Anxiety can surface in our lives in a variety of ways, registering as muscle tension rising from the shoulders to the neck, a sinking feeling in the stomach, loss of appetite, or interrupted sleep.
With so many people on “red alert” right now, you may recognize some of these signs even if you don’t identify yourself as feeling “stressed.” Even the calmest, most relaxed people may feel worried or anxious during a time of great uncertainty. If you already struggle with anxiety, living with uncertainty can be like touching a match to dry tinder.
Instead of reaching for sugary snacks, cigarettes, or alcohol, consider making essential oils your allies for addressing stress and anxiety. Here are the top four essential oils for calming anxiety, reducing pain, lifting mood, and improving sleep.
Bergamot Citrus bergamia var. aurantium is one of the top performers for reducing anxiety and improving moods. Like the sunny, warm climates where this fruit grows, bergamot brings a sense of peace and relaxation (Han, Gibson, Eggett, & Parker, 2017). Inhaling bergamot essential oil for 15 minutes reduces salivary cortisol (a marker of stress and anxiety) (Watanabe et al., 2015) and has a calming effect similar to benzodiazepine drugs without the sedating side effects (Rombola et al., 2019). Local application of bergamot essential oil also effectively reduces chronic pain (Rombola, 2016). According to Scuteri et al. (2019), bergamot even reduces agitation in those suffering with dementia, a symptom that is untouched by pharmaceutical medications.
Coriander Coriander sativum essential oil is high in the constituent linalool (up to 69%), which has a calming effect on the central nervous system similar to diazepam (Gaston et al., 2016).
Inhaling lavender Lavendula angustifolia essential oil provides fast-acting relief for anxiety and pain (Yap, W., Dolzhenko, A., Jalal, Z. Hadi, M., & Khan T., 2019). For chronic anxiety, oral lavender essential oil (Silexan) is more effective than inhalation. Taking 80 mg of Silexan daily was as effective as paroxetine for lowering anxiety, and those taking 160 mg of Silexan daily had even greater improvements in Hamilton Anxiety Scale scores.
For 6 – 12 year old children, lavender inhalation before tooth extraction reduced pain and anxiety both during and after the dental procedure (Arslan, I., Aydinoglu, S., & Karan, N., 2020).
Smith et al. (2015) discovered that combining lavender essential oil along with good sleep practices improved the depth and quality of sleep more than good sleep hygiene alone. Good sleep practices include:
- creating a regular sleep schedule
- limiting fluids before bed
- avoiding caffeine, nicotine and alcohol late in the day
- wearing ear plugs and a face mask
- avoiding screen time and texting at least an hour before bed
- creating a relaxing bedtime routine
- exercising regularly, ideally before 6 p.m.
Lavender essential oil can reduce anxiety and pain, even in the face of open-heart surgery. Patients who inhaled lavender essential oil on a cotton ball for 20 minutes twice a day for only two days had a significant decrease in pain and anxiety (Bikmoradi, 2015). Patients in the intensive care unit who inhaled lavender essential oil twice a day for 10 days had less pain and anxiety as well as improved sleep (Karadag et al., 2015).
Inhaling rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis essential oil 20 minutes a day significantly reduced anxiety for patients recovering from an acute heart attack (Shirzadegan, R., Gholami M., Hasanvand S., Birjandi M., & Beiranvand A., 2017).
Follow these suggestions to maximize the benefit of these essential oils:
- Use a diffuser with a timer and turn on for 15 – 30 minutes every 3 – 4 hours. Continuous diffusion through the night is very hard on the liver (the primary organ that breaks down and excretes essential oils).
- Add 8 – 10 drops of an essential oil or an essential oil blend to the wick of a blank inhaler. Cap the bottom of the inhaler and screw in the cover. To use, unscrew the cover and hold the inhaler close to the nose. Breathe normally for 5 – 10 minutes. Use the inhaler up to five times a day.
- Add 2 – 3 drops of essential oils to a tablespoon of pure, organic vegetable oil and massage into your skin. Repeat 2 – 3 times a day. Focus on the hands, feet and abdomen to maximize absorption.
- At bedtime, place one drop of an essential oil on your pillow. One drop of an essential oil is roughly equivalent to 30 cups of tea, so use sparingly.
- Rotate the oil(s) you are using every two weeks to minimize the possibility of developing sensitivity to the oils. If you become sensitized to one oil, you may become reactive to all essential oils, and then you will have lost this powerful therapeutic tool.
- Choose oils you enjoy. If you dislike a scent, even if it is indicated for anxiety, you probably won’t use it, and the irritating odor may even increase the anxiety.
You don’t need to wait for a major trauma to experience the benefits of essential oils. As soon as you notice tight muscles, shallow breathing, fast heart rate or other signs of stress, begin using essential oils to restore calm, relieve pain and brighten your mood.
Please note: this article is not a substitute for medical care. While essential oils have powerful therapeutic effects, they cannot substitute for pharmaceutical drugs. If you are taking medications for anxiety, discuss this information with your healthcare provider.
To learn more about how to safely, effectively use essential oils for your health and your family’s health, click HERE for Dr. Boice’s free report, “Seven Myths About Essential Oils.”
Arslan, I., Aydinoglu, S., & Karan, N. (2020). Can lavender oil inhalation help to overcome dental anxiety and pain in children? A randomized clinical trial. European Journal of Pediatrics, 2020 Feb 6. doi: 10.1007/s00431-020-03595-7. [Epub ahead of print]
Bikmoradi A, Seifi Z, et al. Effect of inhalation aromatherapy with lavender essential oil on stress and vital signs in patients undergoing coronary artery bypass surgery: A single-blinded randomized clinical trial. Complement Ther Med. 2015 Jun;23(3):331-8. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2014.12.001.
Gaston, M., Cid, M., Vasquez, A., Decarlini, M., Demmel, G., Rossi, L., Aimar, M., & Salvatierra, N. (2016). Sedative effect of central administration of Coriandrum sativum essential oil and its major component linalool in neonatal chicks. Pharmaceutical Biology, 54(10):1954-61. doi:10.3109/13880209.2015.1137602.
Han, X., Gibson, J., Eggett, D., Parker, T. (2017). Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) Essential Oil Inhalation Improves Positive Feelings in the Waiting Room of a Mental Health Treatment Center: A Pilot Study.. Phyotherapy Research, 31(5): 812–816. doi: 10.1002/ptr.5806
Kang, H., Nam, E., Lee, Y., & Kim, M. (2019). How Strong is the Evidence for the Anxiolytic Efficacy of Lavender?: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Asian Nursing Research, 13(5), 295-305. doi: 10.1016/j.anr.2019.11.003.
Karadag E, Samancioglu S, Ozden, D., & Bakir, E. (2017). Effects of aromatherapy on sleep quality and anxiety of patients. Nursing Critical Care, 22(2), 105-112. doi: 10.1111/nicc.12198. [Epub ahead of print]
Lillehei, A., Halco’n, L., Savik, D., & Reis, R. (2015). Effect of Inhaled Lavender and Sleep Hygiene on Self-Reported Sleep Issues: A Randomized Controlled Trial. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 21(7), 430–438. DOI: 10.1089/acm.2014.0327
Rombola, L., Amantea, D., Russo, R., Adornetto, A., Berliocchi, L., Tridico, L….Morrone, L. (2016). Rational Basis for the Use of Bergamot Essential Oil in Complementary Medicine to Treat Chronic Pain. Mini Reviews in Medicinal Chemistry, 16(9), 721-8.
Rombola, L., Scuteria, D., Adornetto, A., Straface, M., Sakurada, T., Sakurada, S….Morrone, L. (2019). Anxiolytic-Like Effects of Bergamot Essential Oil Are Insensitive to Flumazenil in Rats. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2019,2156873. doi: 10.1155/2019/2156873
Scuteri, D., Rombola, L., Morrone, L., Bagetta, G., Sakurada, S., Sakurada, T….Corasanti, M. (2019). Neuropharmacology of the Neuropsychiatric Symptoms of Dementia and Role of Pain: Essential Oil of Bergamot as a Novel Therapeutic Approach. International Journal of Molecular Science, 20(13), pii: E3327. doi: 10.3390/ijms20133327.
Shirzadegan, R., Gholami, M., Hasanvand, S., Birjandi, M., & Beiranvand, A. (2017). Effects of geranium aroma on anxiety among patients with acute myocardial infarction: A triple-blind randomized clinical trial. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 29, 201-206. doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2017.10.005.
Watanabe, E., Kuchta, D., Kimura, M., Rauwald, H., Damei, T., & Imanish, J. (2015). Effects of bergamot (Citrus bergamia (Risso) Wright & Arn.) essential oil aromatherapy on mood states, parasympathetic nervous system activity, and salivary cortisol levels in 41 healthy females. Forschende Komplementmedezin, 22(1), 43-9. doi: 10.1159/000380989.
Yap, W., Dolzhenko, A., Jlala, Z., Hadi, M., & Khan, T. (2019). Efficacy and safety of lavender essential oil (Silexan) capsules among patients suffering from anxiety disorders: A network meta-analysis. Scientific Reports, 9(1), 18042. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-54529-9.
About Dr. Judith Boice
Dr. Judith Boice is a naturopathic physician, acupuncturist, best-selling and award-winning author, and international teacher. Her mission is treating the whole person, not just the symptoms. Dr. Boice delivers sustainable health care rather than quick fixes. She believes when people know what being healthy looks like for them, they get to have a great life, whether that’s riding bikes with their grandchildren, running three Iron Man competitions a year, or staying healthy in a high-pressure job. Dr. Boice consults with private patients, writes books, and offers trainings that teach people with chronic illness how to increase their energy, reduce symptoms and reverse disease by restoring their health with natural medicines.