Aromatherapy for Social Anxiety Disorder

A List of Common Essential Oils and Their Use for Anxiety

Aromatherapy can help tame anxiety.
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Aromatherapy for anxiety involves the use of essential oils taken from plant sources such as flowers, leaves, seeds, fruits, and roots. When these oils are inhaled or absorbed through the skin, there are resulting physiological effects.

If you live with social anxiety disorder (SAD), you may consider using essential oils to help calm yourself.

How to Use Essential Oils

Essential oils must be diluted for use as they are in a concentrated form. You might choose to inhale the oils, use them on your skin, or distribute the scent in your home. 

Here are a few different ways to use oils.

  • Diluted. Essential oils could be used as part of your bath. Add about five drops of the oil of your choice to the running water to help you relax as you soak in the tub.
  • In your home. While at home, you can use an oil burner or diffuser. Putting a few drops of oil on a cotton ball and leaving it around your home could also be enough to experience the effects of aromatherapy.
  • Inhaled. For portable use, put a few drops of the oil on a tissue to keep in your pocket or on an aromatherapy bracelet or necklace.
  • Massage. Finally, essential oils can be used as part of the massage, either on your own or by a professional. Be sure to dilute the oils first with a carrier oil (such as apricot kernel or sweet almond oil). Use about five drops of essential oil with about 10 ml of carrier oil for a concentration of 1.5% to 3.0%. If you are applying the oil to your face, the concentration of essential oils should be no more than 0.2% to 1.5%.

Choosing Essential Oils

Your choice of essential oils will depend on your desired effects. Below are common oils that are used and some claims of how they can help you. Studies have not confirmed all of the medical or health claims associated with these oils. 

In the following list, nervine refers to oils that are said to strengthen the nervous systems, while sedative refers to oils that may help calm the nervous system.

  • Basil: nervine, for nervous tension, panic, depression
  • Bergamot: sedative, for nervous tension, anxiety, insomnia, depression
  • Cedarwood: sedative, for anxiety
  • Chamomile: sedative, nervine, for nervous tension, anxiety, insomnia, depression
  • Clary sage: sedative, nervine, for nervous tension, panic, depression
  • Geranium: nervine, for anxiety, depression
  • Grapefruit: for depression
  • Helichrysum: sedative, for panic, depression
  • Frankincense: sedative, for anxiety
  • Jasmine: sedative, for self-esteem, depression
  • Lavender: sedative, nervine, for panic, insomnia, depression
  • Lemongrass: for depression
  • Mandarin: sedative, for anxiety, depression
  • Marjoram: sedative, nervine, for anxiety, insomnia
  • Neroli: sedative, for anxiety, panic, insomnia, self-esteem, depression
  • Orange: sedative, for nervous tension, insomnia, depression
  • Patchouli: for depression
  • Peppermint: nervine, for panic, depression
  • Petitgrain: sedative, for panic, insomnia, depression
  • Rose: sedative, for nervous tension, self-esteem, depression
  • Rosemary: for depression
  • Rosewood: for depression
  • Sage: for depression
  • Sandalwood: sedative, for nervous tension, anxiety, insomnia, depression
  • Thyme: for depression
  • Vetiver: sedative, nervine, for nervous tension, insomnia
  • Ylang Ylang: sedative, for anxiety, panic, depression

Combination Fragrances

In addition to using oils on their own, oils fragrances are sometimes combined in an oil burner. Here are two examples of combined oils that some users claim benefit sleep and mood:

For sleep:

  • 2 drops of lavender
  • 2 drops of chamomile
  • 2 drops of marjoram

For mood:

  • 2 drops of orange
  • 2 drops of bergamot
  • 2 drops of geranium

Safety and Effectiveness

It's important to note that these products are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), are not thoroughly tested or regulated, and there is little research evidence to support their effectiveness for social anxiety and other mental health conditions. In addition, since these products are not regulated, there is no guarantee regarding safety or ingredients.

Before trying aromatherapy to help with anxiety, you should be aware of adverse reactions that have been associated with some oils such as skin irritation.

If you regularly use essential oils as a method to calm yourself, or pair their use with other relaxation exercises, over time it is likely that you may find simply inhaling the same scent will remind you of feeling calm.

Research on Aromatherapy

In a 2014 study published in the journal Biomedical Research International, it was shown that a four-week aromatherapy program for older persons with chronic pain was effective in reducing levels of depression, anxiety, and stress.

While these results are promising, this is one small study that needs to be replicated on a larger scale. Only when there is a sufficient body of research evidence to support the effectiveness of aromatherapy, will it be possible to definitively state that this method of relieving anxiety has the backing of science.

A Word From Verywell

Above all, remember that essential oils alone are not likely to relieve severe social anxiety. If you've been struggling with symptoms, the first step should always be to visit a doctor or mental health practitioner for diagnosis and treatment. At the same time, you can experiment with aromatherapy for anxiety if you find that it offers benefits.

If you or a loved one are struggling with social anxiety disorder, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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  3. Posadzki P, Alotaibi A, Ernst E. Adverse effects of aromatherapy: a systematic review of case reports and case series. Int J Risk Saf Med. 2012;24(3):147-61. doi:10.3233/JRS-2012-0568

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