When anxiety hits, you’ll do just about anything to feel better, whether it’s breathing exercises, meditation, or even exercising at random hours—but all that can seem like a whole lot of work when you’re already feeling off. But what if we said that there were certain essential oils for anxiety that required nothing but just letting them do their job? (Seriously, the most you’d probably have to do is rub a few drops onto your wrist, take a few sniffs, or put some into an oil diffuser.)
The thing that’s particularly cool about essential oils is that some of them are even "adaptogens," meaning that they increase the body's ability to adapt to stress. They can soothe you if you’re worked up, or they can stimulate you if you need a little boost of energy (see lavender below).
If you’re not sure whether you believe that natural oils can relieve anxiety, then it may be time to listen to science. Research has found that “essential oils may affect a number of biological factors, including heart rate, stress levels, blood pressure, breathing, and immune function.” But which type should you use when?
Let us break down the top four essential oils for anxiety that actually work. Use one, or mix as many of your favorites together for maximum results.
Lavender is a great essential oil to try first, since the scent is typically soothing and not terribly stimulating, says Jennifer Saltiel, a licensed clinical social worker at a private practice in New York City. In fact, this particular oil is one of the most popular adaptogens. A 2012 study found that by inhaling lavender oil, there was a decrease in “autonomic arousal” in which blood pressure and heart rate both decreased (indicating a drop in overall anxiety). By the way, if you are new to aromatherapy, studies show that lavender L. Angustifolia is the type you want for stress-relieving purposes (check the label before purchasing).
When it comes to anxiety relief, this oil, which comes directly from the cedar tree, targets the mind. The fragrance works to increase the levels of serotonin in your body (serotonin is a feel-good hormone that helps keep your mood in balance). Once in the brain, serotonin converts to melatonin, which helps promote better sleep, so say goodbye to restless nights. (By the way, if you suffer from insomnia, you may already take melatonin supplements to help get your sleep schedule back on track.)
Yes, a cup of chamomile tea is totally calming, but did you ever think that its mellow scent had something to do with it? Research has shown that chamomile oil can have antidepressant qualities, in addition to treating anxiety. Although it's important to note: If you have a ragweed allergy, it’s possible you may also be allergic to chamomile.
Bergamot is a citrusy scent, known to be one of the most effective of its kind at calming nerves. And how do we know that? Well, a 2011 study in Taiwan found that schoolteachers who had feelings of anxiety and then breathed in the essential oil for just 10 minutes a week reported lower blood pressure and heart rate. The best part? It seemed to work better on those who had higher levels of anxiety.
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Sayorwan W, Siripornpanich V, Piriyapunyaporn T, Hongratanaworakit T, Kotchabhakdi N, Ruangrungsi N. The Effects of Lavender Oil Inhalation on Emotional States, Autonomic Nervous System, and Brain Electrical Activity. J Med Assoc Thai. 2012;95(4):598-606.
Takeda A, Watanuki E, Koyama S. Effects of Inhalation Aromatherapy on Symptoms of Sleep Disturbance. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2017;2017:1902807. doi:10.1155/2017/1902807
Chang KM, Shen CW. Aromatherapy Benefits Autonomic Nervous System Regulation for Elementary School Faculty in Taiwan. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011;2011:946537. doi:10.1155/2011/946537