Essential Oils for Stress Relief

​If you live with chronic stress, practicing mind/body techniques (such as mindfulness meditation) and talking to a mental health professional may help lessen your worries and unwind your mind. There's also some research suggesting that the scent of aromatherapy essential oils may help.

Here are nine popular scents, with tips on how to use them.

1

Lavender Essential Oil

Lavender bath salts
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One of the best-known essential oils in aromatherapy, lavender oil is prized for its calming effects on the body and mind and ability to lessen anxiety. For a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, for instance, participants were exposed to a stressor prior to completing a memory task. Those who inhaled a lavender aroma prior to being stressed performed better than those who inhaled a placebo aroma.

In a study published in International Journal of Nursing Practice, aromatherapy using a 3 percent lavender oil spray on clothing was found to be effective in reducing work-related stress for three to four days.

Lavender oil can be found in a variety of aromatherapy products, including bath salts and massage oil. Another way to take advantage of the soothing scent of lavender: sipping lavender-infused herbal tea, which is sold in many natural-foods stores.

2

Bergamot Essential Oil

woman in a bath
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The oil that gives earl grey tea its signature fragrance, bergamot essential oil is widely used in aromatherapy. Sourced from the peel of a citrus fruit known as Citrus bergamia, this essential oil may help to lessen your stress.

While research on the effects of bergamot essential oil is fairly limited, some studies show that the oil may help reduce stress and promote relaxation. A 2017 study published in Phytotherapy Research, for instance, found that exposure to the aroma of bergamot essential oil for 15 minutes improved participants' positive feelings in the waiting room of a mental health treatment center.

Bergamot essential oil may also improve negative emotions and fatigue and lower saliva cortisol levels (a hormone often called the body's "stress hormone"), according to a 2015 study.

When using bergamot essential oil for stress relief, the oil should be combined with a carrier oil (such as jojoba, sweet almond, or avocado) before being applied sparingly to the skin or added to a bath. You can also inhale the soothing scent by sprinkling a drop or two of the oil onto a cloth or tissue or using an aromatherapy diffuser.

3

Lemongrass Essential Oil

Lemongrass Essential Oil
Cathy Wong

For natural relief of anxiety, some individuals turn to aromatherapy involving the use of lemongrass essential oil, an oil sourced from the lemongrass herb (Cymbopogon citratus). Inhaling the scent of the oil (or applying it to skin sparingly after combining it with a carrier oil) is thought to promote relaxation and reduce anxiety symptoms.

Although there's limited research on the effectiveness of lemongrass essential oil, a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2015 found that participants exposed to lemongrass essential oil had an immediate reduction in anxiety and tension and recovered quickly from an anxiety-inducing situation compared to those who inhaled a control aroma (tea tree oil) or a placebo.

4

Neroli Essential Oil

aromatherapy massage
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An aromatherapy remedy with a sweet and spicy aroma, neroli essential oil is sometimes used to ease anxiety. Proponents claim that breathing in the scent of this essential oil (sourced from the flowers of the bitter orange tree) can help promote calm and stop excessive worrying.

Research on the health effects of neroli essential oil is fairly limited. In a study published in Hepato-gastroenterology, for instance, participants inhaled either neroli oil or a control (sunflower oil) before undergoing a colonoscopy. Those who had inhaled neroli oil had lower systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading), however, there was no change in anxiety or pain.

5

Lemon Essential Oil

lemon essential oil
Cathy Wong

Lemon essential oil, sourced from the leaves of the lemon plant, have been found in preliminary studies in animals to have sedative and anxiety-reducing properties.

Rich in linalool (a compound found in lemons, oranges, basil, mangos, grapes, lavender, and other foods and flowers), practitioners of aromatherapy often use lemon essential oil to relieve stress, improve mood, promote sleep, and ease symptoms of depression.

In the UK, personal aromatherapy inhaler devices have been used in a cancer center to promote relaxation and relieve nausea, with lemon essential oil being one of the most commonly used scents.

6

Yuzu Essential Oil

Yuzu fruit
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A scent long used in aromatherapy, Japanese yuzu essential oil is sometimes touted as a natural solution for stress relief. It's thought that breathing in the citrus fragrance of this essential oil can suppress sympathetic nervous system activity (responsible for the body's fight or flight response) and, in turn, promote relaxation.

Ten minutes of yuzu scent inhalation was found to decrease salivary chromogranin A (an indicator of stress and sympathetic nervous system activity) and negative emotional stress, according to a small study.

In a study published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine, inhalation of yuzu essential oil decreased anxiety levels in mothers caring for sick children at a pediatric clinic.

7

Orange Essential Oil

Orange Essential Oil
Cathy Wong

Need to unwind? Preliminary research suggests that breathing in the sweet aroma of orange essential oil may help alleviate your anxiety. A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, for instance, found that participants who inhaled sweet orange essential oil did not have an increase in anxiety or tension during an anxiety-inducing situation, unlike those who inhaled a control aroma (tea tree oil) or a placebo.

Another type of orange essential oil known as bitter orange (Citrus aurantium) was found to reduce anxiety during a simulated public speaking event, according to a 2017 study.

8

Ylang Ylang Essential Oil

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Almost 67 million Americans have high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease. To help bring your blood pressure down and boost your heart health, it's crucial to maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, follow a balanced diet, limit your intake of salt and alcohol, and avoid smoking.

Preliminary research also suggests that ylang ylang essential oil (a substance long used in aromatherapy) may be of some benefit to people with high blood pressure. For instance, a small study published in 2012 found that breathing in the scent of an aromatherapy blend containing ylang ylang essential oil led to a decrease in blood pressure and stress-hormone levels.

While it's too soon to recommend ylang ylang essential oil for blood pressure control, incorporating aromatherapy with ylang ylang into your self-care routine might offer stress-reducing benefits that could enhance your overall health. 

9

Frankincense Essential Oil

essential oil in a diffuser
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An aromatherapy oil with a sweet, woody scent, frankincense essential oil is sometimes used to unwind and ease stress. Typically sourced from the resin of the boswellia tree, frankincense essential oil is also said to alleviate anxiety.

So far, research on the stress-relieving effects of frankincense essential oil is very limited. While there's currently a lack of scientific support for the claim that frankincense can fight stress, it's possible that using this essential oil in combination with relaxing oils like lavender, rose, and orange drops of the oil onto a cloth or tissue could help you calm down.

When using essential oils, make sure to combine the oil with a carrier oil (such as jojoba, sweet almond, or avocado), before applying it to your skin or adding it to your bath. You can also use an aromatherapy diffuser or vaporizer, or sprinkle a few drops of the oil onto a cloth or tissue and then breathe in its aroma.

10

More Tips on Using Essential Oils for Stress

Essential Oil
Cathy Wong

Despite aromatherapy's long history of use, there is still a lack of large-scale clinical trials exploring the effects of aromatherapy on anxiety. While an essential oil combined with a carrier oil and massaged into your skin or added to a bath may help you unwind after a stressful day, consult your healthcare provider before using essential oils for any condition.

While nearly everyone experiences stress every now and then, it's important to watch out for signs of an anxiety disorder. If you're experiencing symptoms like a near-constant presence of worry or tension, difficulty concentrating, and sleep disruption, or have other symptoms that concern you, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider.

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