The Ultimate Guide to Using Essential Oils for Stress Relief
Stress happens to all of us, but using essential oils for stress relief can be a safe, effective, and enjoyable way to find peace and calm again.
Whether you feel it by your heart thumping hard in your chest, your mind racing with too many thoughts, or maybe an overwhelming urge to hit the hidden ice cream stash, stress gets us all.
Stress is a necessary part of life, but when it kicks into high gear, it becomes a problem. At that point, you need to find ways to manage all of that extra stress.
While there are many holistic measures that can help you with stress relief, this is where essential oils can really shine. Aromatherapy can produce excellent results when you need to find some extra calm in your day.
Using essential oils for stress relief can be a safe, effective, and enjoyable way to find the extra peace you need to get through the day or wind down at night. This guide will help you know where to start with choosing essential oils, blending them, and applying them for the best results.
7 Calming Essential Oils for Stress & Anxiety
While you might want a sure-fire solution for all of your stress and worry woes, I have to break an important bit of news to you.
There’s no perfect essential oil that effectively calms stress and occasional anxiety for everyone.
A lot of personal preference and scent memory goes into deciding which essential oils will best help you deal with stress. You might read that a certain oil is great for stress relief, but if you hate the smell of it or had a bad experience while smelling it in the past, it’s only going to cause you further irritation.
But there are some essential oils that tend to provide relief to many people. Each one helps with stress in a different way, so you can read more about the actions and choose the one(s) that might be most helpful for you.
I chose the following seven because they are effective, easy to find, and generally on the more affordable side. If you have a favorite that didn’t make my list, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Lavender is probably the most well-known and respected essential oil when it comes to relaxation. Both the whole herb and the essential oil are used in formulas to promote sleep, relaxation, and a healthy stress response.
It’s been shown helpful in hospital settings with patients being treated for serious health conditions and has been suggested as a safe and effective option for managing patient anxiety in healthcare settings.
You don’t have to limit lavender to just the times you want to fall asleep. While it’s best known for helping you rest, it can even be a helpful addition to blends for focus and productivity.
Sweet Orange (Citrus sinensis)
Sweet Orange, like lavender, can help improve restfulness while also helping with improved mood and focus. It has a sweet, citrusy scent that works great on its own or in blends.
One research study found sweet orange essential oil helped reduce anxiety when compared with a placebo. Another found it helpful in reducing test anxiety in nursing students when combined with sweet marjoram (Origanum majorana).
Most people enjoy the scent of sweet orange, but if you don’t, you can try other citrus oils like grapefruit (Citrus paradisi), red mandarin (Citrus reticulata) or lemon (Citrus limon). One benefit to sweet orange over many other citrus oils is that you can safely apply it topically at appropriate dilutions without the risk of phototoxicity (or severe burns and irritation after sun exposure).
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ct. cineole/ct. camphor)
Rosemary is traditionally known as the “herb of remembrance.” When you find it hard to focus because of stress and anxiety, rosemary can be an excellent essential oil to use.
One interesting study found rosemary essential oil influenced better results than lavender essential oil when testing participants’ memory, though both rosemary and lavender groups demonstrated better moods than the control group. Another showed that rosemary can decrease stress while improving cognitive function.
Rosemary isn’t an essential oil to use before bedtime, though. Many people find it far too mentally stimulating to promote good rest. Stick to daytime use for this one!
Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata)
Ylang Ylang has a heavy, deep, floral aroma that many people love but some strongly dislike. Even though I fall into the love category, I use a light hand with ylang ylang. A little bit really goes a long way.
One study appropriately referred to it as “harmonizing.” In that study, the oil was found to reduce blood pressure and pulse rate while increasing attentiveness. Another demonstrated that ylang ylang produced a stress-relieving response in participants compared to placebo.
Bergamot (Citrus bergamia)
Bergamot has a unique scent that I describe as a blend of citrus and floral. It’s one of the more well-researched essential oils for relieving stress and anxiety.
Though it’s traditionally been used in Italian folk medicine, modern research also demonstrates many benefits of this essential oil, especially in reducing stress and anxiety levels. Another study suggests that bergamot may even protect nerve tissue in the central nervous system!
Unline sweet orange essential oil, bergamot can cause a phototoxic reaction if you apply it before going out into the sunlight. It’s best used through inhalation and not applied topically, unless you’re using it in a product that’s applied at night or using furocoumarin-free (FCF) bergamot essential oil.
Frankincense (Boswellia carteri)
Frankincense has a spicy, medicinal aroma that blends well with many of the other essential oils on this list. The whole resin has been used in many traditional medicine practices and the essential oil has gained popularity for a number of reasons. One of them is stress relief.
One study suggests that frankincense can help during times of stress by providing antioxidant activity. Researchers have also looked at ways frankincense can support women through childbirth and help relieve the anxiety many women feel during the more active, challenging stages of labor.
Sweet Marjoram (Origanum majorana)
Though sweet marjoram is related to common oregano, it has a sweeter, milder aroma and is much less irritating than oregano. Also, if you’re one of those who really dislikes the scent of lavender essential oil, sweet marjoram may be a good substitute for you.
It’s been used in Moroccan folk medicine for infant colic and lower gastrointestinal discomfort, and recent research validates those claims. Many calming, stress-relieving herbs and essential oils also relieve abdominal pain and poor digestion. Stress and digestive function are closely linked, so sweet marjoram can be an excellent choice for you if stress sometimes leads to poor digestion.
If you’re looking for quality essential oils, there are many brands that offer them. You can see a list of recommended brands here.
How to Make Calming Essential Oil Blends
While you can absolutely use a single essential oil for stress relief, many people enjoy using aromatherapy blends for support.
Blending essential oils also puts the concept of synergy to work, where the total effect of the combined essential oils is stronger than their individual effects put together.
Plus, creating your own essential oil blends can be fun! The creative process is stress-relieving on its own.
The following essential oil blends can help you get started. Don’t worry if you don’t have one of the oils listed. You can either leave it out or substitute a similar essential oil in its place.
And if you feel up to it, let these be a springboard for your own blends!
Aromatherapy Blend for Focus
Rosemary makes this blend great for focus and attention, while the other essential oils improve the scent and round out the benefits.
- 4 drops rosemary (Rosemary officinalis ct. cineole/ct. camphor)
- 2 drops sweet orange (Citrus sinensis)
- 2 drops bergamot (Citrus bergamia)
- 2 drops lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Aromatherapy Blend for Calm
Sometimes you just need to calm down but aren’t ready to drift off to sleep. Try this blend for those times.
- 4 drops bergamot (Citrus bergamia)
- 4 drops sweet orange (Citrus sinensis)
- 2 drops frankincense (Boswellia carteri)
Aromatherapy Blend for Sleep
This blend is deeply calming and relaxing; perfect for bedtime!
- 4 drops sweet marjoram (Origanum majorana)
- 3 drops sweet orange (Citrus sinensis)
- 2 drops frankincense (Boswellia carteri)
- 1 drop ylang ylang (Cananga odorata)
I created these blends with a total of 10 drops each so you can easily scale them to create larger batches. When you find a blend you love, it’s nice to have a little bottle of it all mixed up and ready to use when you need it.
You might even find that you dislike a certain essential oil on its own, but you do enjoy it in a blend. In fact, one boy I worked with as a client hated the smell of orange on its own, but responded well to a focus and attention blend with sweet orange in it.
How to Use Essential Oils for Stress Relief
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When you want to use essential oils for stress relief, you have a number of application options. Each one has its benefits.
- Try simple inhalation by placing a drop or two on a cotton ball or tissue and breathing deeply for 5-10 minutes in a quiet place. The combination of quiet, deep breathing, and aromatherapy is so soothing!
- Use a diffuser to fill your room with a gentle aromatherapy vapor, following the manufacturer’s instructions. I like to leave these set on intermittent and turn them off after 30-60 minutes.
- Place a drop or two on a piece of aromatherapy jewelry and enjoy the aroma throughout the day.
- Dilute the essential oils and apply topically to your collarbone area. You can even predilute your essential oil or blend and place it in a roll-on bottle.
If you need help knowing how to safely dilute and use essential oils, be sure to check out my printable PDF The Essential Oils Quick Reference Guide. It’s full of convenient charts and checklists that make it easier and safer than ever to use essential oils at home.
- Use your stress relief essential oil or blend in a bath. This combines the benefits of warm water hydrotherapy (yes, taking a bath really is therapy!), quiet, and aromatherapy. You can even add Epsom or other bath salts for added benefit. Learn how to safely use essential oils in the bath here.
Aromatherapy and Mental Health: Safety Considerations and Important Limitations
In some cases, essential oils can be taken internally to help with stress and anxiety. There are even a couple of lavender capsule products on the market that are approved for use in anxiety.
However, it’s not safe to do this by making your own capsules or taking essential oils internally without physician and/or advanced aromatherapist guidance. It’s especially harmful to add drops of essential oils to your drinking water (even though doing so is one of the most common essential oil myths out there).
You can harm your gut flora, digestive system tissue, and even your liver and other important organs by improperly taking essential oil internally. Drinking a stress-reducing herbal tea blend is much safer.
You also have to remember that essential oils can only do so much. If your lifestyle factors and dietary habits aren’t nourishing your body and mind, you’re not likely to find lasting relief from any essential oil application.
Essential oils might help in the moment, but it’s going to be really hard to find lasting improvement without addressing everything else, too.
Natural health is called holistic for a reason. It requires a whole-body and whole-life approach. If you need help figuring out how to make that work for you, you can learn more about my client work here.
Let’s be real. Essential oils won’t be able to rid you of stress for the rest of your life.
Not even your hidden stash of ice cream can do that.
But using essential oils for stress relief can be a wonderful way to find the extra mental and emotional support you need when stress is getting the best of you.
When used appropriately, they’re safe, effective, and best of all, enjoyable!
For more common sense guidance and evidence-based essential oil information, be sure to check out my book Essential Oils: Separating Truth from Myth, available in print, Kindle, and PDF download.
Bergamot is my “grounding” oil – I use it often, adding a drop to whatever I’m diffusing and in many of my “customized” blends I keep in roller ball and salve form.
I’ve been curious about sweet marjoram – it’s one I’ve had on my must-try-one-day list.
Thanks so much for this list and the helpful information, Kristen
I’m glad it was helpful, Linda! You’ll definitely have to try sweet marjoram. I think it’s such a lovely, relaxing, not-to-floral oil.
I am one of those people who is not a fan of ylang ylang. I’ve learned to like it alright in a sleep blend because it helpes me relax but my bottle is going to last me a LONG time! 🙂
Ha ha, that’s funny, Katie Mae! Even as someone who really likes it, my ylang ylang bottles always last a long time, too. Good thing that oil has a longer shelf-life compared to many others!
i use a blend of sweet orange and frankincense.
Thanks for sharing another suggestion! That’s a great one. Sweet orange balances frankincense’s spiciness.