Best Essential Oils to Reduce Stress

August 3, 2020 Updated: August 3, 2020

Stress is a natural reaction to changes and tribulations that occur in your life.

When you become overwhelmed by stress, or suffer chronic long-term stress, it can affect you physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Physically, stress can lead to headaches, sleep problems, muscle pain, high blood pressure, stomach issues, and more. Mental consequences of stress include excessive worrying, panic attacks, and depression. The emotional effects of stress include anxiety, moodiness, sadness, lack of motivation, and restlessness. Stress can also increase your risk for diseases of the heart, lungs, and immune system, as well as cancer, neurodegenerative disease, and problems with the gut and mental health.

The essential oils that follow—lavender, rose, citrus family, and mint family—can have some effect helping to relieve stress. Aromatherapy essential oil blends also help to de-stress and restore your health. Just as certain sights and sounds can calm us, so can certain scents.

Lavender

Lavender is the most highly researched stress-reducing essential oil. In a human study of stress from performing math tests, those exposed to lavender aromatherapy showed lowered levels of two stress markers (cortisol—the stress hormone—and chromogranin A, or CgA) compared to a control group.

In 60 coronary artery patients in the ICU, inhaling two percent lavender essential oil for 15 days increased sleep quality and reduced anxiety. Results showed a nearly 11 percent variance in anxiety and 70 percent decrease in blood cortisol from lavender oil inhalation in a study of 90 open-heart surgery patients.

A hot foot-bath with lavender essential oil produced a significant increase in blood flow and relaxation in another study. Three stress-related symptoms (pain, anxiety, and satisfaction) were significantly improved by lavender aromatherapy with patients who had an IV catheter inserted before surgery, compared to a non-lavender control group.

Lavender aromatherapy in 15 pre-surgery participants significantly decreased stress levels, lowered their bispectral index score (a lower score indicates anesthesia is working), lessened pain intensity of needle insertion and increased relaxation in 20 healthy adults.

Rose

In a study of 40 healthy adults, rose oil significantly decreased breathing rate, blood oxygen saturation, and systolic blood pressure compared to the placebo group. Subjects felt more calm, relaxed, and likely to sleep than in the control group. In a labor/delivery study of 110 women, the use of rose oil aromatherapy reduced the severity of pain and anxiety in the first stage of labor. In animal studies, there is evidence of rose oil’s anti-stress effects.

Citrus Family (Orange, Bergamot)

Orange oil compared favorably to lavender oil in reducing fatigue. Petitgrain (bitter orange) aromatherapy improved workplace performance by reducing stress and increasing attentiveness and alertness in a study that comprised 42 administrative university workers. In a statistical analysis of 200 dental patients in the waiting room, both orange and lavender aromatherapy groups (50 patients each) had reduced anxiety and improved mood. The other 100 patients were split between a music condition and a control condition (no music or scent).

In a study of 72 dental patients, women exposed to orange essential oil had a lower level of anxiety, a more positive mood, and a higher level of calmness than men who were also exposed to the oil. Overall, the aromatherapy group (men and women) was more relaxed than the non-aroma groupOrange oil also reduced stress and anxiety for women in labor. In an animal study, navel orange essential oil lowered the depression-like behaviors of mice due to its limonene compound.

Bergamot (citrus-based) aromatherapy combined with listening to soft music showed improved relaxation in experimental research of 119 healthy young adults (average age 25). In a study of 57 eligible participants waiting for mental health treatment, the bergamot scent group reported 17 percent higher positive feelings than the control group.

Mint Family (Rosemary/Thyme/Sage/Peppermint)

The mint family (Lamiaceae) has very aromatic members—rosemary, thyme, sage, and peppermint—which exhibit stress-related benefits.

A study of 108 participants who were divided into 6 groups (one of which was a control group) compared different Saturna plants. The Saturna group includes rosemary and thyme. Saturna brevicalyx (highest linalool content of 21.2 percent) beat S. boliviana (which had 12.8 percent linalool) in decreasing anxiety. In another study, both rosemary and lavender oils effectively decreased cortisol in 25 healthy subjects. The results of 33 employees in a chemical plant who drank rosemary-infused tea, indicated positive effects on occupational burnout (reduced stress, fatigue, and mental fatigue).

In a mice study, exposure to rosemary compounds was linked to lower depression and anxiety while performing tests. Inhaled linalool used on mice showed anti-anxiety properties and resulted in increased social interaction and decreased aggressive behavior performing tasks. Linalool-rich essential oils (lavender, sage, rosemary, marjoram, orange, bergamot) were linked with increased relaxation and seemed to counteract anxiety.

Peppermint oil, high in menthol/menthone, improved performance on demanding cognitive tasks and lowered mental fatigue associated with extended task performance in a study of 24 healthy adults. In another study of 144 volunteers, peppermint oil was linked to enhanced memory and alertness.

Aromatherapy Blends

Research shows essential oil aromatherapy blends linked to improvements in stress-caused symptoms. For example, terminal cancer patients reported less pain and depression with aromatherapy (lavender/bergamot/frankincense) hand massages when compared to a control group.

Similarly, 20 arthritic patients who were treated with an aromatherapy blend (lavender/marjoram/eucalyptus/rosemary/peppermint) showed lower pain and depression levels. In a research study comparing the impact of lavender oil, an oil blend (lavender/sage/marjoram), and acupressure massage, quality of life was improved with each intervention, but sleep improved the most with the intervention that blended aromatherapy and acupressure massage together.

In 42 hypertensive patients, the aromatherapy group (lemon/lavender/ylang ylang) showed lower systolic blood pressure and heart rate variability when compared to the control group. For 52 hypertensive clients, lavender/bergamot/ylang-ylang blend was linked to reduced psychological stress responses, serum cortisol levels, and blood pressure in another study.

Compared with a placebo group, the 20 healthy subjects who had bergamot/lavender oils rubbed on their bellies in another study showed significantly decreased pulse rate and blood pressure (systolic and diastolic) and self-rated as “more calm” and “more relaxed.”

Burn patients reported decreased pain and anxiety following rose/lavender aromatherapy. In a meta-analysis of 12 research experiments, aromatherapy using different blends was found to be an effective sleep enhancement and was linked to reduced anxiety and depression in four trial studies of postmenopausal and elderly women. In addition, a study of 28 dementia patients treated with aromatherapy (rosemary/lemon/lavender/ orange) showed cognitive functional improvement, and those with Alzheimer’s showed the highest gains.

De-Stressing With Aromatherapy

Combining increasing numbers of human studies with previous animal research of essential oils and stress, a holistic picture of aromatherapy’s benefits emerges. For science-based evidence of these de-stressing impacts, see GreenMedInfo.com’s research databases for aromatherapyessential oils, and stress/anxiety.

 

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