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Essential oils are scented liquids that manufacturers derive from plants, flowers, and fruits. Research suggests that aromatherapy with some essential oils may help promote relaxation and relieve anxiety.
In this article, we discuss some of the best essential oils to try for anxiety and the evidence supporting their use.
We also cover how to use essential oils, oil blending, risk and considerations, and when to see a doctor for anxiety.
Bergamot orange essential oil comes from the Citrus bergamia tree. Producers extract the oil by cold-pressing the rind of the oranges. Bergamot orange is a popular aromatherapy oil for relieving anxiety.
According to one 2015 systematic review, inhaling bergamot orange essential oil has an anxiety-reducing effect in rats. Also, a 2013 study found that compared with inhaling water vapor, aromatherapy with bergamot orange essential oil reduced anxiety in people awaiting minor surgery.
A range of bergamot orange essential oils is available to purchase online.
Chamomile is a daisy-like herb. Manufacturers use steam distillation to extract a fruity, sweet-smelling essential oil from the flowers of this plant.
According to the National Cancer Institute, a 2-week clinical trial investigated the effects of massage with Roman chamomile oil in people with cancer. The study found that massage with this diluted oil helped decrease anxiety and other symptoms more than massage alone.
People can purchase Roman chamomile essential oils online.
Clary sage is a medicinal herb that many people believe to have anxiety-relieving properties.
A small study from 2013 explored the effects of essential oil in 34 females with urinary incontinence. The participants inhaled either clary sage, lavender, or almond essential oils while having a bladder examination.
The study found that compared with those who inhaled lavender and almond essential oils, participants who inhaled clary sage oil experienced significant decreases in blood pressure and respiratory rate.
The researchers concluded that inhaling clary sage oil may help a person relax during a bladder examination.
Many products containing clary sage essential oil are available to purchase online.
Lavandula angustifolia is a purple flowering plant with a fragrant scent. Aromatherapists commonly use essential oils from lavender, claiming that they have anti-inflammatory, muscle-relaxing, and anxiety-relieving properties.
According to a 2017 review, several clinical trials suggest that aromatherapy with lavender oil can help reduce anxiety before surgery and cosmetic procedures as well as during a stay in an intensive care unit.
However, the authors also emphasized the limitations of the current evidence base.
Many lavender essential oil products are available to purchase online.
Essential oil from lemon rind or leaves has a rich citrus scent.
A 2015 systematic review found that maze studies in rats and mice suggest that exposure to lemon oil may have an anxiety-relieving effect in these animals.
However, the review’s authors also say that another study found that continuous exposure to lemon oil had the opposite effect in animals and may cause a stressful response.
So, it may be best for people to use lemon oil in lower doses or for shorter periods of time.
It is also worth noting that citrus essential oils increase sensitivity to sunlight. A person should protect their skin from all sun exposure when using lemon essential oil.
A range of lemon essential oils is available to buy online.
Neroli essential oil, or orange blossom essential oil, comes from the bitter orange tree, or Citrus aurantium. Manufacturers typically extract the oil from the blossoms of this tree.
The scent of the oil is sweet and citrusy, and it may have anxiety-relieving properties. A 2015 systematic review notes that research suggests that aromatherapy with neroli oil has a calming effect and can help treat insomnia.
People can purchase neroli essential oils online.
Some animal studies suggest that essential oils from the flowers of rose plants may be beneficial for anxiety.
According to a 2015 systematic review, conflict tests and maze studies in mice suggest that essential oil from Rose centifolia and Rose damascene may have an anxiety-relieving or relaxation effect in these animals.
However, the review notes that results from a different mice study contradict these findings.
Several essential oils from rose are available to purchase online.
Ylang-ylang essential oil comes from the flowers of the Cananga odorata tree. Many aromatherapists believe that ylang-ylang oil can help reduce stress and anxiety.
In a small 2015 study involving 34 nurses, researchers found that aromatherapy with ylang-ylang did not have a significant effect on anxiety but did improve the participants’ self-esteem.
People can buy ylang-ylang essential oils online.
The American College of Healthcare Sciences recommend some other essential oils for providing anxiety relief and lifting mood.
Although there is little scientific evidence to support these claims, some people may find aromatherapy with these oils beneficial.
These essential oils include:
- sweet orange
Essential oils are very pure, concentrated oils. Many of these oils are toxic, so a person should not ingest them.
Most manufacturers will recommend diluting essential oils with a carrier oil, such as olive oil or sweet almond oil. Always read the label before using and carefully follow the directions for diluting the oil.
A person may also wish to consider doing a patch test before applying essential oils to their skin or fabrics. Some may stain or cause skin irritation or an allergic reaction.
There are several different ways that a person can use diluted essential oils, such as by:
- using the oils in special diffusers
- applying the oils to fabrics and soft furnishings, such as bedding, pillows, or cushions
- massaging the oils into the skin
- mixing oils in with bath salts or lotions
A person may wish to experiment with blending essential oils to create different fragrances and effects.
For example, a person can try blending bergamot, frankincense, and lavender essential oils with a carrier oil. Another blend option is mixing bergamot, lavender, and ylang-ylang oils with a carrier oil.
According to one 2015 review, inhalation aromatherapy with a blend of rose and lavender essences helped reduce anxiety in a group of female college students.
Pure essential oils are highly concentrated, and many are potentially toxic. For this reason, it is vital to dilute them in carrier oil before use. Manufacturers usually provide advice on how best to dilute the essential oil.
Diluting the oil reduces the likelihood that it will irritate a person’s skin, eyes, or lungs. A person should never apply undiluted essential oils to their skin or eyes.
Signs of skin irritation or an allergic reaction to an essential oil can include:
- blotchy skin
Before applying the diluted essential oil to the skin, it is generally best to test it on a small patch of skin. If a reaction occurs, clean the skin with soap and warm water and stop using the oil.
Some people may find that essential oils can help promote relaxation and relieve stress.
However, chronic anxiety can have a detrimental effect to both a person’s mental and physical health. If anxiety is causing significant distress or disruption to a person’s daily routine, they may wish to consider seeing a doctor.
Symptoms of anxiety can include:
- difficulty sleeping
- muscle tension
- avoiding public places
- wanting to stay at home
- trouble concentrating
There are many interventions that can help a person manage anxiety, including:
Essential oils are scented liquids that manufacturers extract from a wide range of plants. Many people find that aromatherapy with certain essential oils can help promote relaxation and relieve stress and anxiety.
However, most of the scientific evidence to support the anxiety-relieving properties of essential oils comes from animal studies. To confirm and better understand these findings, researchers need to conduct more large-scale studies in humans.
When using essential oils, it is vital to dilute them in an appropriate carrier oil first. Oils can sometimes cause skin irritation or allergic reactions, so a person should test them on a small patch of skin before applying them to larger areas.