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13 Essential Oils That Reduce Stress & Anxiousness

Sarah Regan
Author: Expert reviewer:
Updated on April 24, 2020
Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor
By Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, and a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.
Jaime Schehr, N.D., R.D.
Expert review by
Jaime Schehr, N.D., R.D.
Naturopathic Physician and Registered Dietitian
Jaime Schehr, N.D., R.D., is a nationally recognized expert in integrative medicine and nutrition, based in New York City. She holds dual licenses as a naturopathic physician and a registered dietitian, from University of Bridgeport and University of Nebraska respectively.
Last updated on April 24, 2020

Cultures around the world have used essential oils for generations. And now, modern research continues to reinforce the fact that these age-old tools can help elevate mood and manage the symptoms of stress. Here's the lowdown on 13 oils that have been studied for their stress-relieving benefits and how to work them into your routine.

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1. Rose

Who doesn't love the soft and subtle scent of a rose? In one study, participants who smelled rose essential oil had a significant decrease in breathing rate and blood pressure compared to the placebo group. And not only were the effects physical, but the participants also rated themselves as calmer and more relaxed1 afterwards.

2. Jasmine

Jasmine is another great oil when it comes to stress relief, particularly if you want to uplift your mood. One study found the stimulating qualities2 of Jasmine can help relieve depression, with another finding that it can be as effective as some sleeping medications.

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3. Lavender

Lavender is, of course, a crowd favorite for relaxation. It's even been approved as a treatment for mental stress and exhaustion the European Medicines Agency. (Bonus: It's one of the more affordable oils too.)

4. Bergamot

Bergamot is functional wellness practitioner Mariza Snyder D.P.'s personal favorite essential oil, and she'll often blend it with lavender and frankincense to up the calming benefits: "It's got this beautiful rich scent," she says, "and is often used to lower blood pressure and cortisol levels." One study back in 2011 found bergamot to have significant positive effects on anxiety3 symptoms in rats.

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5. Marjoram

If chronic pain is what has you stressed, marjoram may be another oil to try.4 When paired with eucalyptus, rosemary, and peppermint, marjoram decreased pain4 and depression and increased life satisfaction in a group of arthritis patients in one 2005 study.

6. Patchouli

If you're into strong, earthy scents, consider adding patchouli to your routine. One study found it can decrease sympathetic nervous system5 activity (which is responsible for the body's fight-or-flight response) by up to 40%.

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7. Chamomile 

It's relatively common to sip chamomile tea before bed to help unwind, but did you know you can get chamomile essential oil too? A 2010 study found chamomile oil can help reduce the production of stress hormones6, making it another great one to reach of when you're trying to calm down.

8. Lemon balm

Touting a scent that's similar to lemon with a touch of mint, lemon balm was found it to reduce agitation among dementia patients7 in one 2002 double-blind trial.

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9. Geranium

The sweet but bold scent of geranium is another good one for elevating mood. One particular study on people giving birth—undoubtedly, a stressful a time—found that geranium could help reduce labor-relatied anxiousness8.

10. Clary sage

Clary sage offers a floral but mildly earth scent, and in one study on stressed-out college students, it was found to not only reduce stress, but also increase levels of sleep quality and energy.

11. Virginia cedarwood 

Virginia cedarwood is one of natural beauty expert Sarah Villafranco, M.D.'s go-to's for stress. One animal study from 2003 found cedarwood oil to have sedative effects9, making it another promising oil to try right before bed.

12. Yuzu

If you're a fan of citrusy scents, yuzu falls somewhere between a grapefruit and an orange, and it was found to help relieve tension, anger, and anxiousness10 in one 2014 study on 20 healthy women.

13. Ylang Ylang

And lastly, ylang ylang is another floral scent that may help reduce blood pressure and heart rate11.

How can essential oils help relieve stress?

It all comes down to the evolution of our olfactory system—our primordial sense of smell—which, in part, indicates whether our environment is safe or not. Snyder explains that "certain essential oils contain chemical constituents that elicit relaxation12, particularly the ester groups (lavender, bergamot, clary sage, etc). When you breathe those chemical constituents in, they go straight to the limbic system, signaling cellular mechanisms inside the amygdala and hippocampus which activate the parasympathetic nervous system."

As you might recall from high school health class, the parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for our body's rest-and-digest response. It balances out the fight-or-fligth response—which is often elicited by stress—and causes our heart rate and blood pressure to slow down and normalize.

Essential oils can be used for in-the-moment stress relief when you feel yourself getting worked up, or you can use them more preventatively to stay calm and collected throughout the day. Here are a few strategies for working them into your routine:

1. Apply a few drops to your pulse points during tense times.

One of the easiest ways to use essential oils to apply them to pulse points behind the ears, on your wrists or ankles, or over the heart. Just make sure that the oil you're using is suitable for contact with the skin. You might need to dilute it in a carrier oil first! 

2. Take a whiff before your calming meditation.

Villafranco says that she'll often "take a drop or two in my hands, rub them together briskly to warm the oil, and inhale deeply for a few breaths to set the tone before meditating."

3. Put them in your home or office diffuser.

You can use an essential oil diffuser to fill the air in your home or workspace with calming scents throughout the day.

4. Add a few drops to your shower.

For a luxe and soothing bathing experience, Villafranco recommends dropping the oils onto your shower floor—away from the stream of water so they can vaporize slowly instead of getting washed down the drain right away.

The more you use a certain oil, the more your brain will start to associate it with releasing stress, so go ahead and smell your way to calm.