction of anxiety—and you might too.

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