Lavender’s usually our go-to for promoting peace, calm and deeper sleep. But it shouldn’t be the only tension-taming selection in your toolkit (because, sometimes, your nose just wants to smell something else). Plus, other stress-busting essential oils have slightly different benefits, like enhancing alertness or promoting a sunnier outlook.
Spritz, sniff or soak in these soothing selections.
Derived from a flowering Mediterranean herb (Lavandula angustifolia), lavender oil is the best-known (and studied) essential oil for stress, anxiety and sleep. Its main components, linalool and linalyl acetate, calm the nervous system. Research also shows inhaling lavender affects brain wave patterns in a way that eases anxiety and boosts mood. Lavender oil also increases slow-wave brain activity. This is linked to improved sleep quality and duration, plus elevated vigor the following morning – even in people with insomnia. It’s especially effective with chamomile and neroli, and a combo of the three can powerfully lessen stress and enhance sleep.
How to use it: Sprinkle a few drops on your pillowcase for instant peace and restful slumber.
2. Clary sage
Distilled from Salvia sclarea, a flowering herb native to the northern Mediterranean, clary sage reduces anxiety and improves mood. Its active chemical constituents appear to impact dopamine and serotonin, neurotransmitters associated with motivation, pleasure and well-being. Studies show inhaling clary sage essential oil lowers levels of cortisol, the body’s primary stress hormone, while significantly increasing serotonin.
How to use it: Combine clary sage and other calming oils in a spray bottle of distilled water and spritz in your room to ease stress and uplift mood.
3. Ylang ylang
Cananga odorata, distilled from the flowers of a tropical tree native to India and Southeast Asia, has a lush, heady fragrance and relaxing, mood-enhancing effects (in Indonesia, it’s traditionally used to enhance euphoria and reduce anxiety during sex). Ylang ylang influences brain activity and the serotonin system, reducing stress and enhancing mood and self-esteem. And ylang ylang in combination with neroli, lavender and marjoram, significantly decreases levels of cortisol. This eases tension, promoting relaxation and boosting mood.
How to use it: Add a few drops to a carrier oil, like coconut or sweet almond oil, for a soothing bath or seductive massage oil.
4. Sweet orange
Derived from the peels of common oranges, sweet orange oil (Citrus sinensis) has a citrusy, floral aroma and soothing, anxiety-relieving properties. The primary active compound, limonene, eases stress and promotes tranquility, and research suggests inhaling sweet orange essential oil prevents anxiety in tension-promoting situations.
How to use it: Sprinkle a few drops on a cotton ball, or take a whiff right from the bottle before stress-provoking events.
Distilled from Cymbopogon citratus, a tropical plant native to South Asia, lemongrass has a bright lemony scent that refreshes and soothes. It’s rich in compounds that calm tension and encourage relaxation, probably by interacting with a neurotransmitter involved in anxiety, depression and sleep disorders. In one study, lemongrass essential oil had an immediate effect on stress, lessening anxiety and encouraging calm. Plus, participants who inhaled lemongrass recovered quickly—in five minutes or less—from a stress-provoking situation.
How to use it: Add a few drops to a basin of warm (not hot) water for a tension-taming facial steam.
From an aromatic perennial grass in the same family as lemongrass, vetiver (Vetiveria zizanioides) essential oil has an earthy, exotic fragrance with distinctive woodsy undertones. Its primary constituents interact with neurotransmitters involved in anxiety, learning and memory, easing stress without sedative effects, while promoting alertness and brain function. Vetiver oil also impacts brain wave patterns to deepen sleep. Some studies show it can impact respiration during slumber, improving breathing patterns and lessening the tendency to snore.
How to use it: Sniff it straight from the bottle when you need calm without sedation. Or add a few drops to a diffuser to improve nighttime breathing.
Derived from the peel of the Citrus bergamia, a small fruit that gives Earl Grey tea its distinctive aroma, bergamot oil has a floral aroma with light citrus undertones. Its primary active constituents impact neurons and reduce levels of cortisol to lessen tension and promote relaxation. Bergamot oil also soothes depression, and research suggests inhaling bergamot increases positive feelings and uplifts mood.
How to use it: Bergamot can be irritating, so don’t use it directly on your skin; add a few drops to a diffuser for a calm, sunny outlook.
Distilled from the flowers of the bitter orange tree (Citrus aurantium), neroli has a sweet, sharp citrusy aroma, and is high in volatile compounds that influence the nervous system and impact the limbic system, the brain region involved in emotions. Studies show inhaling neroli reduces anxiety, eases stress and supports restful slumber. Combined with lemon oil, it also boosts mood and improves concentration and memory. Neroli also influences hormones via the endocrine system. If fact, inhaling neroli oil can relieve menopausal symptoms and increase sexual desire.
How to use it: Sprinkle a few drops into a warm bath for a luxurious, stress-busting soak.
Choosing the right foods can also help bust stress. Read 7 Foods to Ease Stress and Soothe Anxiety for more information. And learn to build better habits for reduced stress with 20 Daily Habits for a Healthier, Happier You!