The truth probably lies somewhere in between. Though essential oils have a solid reputation for squashing stress to fighting insomnia, the controlled studies on aromatherapy — using concentrated plant essential oils to treat health probs — are limited.
Research suggests that aromatherapy might relieve anxiety by…
- calming and relaxing the body
- dialing down high blood pressure
- combatting insomnia (a major prob for folks who struggle to relax!)
Bottom line: Aromatherapy won’t cure an anxiety disorder — but it might help you manage symptoms.
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 provider 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.
Craving some calm? Here are 19 essential oils that might help soothe your anxiety symptoms, according to science.
This sweet floral essential oil can help you feel calm and sleepy. That’s a significant #win if your panic keeps you up into the wee hours of the morning.
Research shows that inhaling the stuff can drastically lower anxiety levels (using a clinically validated measuring system). A lavender oil massage seemed to help too.
How to use it: Diffuse in your bedroom or office to help you relax, or add a few drops to your moisturizer or hand cream for a stress-busting topical.
Scent: fresh and floral
Heads up: Some peeps say valerian essential oil smells like foot funk. For real. But others love the decidedly musky fragrance.
How to use it: Tap a few drops of this bad boy into your diffuser and breathe deeply. Commence relaxation!!
Scent: musky, earthy, spicy
Other uses: Yep, there’s more! Some folks use valerian to soothe headaches or calm heart palpitations.
Cup o’ chamomile tea, anyone? Turns out this plant’s sweetly aromatic essential oils might be just as soothing as the popular nighttime beverage.
How to use it: Pop a few drops in the diffuser or apply diluted chamomile essential oil to your inner wrists or temples when you feel nervous and tense.
Scent: sweet, herbaceous
Other uses: Apply diluted chamomile essential oil to your temples to melt pain from tension headaches.
Say hey to valerian’s close cousin! This little oil also goes by the name spikenard (yes, for real). Whatever you call it, the stuff has a pleasantly warm, woodsy smell.
In one 2018 animal study, oral supplementation of jatamansi extract led to a noticeable decrease in anxiety symptoms. Of course, animals are not people — and you should never ingest essential oils — so more research is needed.
We can say that jatamansi has an anecdotal reputation as a calming, relaxing essential oil. Evidence is slim, but folks say it helps.
How to use it: Massage super-diluted jatamansi onto your neck or temples when you feel a wave of anxiety.
Scent: warm and earthy
A 2019 research review suggested that breathing in Bergamo can reduce stress more than rest.
How to use it: Put a few drops of this oil on a cotton ball, handkerchief, or tissue. Pull the item out and inhale deeply whenever you sense an incoming wave of anxiety.
Scent: zesty, citrusy
Other uses: Try bergamot oil for soothing achy joints or sore muscles. It’s frequently used to help dial down pain and inflammation.
TBH, there isn’t much research on jasmine essential oil for anxiety. The oil is usually infused in perfumes, lotions, and even sexual wellness products. It smells hella sweet and musky, as if you’re walking through a lush garden on a balmy night in Tahiti (y’know, just an average Monday).
So if your anxiety feels like the *opposite* of happy and calm, diffusing jasmine might help you find your way back to center.
How to use it: Open the bottle and breathe in that beautiful scent. Or add a drop or two to your pillowcase before hitting the hay.
Scent: warm, sweet, intense… dare we say, sensual?
Other uses: Aphrodisiac, anyone?Some couples use the scent of jasmine to kick off sexy times.
7. Holy basil
A 2017 research review found that dosing on tulsi could lead to a 31-29 percent reduction in stress for some people.
How to use it: Put 2-3 drops in your aromatherapy diffuser and let it run all day. Start small ‘cuz this scent packs a punch!
Scent: like a spicy mint
8. Sweet basil
In the world of aromatherapy, folks love to use sweet basil as a stress reliever. Research is super slim, but some animal studies suggest this essential oil works for anxiety:
- In one 2015 study, mice who received sweet basil were calmer and less anxious.
- A 2018 study on mice found that sweet basil extract reduced anxiety-like behaviors.
How to use it: Put a few drops in your room diffuser and enjoy!
Scent: crisp, herbal, green
Other uses: Some peeps apply diluted sweet basil essential oil to soothe sore muscles and joints.
Wanna soothe your anxiety *and* smell like an enchanted garden? Say hey to relaxing rose essential oil.
A 2017 review noted that though more research is needed, studies indicate that rose oil has relaxing and anti-anxiety effects.
How to use it: Add a few drops of rose oil to a non-scented lotion or shea butter. Slather it on your skin and inhale deeply. Or put a few drops in warm water and soak your feet. Ahhhh….
Scent: floral 🌹
Other uses: Topical application can also relieve pain.
Vetiver essential oil comes from the roots of the grassy vetiver plant. It has a pleasantly woody, dry scent. And fans of aromatherapy often say diffusing the oil helps them sleep.
Like other essential oils, there hasn’t been much research on how vetiver affects anxiety — especially in humans.
- A 2015 study revealed that vetiver aromatherapy has the same anti-anxiety effects as diazepam (a sedative) when used with rats.
- A more recent review notes that vetiver oil can be used to relax the nervous system and invite restful sleep.
How to use it: Tap a few drops of this bad boy into your diffuser and breathe deeply. Commence relaxations!
Scent: woodsy, smoky, notes of leather
Other uses: Some people use diluted vetiver on their skin because it has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s also used to help manage ADHD.
Made from the Boswellia tree’s sticky tree resin, frankincense essential oil smells warm and woodsy. Sometimes it has notes of musk too.
Like many other anxiety remedies, frankincense oil is backed more by anecdotes than science. That doesn’t mean it can’t quell generalized anxiety — just that the jury’s still out.
A 2020 review found that frankincense aromatherapy dramatically reduced the anxiety of women giving birth.
How to use it: Diffuse it! Or tub your hands or feet with diluted frankincense oil for an anxiety-soothing massage.
Scent: piney and balsamic
Other uses: Your skin loves the stuff. Add a drop or two to your body lotion or facial moisturizer to support a healthy glow. It’s also been known to soothe inflammatory conditions like Crohn’s disease.
12. Clary sage
Clary sage has been used to treat anxiety symptoms for a long, long time. But there still haven’t been many studies on how this herbal-icious essential oil helps.
Here’s what we know:
- A tiny 2017 study found that inhaling clary sage essential oil elevated oxytocin, the hormone associated with trust and security.
- A 2015 review also found that it can help regulate cortisol, the hormone that skyrockets when you’re stressed.
How to use it: Plop it in the diffuser and take deeeeeep breaths.
Scent: woody, herbal
Other uses: Peeps inhale this stuff to tame cramps.
As with most of these oils, research on patchouli and anxiety is limited. But the oil has gained a strong reputation for promoting relaxation.
A 2020 study found that ER nurses who inhaled patchouli oil reported less stress than their aromatherapy-less coworkers.
How to use it: Open the bottle and inhale deeply. Or add a couple of drops to your diffuser. Some peeps prefer diffusing patchouli with lavender oil.
Scent: earthy and musky
Other uses: Some say patchouli helps their skin stay smooth and clear.
Obvs, geranium oil smells a lot like geraniums. It’s a common fragrance additive in body washes and perfumes. But geranium oil also has a superpower: It’s a gentle sedative. That means it could help calm an anxiety-riddled brain.
A 2017 study also found that hospital patients who breathed the scent of geranium had less anxiety than those given a placebo scent.
How to use it: Put a few drops on a cotton ball or hanky and inhale when you’re feeling stressed.
Scent: floral 💐
Other uses: Diluted geranium oil can soothe irritated skin. Some people also add it to their skin care products to combat fine lines.
Orange you glad this refreshing scent can help chase away the scaries?
Of course, it’s super important to remember that more studies are needed to recommend essential oils as treatment for anxiety. But if the scent of oranges makes you smile, know that it might help your anxiety too.
How to use it: Add a few drops into your diffuser and breathe deeply.
Scent: like the fruit! 🍊
Stomach tied up in anxious knots? Pop a peppermint — or at least diffuse some of that refreshing oil!
Research shows that the zippy aroma of peppermint can ease pain *and* anxiety in hospital patients about to be hooked up to an IV. That’s a pretty big deal since a fair share of the population is scared of needles.
Peppermint oil is also known to relieve pain and nausea. While that’s not the same as dialing down anxiety, it’s possible that feeling physically better will boost your mental wellness too.
How to use it: Rub diluted peppermint oil on your temples for instant relaxation and tension relief.
Scent: fresh, sharp, and menthol-y
17. Grapefruit oil
When anxiety makes you feel jittery and stressed AF, grapefruit essential oil to the rescue!
How to use it: Diffuse it daily in your office or main living space. Add a drop of lavender for max results!
Scent: tangy, sweet, and fruity
Lemon oil’s uplifting aroma might help you feel happier and more relaxed. A tiny 2008 study suggested that lemon oil aromatherapy could improve participants’ moods by boosting norepinephrine, a brain chemical linked to motivation.
So while the evidence is slim, lemon essential oil has the potential to diminish symptoms of anxiety.
How to use it: Add a few drops to your diffuser for positive vibes.
Scent: citrusy, fresh, zesty
There’s a reason lemongrass essential oil makes frequent appearances in aromatherapy sessions and yoga classes. Fans say it busts stress and makes ‘em feel happier and healthier.
One 2015 study found that participants who got a weekly massage with lemongrass oil (diluted with sweet almond oil) had lower diastolic blood pressure than the folks who didn’t get the massage. Of course, the lower blood pressure (and potentially lower stress) could be due to the massage more than the oil. 🤷
In the end, using lemongrass oil for anxiety might be based on whether you find the scent calming and uplifting.
How to use it: Diffuse or add a few drops to your hand cream.
Scent: lemony + grassy (and pretty potent!)
Other uses: It’s anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory. Sounds like the perfect addition to your daily moisturizer!
Essential oils are generally considered safe when diluted properly. Never let essential oils touch your skin before diluting them in sweet almond oil or another carrier oil.
Some potential risks:
- Unsafe usage. Just say “no” to ingesting essential oils. These bad boys are potent, and most evidence-backed benefits come from aromatherapy studies.
- Skin sensitivity. Some essential oils — like lemon! — can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. So if you’re heading to the beach, stick with inhaling the oils’ aromas rather than adding a drop to your sunscreen.
- Allergic reactions. Even super-diluted oils can cause a reaction if you’re allergic to the plant. Always do a patch test before touching a new essential oil on your skin.
- Too much of a good thing. Aromatherapy smells delish and helps you relax. But you should *always* use it in a well-ventilated area. Inhaling too much could actually be bad for your health.
- Pregers and breastfeeding. Some essential oils are dangerous to pregnant and breastfeeding women. Take caution if you’re going to be in an environment where someone is using them.
- Pet probs. Some essential oils are toxic for pets! Always talk to your doc before trying to address your furry fam’s separation anxiety with aromatherapy.
When to see a health professional
Home remedies aren’t always enough to quell anxiety disorders. If calming your jangly nerves has become a daily struggle, it’s time to talk to a pro.
See a doctor if your anxiety symptoms are negatively impacting your:
Of course, you don’t have to wait for a bad review at work or a string of sleepless nights. Even the desire to feel better is a legit reason to ask for help.
- Although they’re no replacement for doc-prescribed meds, diluted essential oils might help you manage anxiety symptoms at home.
- Research suggests that lavender essential oil, in particular, offers relief to folks experiencing anxiety symptoms.
- For anxiety-triggered insomnia, valerian and chamomile essential oils can promote a sense of relaxation and calm.
- For worry or a sense of doom, essential oils like lemon and peppermint offer gentle mood boosts.
- Essential oils are not a cure for anxiety. Talk to a health professional if you’re experiencing heightened anxiety, worries, blood pressure, or heart palpitations.