We get it. Stress and anxiety have become a part of our everyday lives. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 31% of adults in the US will have an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. You can treat and manage anxiety in many ways, like therapy, meditation, breathing exercises and even aromatherapy. Recent studies show that essential oils may help reduce anxiety symptoms.
For the most part, essential oils should be used with a diffuser as they can be incredibly harsh on your skin. You can mix essential oils with a carrier oil, like coconut oil, to rub it into your skin. If you're going to do this, ensure you understand how to go about it and test it on a small piece of skin first to ensure you won't have a reaction. The Food and Drug Administration does not regulate the quality or purity of essential oils, and we recommend researching and consulting your doctor before using essential oils if your anxiety is severe. Essential oils should never be ingested unless they are food-grade and your doctor has cleared you to do so.
Ahead, you'll find an overview of what essential oils may help with anxiety and the best ways to use them.
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How does aromatherapy work?
Aromatherapy is an age-old way of treating your mind and body with natural smells. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, when you inhale these plant-based oils, signals are sent to your brain and hit the amygdala to affect your emotions. This is why people often turn to essential oils for mental health remedies, like treatments for anxiety and stress. However, there is limited research on aromatherapy and anxiety, as its use in modern medicine is quite new.
Best essential oils for anxiety
Research on essential oils links many of them to relaxation and better sleep. These are our top essential oils to help relieve anxiety.
Lavender is one of the most popular essentials oil for relaxation. Studies on lavender show that inhaling its scent has been shown to reduce anxiety levels and encourage sleep. Further research suggests that lavender interacts with your limbic system, which controls your feelings and promotes a calmer mind. Try using a few drops of this oil in a bath before bed. Mix it with a carrier oil like coconut oil and put it into your bath water. You could also put this in a diffuser in your bedroom before you go to sleep to breathe it in during the night.
Sandalwood has commonly been studied with other essential oils like lavender and orange, resulting in decreased anxiety levels. With this oil, try combining it with your lavender essential oil in a diffuser for maximum effect on relaxation and sleep hygiene. Plus, the two smell great together and make you feel like you're sleeping in nature.
Human research on frankincense and anxiety is limited. However, the results of one study imply that frankincense may decrease anxiety levels in pregnant women. This is an essential oil that you can mix with a carrier oil and apply to your feet before putting on socks at bedtime, or you can diffuse it.
A small study conducted found inhaling lemon essential oil scents reduced anxiety in patients after orthopedic surgery. Lemon essential oil is linked to improved cognitive function and reduced morning sickness for pregnant women. Improvement in both of these things can lead to less stress and anxiety, which makes lemon oil a decent choice for essential oils for anxiety. It's a good one to inhale when you're feeling nauseous or anxious by dotting it on a cotton ball and gently breathing it in.
Research suggests that clary sage essential oil can reduce cortisol levels and decrease stress levels. You can use clary sage as needed by diffusing it during stressful moments or gently inhaling the scent when anxious.
You'll often find chamomile as an ingredient in relaxation teas. A study on chamomile found that it reduced generalized anxiety disorder. However, research on it as an essential oil is limited. The antioxidant tea is most commonly used to help people sleep, which is why it's in relaxation teas. Essential oil is quite powerful, so you'll only need to diffuse a small amount to breathe in.
Orange essential oil has also been studied in pregnant women, and research has shown that inhaling this essential oil has proven beneficial for these women. After inhaling the orange essential oil, women reported less stress and anxiety while in labor. Orange essential oil works well combined with other oils, like sandalwood.
Rose essential oil has been studied as a massage tool and has been proven to reduce anxiety and pain, specifically, pain linked to the menstrual cycle and pregnancy. With this essential oil, try mixing it with a carrier oil or your favorite lotion, massaging it into the bottoms of your feet, and then putting on a pair of socks. This method has been studied and can help lessen anxiety by allowing the oil to soak into your skin.
Ylang-ylang has been proven to be effective for a variety of things. Studies show that ylang-ylang essential oil can decrease feelings of anxiety and also work as a sedative. Ylang-ylang also contains linalool, which has anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce inflammation. This essential oil works well when inhaled, so put it in diffusers around your house for a soothing atmosphere.
Jasmine is another with minimal research as far as anxiety, but some have found that inhaling the scent of jasmine can be a mood booster and bring a sense of calm. Both of these positive effects lend themselves to lower levels of anxiety as well. You can try it out for yourself by diffusing jasmine essential oil around the house to see how it affects your mood.
Bergamot is a fun essential oil that can do wonders for your stress levels. Research shows that bergamot can signal your brain to release dopamine, decreasing stress and boosting your mood. A further study also suggested that bergamot can lower stress levels and be more effective than resting. With this essential oil, you can diffuse it around the house near bedtime for a relaxing atmosphere as you fall asleep.
Research on vetiver for anxiety is limited, but studies have shown that this essential oil can improve brain function and breathing during sleep. Breathing in this essential oil scent while you sleep could also help with anxiety as it helps you sleep better and think more clearly. Add this to your diffuser before bed to breathe it while sleeping.
Patchouli is traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine as a stress reliever, though the research on it is limited. One study on nurses who inhaled patchouli oil reported less stress than a control group. At home, you can diffuse patchouli oil for a calming atmosphere or sniff your patchouli essential oil when you're feeling particularly anxious.
Geranium essential oil has been studied in pregnant women and has been proven useful in reducing their stress and anxiety during labor. It is believed to have soothing powers that can also assist in reducing stress levels. This oil works well with targeted usage, so sniff it directly from the bottle, put a few drops on a cotton ball, and gently breathe it in when you're feeling stressed.
Are essential oils safe?
Generally speaking, yes. However, because essential oils are not regulated, the quality from one product to another may vary greatly. According to Johns Hopkins, diffusing essential oils in public spaces, or even in your home, may have adverse effects on different people. For example, peppermint essential oil is recommended for headaches, but babies under 3 years old can become agitated. For best results, always consult with your primary doctor to find the best essential oil for you.
Side effects of using essential oils
Possible side effects of using essential oils include:
- Allergic reactions
- Irritation and burning of the skin
- Asthma attacks