7 Essential Oils That Calm Anxiety (And How They Do It)
Distilled from shrubs, flowers, trees, roots, and seeds, essential oils quell anxiety better than some medications.
What are essential oils?
Essential oils have been around for thousands of years, but the Western world seems to have caught on only recently to their countless benefits, from religious and spiritual to cosmetic, dietary, and even emotional. Essential oils are extracted from plants, providing countless micro and macro nutrients that nourish the body, reducing inflammation, lowering stress, balancing hormones and fighting against aging. "The therapeutic effect of plants can be concentrated into medicinal powders, tinctures, and essential oils and, when used appropriately, can help you feel better, sleep better and think more clearly," says Joseph Clarke, nationally certified Diplomate of Oriental Medicine, acupuncturist and integrative medicine. Though many promotional claims are exaggerated, essential oils are not pseudo-scientific quackery. "Many effective drugs were originally derived from plants: Aspirin comes from willow bark, statin drugs are a synthetic form of red rice yeast, and antibiotics got their start with penicillin, which is a common bread mold." So it only makes sense that we would use botanicals—in their natural state—to treat and alleviate illnesses of all kinds, mental, emotional, and physical. For example, many people are unaware that essential oils can be used to treat acne.
How do essential oils help with anxiety?
With growing interest in natural holistic healing and integrative medicine, essential oils are being actively researched and applied in the United States. "There is compelling research on the antiviral and antibacterial properties of oils as well as studies on the impact of essential oils on emotional health, including anxiety, depression, mood, and concentration," says Jan Stritzler, corrective yoga instructor at Complete Wellness NYC. Her practice is just one of thousands across the U.S. that combines the use of therapeutic grade essential oils with relaxation techniques that include deep breathing, yoga, meditation, massage, and acupuncture, to heal patients from the inside out. "Oils must be kept away from eyes and should not be used on people with high skin sensitivity," she adds. "Oils are potent and only very small amounts are needed if the quality is therapeutic." Essential oils can also be combined with a carrier oil, such as pure coconut oil, which is used to dilute the potency as well as prevent skin sensitivity for massage. The following oils, though they are strongly linked with other specific health benefits, have been shown to be helpful in lessening anxiety, boosting mood, and improving sleep. Check out these additional natural remedies for anxiety.
Juniper berry oil
With a sweet scent and a hint of balsamic, juniper berry essential oil is most frequently used to cleanse the renal (urinary) system, fight infection, and improve skin health. "In traditional medicine, this oil was used for its antibacterial properties," says Nada Milosavljevic, MD, board-certified, Harvard-trained physician and founder of Sage Tonic. "Those prone to urinary tract infections may find that it acts as a natural cleansing and detoxifying agent and supports healthy kidney and urinary function." In fact, one study by the Institute of Chemistry, Tallinn University of Technology, found that juniper berry oil contains over 87 different active compounds, including antioxidants, antibacterials, and antifungals. Although it's not discussed as often, juniper berry may offer emotional support as well. "Several traditional healing cultures have used it as a calming agent to help with cases of burnout, stress, and anxiety," Milosavljevic says.
The benefits of Jasmine oil are vast, but its antidepressant, antibacterial, and aphrodisiac qualities top the list. One study, published in the Journal of Health Research, found that vaporized jasmine has the potential to affect the autonomic nervous system, increasing blood oxygen saturation and alertness. It's great for skin too. "Jasmine oil helps to hydrate the skin and has been known to be gentle enough to help with eczema, although anyone can use it," Dr. Milosavljevic says. "If you're in need of a few extra z's, this oil can be calming to those having trouble falling asleep thanks to its soothing quality and ability to relieve anxiety.
Even if you're new to essential oils, there are probably countless products in your home that contain lavender oil. Most of us enjoy lavender's soothing scent and pretty purple hue, but our ancestors have been using it for medicinal purposes for over 3,000 years—and for good reason. "As many would attest, lavender is a calming scent, which can be useful in treating migraines, emotional stress, and even depression," says Dr. Milosavljevic. One study published in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice found that, in addition to alleviating symptoms of depression, taking 80 mg capsules of lavender daily has the potential to reduce anxiety and promote restful sleep. "It has a well-studied impact on the autonomic nervous system, which is why it serves as a natural treatment for insomnia that goes back generations," adds Dr. Milosavljevic. She recommends placing a few drops on your pillow for best results. Here's what happened when one woman tried using lavender oil for stress relief.
You're probably already familiar with chamomile, the ancient medicinal herb that's been hailed for its calming, relaxing, and sleep-inducing qualities for thousands of years. What many people don't know is that Roman chamomile, the essential oil version, is much more potent and even easier to incorporate into your daily lifestyle than a cup of tea. In fact, one study, published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, found that an aromatherapy combination of the essential oils Roman chamomile, neroli, and lavender had more potential to reduce anxiety in patients in an intensive care unit than did conventional nursing.
No one can deny that the scent of a rose is calming and that the sight of one is incredibly romantic. And here's how to grow your own roses. Now, imagine experiencing rose in its most potent form, AKA rose essential oil. Researchers have uncovered countless benefits of using rose oil, from clearing up skin blemishes and breakouts to reducing anxiety and depression. One study published in the Journal of Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice set out to determine the depression-improving abilities of rose oil by analyzing a group of 28 postpartum women and treating half of them with 15-minute lavender-rose infused aromatherapy session. The other half served as the control group. The group who received the aromatherapy treatment experienced significantly lower postnatal depression scores as well as lower scores for general anxiety disorder. Check out the amazing health benefits of aromatherapy.
Vetiver is another oil that's been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years, appreciated for its soothing, healing, and protective qualities. Its number one benefit, however, is its antioxidant properties, known to fight free radicals and keep toxins and environmental pollutants out of the body. One study, by the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Clemson University in South Carolina, found vetiver oil to have one of the strongest "free radical scavenging" abilities when compared to other popular antioxidants. That's one reason it's used so commonly in aromatherapy sessions. Another impressive benefit of vetiver oil is its ability to reduce anxiety. One study published by Srinakharinwirot University in Bangkok, Thailand, found that, when given to rats, vetiver oil had the same impact as Diazepam, a medication that treats anxiety. More recent research has even linked vetiver oil to treating ADHD and ADD, which is increasingly common in adults as well as children.
Sourced from the resin of Boswellia carterii or the Boswellia sacara tree, Frankincense oil might sound a bit scary, but it has nothing to do with the Frankenstein monster and is actually quite beneficial. When inhaled or absorbed through the skin, it has stress-busting properties, and when applied to the skin, it is also antibacterial, scar-healing and even age-fighting. "Frankincense oil stimulates the limbic region of brain, helping to overcome stress and uplift spirits," explains Stritzler. In fact, one study by the Department of Nursing at Keimyung University in South Korea found that, when mixed with bergamot and lavender oils, frankincense oil was found to have positive effect on depression in hospice patients. Here are more natural remedies for depression.