Breathe in, Breathe Out: 19 Essential Oils for Anxiety

By | July 20, 2022

Ah, aromatherapy. Some folks think there’s nothing a date with an essential oil *can’t* cure. Others are skeptical — “A few drops of oil for a bonafide illness? Pish posh.”

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. 

So, what about essential oils for anxiety? Let’s sniff out the science.

bottle of essential oil
Marc Tran/Stocksy United

Using aromatherapy for anxiety relief

Are essential oils an essential part of your anxiety relief kit? No. But that doesn’t mean they can’t help you feel better.

Anxiety is usually paired with a racing heart or high blood pressure. It feels like entering “fight or flight” mode, even when there’s no real danger. 

Research suggests that aromatherapy might relieve anxiety by… 

Bottom line: Aromatherapy won’t cure an anxiety disorder — but it might help you manage symptoms.

19 best essential oils for anxiety 

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.

1. Lavender

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.

Basically, lavender oil might help fire up your parasympathetic nervous system, which is what tells your body to chill the eff out. 

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

Other uses: Lavender oil can be used for colds, pain relief, and deeper sleep. It can also be added to laundry freshener or cleaning spray for antimicrobial oomph.

2. Valerian

Heads up: Some peeps say valerian essential oil smells like foot funk. For real. But others love the decidedly musky fragrance.

Whether you love it or hate it, valerian oil has been found to have a light sedative effect that could benefit folks with anxiety-induced insomnia.

​​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.

3. Chamomile

Cup o’ chamomile tea, anyone? Turns out this plant’s sweetly aromatic essential oils might be just as soothing as the popular nighttime beverage.

Research suggests that chamomile essential oil can soothe the anxiety and depression that cause tension headaches. Maybe it’s anti-inflammatory… or maybe it just smells that good. 😉

​​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.

4. Jatamansi

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

Other uses: No anxiety on the horizon? (Lucky you!) You can still try jatamansi as a sleep aid or to relieve minor aches and pains

5. Bergamot 

This citrusy essential oil comes from bergamot oranges, a cross between lemons and bitter oranges. And breathing in some berg’ might help squash anxiety symptoms.

A 2019 research review suggested that breathing in Bergamo can reduce stress more than rest. 

And an older 2013 review found that bergamot (and other essential oils, to be fair) can help relieve anxiety by telling the brain to release “happy hormones” serotonin and dopamine.

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.

6. Jasmine

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).

But science does say the scent of jasmine can create boost your general sense of well-being. Researchers also acknowledge that people have long used jasmine to trigger feelings of calm.

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

This spicy, minty essential oil goes by the name holy basil or tulsi. And it might just be your new panic-preventing sidekick.

2017 research review found that dosing on tulsi could lead to a 31-29 percent reduction in stress for some people. 

Stress can trigger panic attacks, worry, and hypertension in anyone, especially folks living with anxiety. So stomping out stress with holy basil could relieve symptoms of anxiety.  

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

Other uses: Give this oil a whirl when dealing with a cough, upset stomach, or joint pain. This one’s a multitasker!

8. Sweet basil

Y’know the basil in pesto and marinara sauce? That’s sweet basil, and it smells like crisp, herbaceous summertime.

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.
  • 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.

9. Rose

Wanna soothe your anxiety *and* smell like an enchanted garden? Say hey to relaxing rose essential oil.

In an older 2014 study, pregnant peeps who used rose oil in a footbath reported less anxiety than those who used just water. 

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.

10. Vetiver

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.

  • 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.

11. Frankincense

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.

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.
  • 2015 review also found that it can help regulate cortisol, the hormone that skyrockets when you’re stressed.

Bottom line: Clary sage might not ward off all anxiety, but it could gently nudge you toward feeling safe and calm.

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.

13. Patchouli

These days, most folks associate musky patchouli with ‘60s hippie culture. But in traditional Ayurvedic medicine, folks use patchouli to treat anxiety and high stress

As with most of these oils, research on patchouli and anxiety is limited. But the oil has gained a strong reputation for promoting relaxation. 

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.

14. Geranium

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.

According to older 2015 research, breathing in the scent of geranium oil can reduce anxiety and diastolic blood pressure during labor

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.

15. Orange 

Orange you glad this refreshing scent can help chase away the scaries? 

Inhaling orange essential oil has been found to reduce anxiety and maybe even have an antidepressant effect. Sweet, right? 

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! 🍊

Other uses: Pain relief and a DIY skin glow-up.

16. Peppermint

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

Other uses: Hair growth stimulant, anyone? Peppermint oil is also known for soothing headaches

17. Grapefruit oil

When anxiety makes you feel jittery and stressed AF, grapefruit essential oil to the rescue!

Research suggests that a combination of grapefruit and lavender essential oils can curb stress levels in folks who diffuse them regularly for 6 weeks. Slow and steady, friends.

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

Other uses: Grapefruit oil might be able to reduce inflammation, curb cravings, fight fungus, and more.

18. Lemon

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.

Then a small 2016 study found that lemon oil diminished anxiety in surgery patients.

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

Other uses: Oh, so many things! Use diluted lemon oil to treat acne, relieve cold symptoms, or even reduce pain.

19. Lemongrass

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!

Are there risks of using essential oils for anxiety?

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.

Takeaways

  • 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.

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