Essential oils are a beautiful tool for natural stress relief. They are simple and quick to use, yet very powerful in their effects. Just inhaling the fragrance of certain oils can have a calming effect on your nervous system.
Essential oil molecules are so tiny that they can cross the blood-brain barrier and reach the limbic system of your brain. The limbic system is sometimes called the emotional center of the brain because it's linked to emotions and memories. Anything that stimulates the limbic system has the potential to affect your mood. (1)(2)
Specific essential oils are known to have a calming, mood-boosting, and stress-relieving effect. Here's more about how you can use them to combat stress and which particular ones are the best.
How to Use Essential Oils for Stress Relief
Before getting into which essential oils are best for stress, let's look at ways to use them because that's just as important.
Aromatherapy is a broad term that usually refers to the use of plant extracts and your sense of smell for a therapeutic benefit. This practice utilizes the connection between sense of smell and your limbic system. It can be extremely helpful for relieving stress.
While you can work with a professional aromatherapist, the easiest way to use essential oils for aromatherapy at home is with a diffuser. Choose oils that specifically help with stress and run your diffuser as needed.
Applying essential oils to your skin gives you the benefits of aromatherapy and other therapeutic benefits as well. You can apply oils to places like your neck, wrists, and chest to have the stress-relieving fragrance with you for hours. Depending on which ones you use, they may also give you energy, benefit your skin, or relieve soreness.
A great way to use essential oils topically for stress is in a massage. If you have someone willing to give you a massage, that's great, but you can also do a quick self-massage. Just dilute your chosen oils with a carrier oil and massage into tight places like your neck, shoulders, etc.
Body Care Products
You may not always have time to come up with an essential oil creation of your own, but using infused body care products is a quick way to get the benefits of oils.
Many essential oil companies now offer roll-ons that are already diluted and ready to go. You can carry one of these with you and roll it on your skin when you feel stressed. Other options include infused body lotion, soaps, and even lip balm. Or maybe you want to opt for a muscle rub with essential oils to release tension.
Taking a warm bath can be incredibly stress-relieving and acts as a great medium for essential oils. Make a relaxing herbal bath by adding ingredients like herbs, essential oils, carrier oils, and bath salts. Just be sure to mix your essential oils with a carrier oil and/or bath salts before adding them to the tub, or they will just sit on top of the water.
Best Essential Oils for Stress Relief
Lavender is one of the best herbs for stress and sleep. Using lavender oil in aromatherapy has been shown to decrease stress and anxiety as well as help with some symptoms of depression. Studies have also shown that it can help you fall asleep and improve your sleep quality. (3)(4)
Frankincense essential oil comes from the resin of Boswellia trees. It's been used for thousands of years as incense and in spiritual applications to calm and clear the mind. Studies so far confirm the calming effects of frankincense and indicate that it can combat stress and potentially help with sleep as well. (5)
Citrus oils have some of the most uplifting fragrances of all the essential oils. You can use them to put yourself in a better mood as well as to relieve stress.
Lemon essential oil has shown anti-stress, anti-anxiety, and even some antidepressant properties. Orange oil is often referred to as "the sunshine oil" for its mood-boosting effects. Bergamot is another one with proven stress-relieving and anti-anxiety power. (6)(7)
As an herb and herbal tea, chamomile is one of the best choices for relaxing mind and body and encouraging sleep. It's also one of the top essential oils for stress relief and has a sweet, soothing fragrance. Preliminary research also indicates that it may help mild to moderate anxiety. (8)
Vetiver essential oil is extracted from a grassy plant that's native to India. It has a very earthy and sometimes smoky scent that is very calming to the mind. The oil has anti-stress and potential anti-anxiety properties. If you find the scent of vetiver too strong for your liking, blend it with other oils like lavender and chamomile. (9)
Cedarwood is a sweet, woodsy oil that can repel certain insects and has beneficial properties for your skin and scalp. It also has a very calming and relaxing effect and can reduce anxiety and stress. The combination of lavender and cedarwood is a popular one both for stress relief and to promote sleep. (10)
Clary sage is different from the common garden sage you would use to season stuffing and other recipes. It has a more herbaceous and slightly floral fragrance.
Clary sage essential oil is known for calming the mind and improving clarity (which is where the name "clary" comes from). It's an especially beneficial oil for women and has been found in studies to reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. (11)
The same sweet basil that is loved on pizza or with tomatoes and mozzarella is also a powerful essential oil that can reduce stress. It has an ability to calm your mind and has even demonstrated an anti-anxiety and sedative-like effect. (12)
Holy basil (also called tulsi) has its own stress-fighting power as an adaptogenic herb. Though not technically an essential oil, taking a holy basil extract can really help your body and mind deal with long-term stress.
Rose petals have their own unique stress-relieving abilities. They have long been used as an herb for stress, anxiety, heartache, and grief. The essential oil has similar relaxing, calming, and soothing properties. One study even found that it was able to reduce anxiety in pregnant women during the active phase of labor. (13)
The only downside to rose oil is that it's one of the most expensive essential oils you can buy. However, you can still enjoy its benefits by looking for it in a blend or in body care products.
Geranium is another floral oil that can help a lot with stress relief. It's been found to possess anti-inflammatory, muscle-relaxing, and anxiety-reducing properties. One study also found that it helped to reduce the anxiety of women going through labor. It may even lower blood pressure as well. (14)
Sandalwood is one of the top essential oils for sleep and also has stress relief benefits. It has a very woodsy aroma and is considered a grounding oil, which means it can reduce feelings of stress, chaos, and overwhelm. Studies indicate that sandalwood may work by reducing cortisol levels in your body and having a sedative-like effect. (15)(16)
Patchouli oil is used often in Ayurvedic medicine for anxiety and stress. It has a very musky aroma and is considered a grounding and centering oil for both body and mind. Use it to help relieve stress and nervous tension or as an aid during meditation.
Ylang ylang oil comes from a star-shaped tropical flower. It has a very floral aroma and is often used in blends for stress, anxiety, and tension. Ylang ylang can boost your mood and decrease anxiety. It also acts as an aphrodisiac. (17)
The main precaution when using essential oils for stress relief is to be sure to dilute them with a carrier oil before applying to your skin. It's always possible that you can have an allergic reaction to one or more oils, so start slowly when you try new ones.
The one guideline to always follow is to make sure you only buy and use 100% pure, therapeutic grade essential oils. You don't want to use any with synthetic chemicals or fillers, since these can actually harm your body. There aren't many regulations in the essential oil industry, so doing good research before buying is key.
Diffuse Your Stress Away
If you love using natural products, essential oils are one of the best options for stress relief. They calm your body and mind in a number of ways but especially through your sense of smell.
Besides individual oils, you can also look for blends specifically formulated to ease stress and promote relaxation. Remember that this process is a very individual one, so keep experimenting until you find the scents that soothe your stress!