15 essential oils for stress relief

written by Anthony Zappia | WELLBEING COMMUNITY BLOGGER

Herbs and essential oil bottles Credit: 123rf

One statistic I’ve seen claims that as much as 90 per cent of doctor visits are either caused by or related to stress.[1] Stress has been linked to numerous illnesses and causes of death, including heart disease, cancer and suicide.

The stress response is the body’s way of dealing with a perceived threat. The problem starts when the threat never leaves. And this is the kind of stress that modern society is attempting to deal with.

The typical way to deal with stress is through the prescription and use of sedatives. Sedatives create calm but they also dull and depress brain function. Unfortunately, this makes it difficult to get a handle on the problem or real cause behind stress and take the necessary steps to deal with it.

Essential oils work differently as they contain constituents that are both calming and stimulating. In fact, researchers have found that, depending on the state of the individual, essential oils can be either stimulating or calming. It’s almost like these essential oils are able to “know” what is required. So an agitated patient will find they receive a calming effect from a particular oil, while another patient who is feeling listless may find a restorative effect from the same oil. In aromatherapy, we refer to such oils as “adaptogens” because the type of effect they induce will depend on what an individual needs to restore their balance.

The effects of stress on the body

Credit: Gdudycha

We tend to think of stress as a state in which one can be agitated, angry, anxious, tense or fearful but, given time, an individual can become listless and depressed; hence the value of essential oils in being able to restore one’s balance.

The following are a number of oils you may wish to consider using for stress relief. This is far from an exhaustive list and you may also wish to consider using a number of other citrus oils, such as lemon, grapefruit and tangerine, as they have an uplifting effect.

Bergamot (Citrus bergamia). Bergamot has calming effects. It can be applied topically or diffused. It can also be applied as a deodorant or added to food and water as a supplement.
Blend classification: Enhancer, modifier and equaliser
Blends with: Chamomile, cypress, eucalyptus, geranium, jasmine, juniper, lavender, lemon, palmarosa, patchouli and ylang ylang
Odour: Type: Top Note (5-20% of the blend); Scent: Sweet, lively, citrusy, fruity
Safety data: This oil is sensitive to direct sunlight, so don’t apply it to your skin if you’re intending to be outdoors 24 hours after application. Or, if you do, make sure you’ve covered up the area of skin you’ve applied the oil on.

Cedarwood (Cedrus atlantica). Known for its calming properties, cedarwood has been found in clinical tests to be of benefit to children suffering ADD and ADHD. Native Americans used cedarwood to communicate with spirit. Cedarwood stimulates the limbic region of the brain (centre of emotions) and the pineal gland, which releases melatonin (melatonin plays an important role in establishing sleep cycles). Can be diffused or applied topically. Best place to apply it is to the stem of the brain (where the neck joins the head).
Blend classification: Enhancer and equaliser
Blends with: Bergamot, clary sage, cypress, eucalyptus, floral oils, juniper, frankincense, myrrh, rosemary
Odour: Type: Base Note (5-20% of the blend); Scent: warm, soft, woody
Safety data: Use with caution during pregnancy.

Chamomile, German (Matricaria recutita). Can dispel anger, clear the mind and bring stability to one’s emotions. Diffuse it or inhale it. It has a frequency of 105 MHz; oils at this frequency work well at the emotional level.
Blend classification: Personifier
Blends with:Fir, geranium, helichrysum, hyssop, lavender, lemongrass, marjoram, sandalwood, spearmint, spruce, melaleuca alternifolia (Tea tree) and wintergreen
Odour: Type: Middle note (50-80% of the blend) Scent: Deep, rich, cocoa-like, herbaceous
Safety data: Use with caution during pregnancy and can irritate sensitive skin.

Chamomile, Roman (Chamemelum nobile). Chamomile tea is well recognised for its ability to help people sleep. Imagine what the more concentrated essential oil can do. It has wonderful calming and relaxing properties and can help to reduce anxiety, dispel anger and release old emotions. You can diffuse it or rub two drops on the temples or back of the neck either prior to going to bed or when facing a difficult situation. It’s also useful for meditation and for helping one to express their true feelings. In the latter case, try applying it over the throat area.
Blend classification: Personifier
Blends with: Lavender, rose, geranium and clary sage.
Odour: Type: Middle note (50-80% of the blend) Scent: Fresh, sweet, fruity-herbaceous and apple-like
Safety data: Can irritate sensitive skin. You may wish to dilute 50:50 with a vegetable oil eg coconut oil, almond oil etc.

Frankincense (Boswellia carterii or Boswellia Sacra). Frankincense is rich in sesquiterpenes, which are molecules that can penetrate the blood-brain barrier. This enables this precious oil to carry much-needed oxygen into the brain, as well as stimulating the limbic area of the brain, which includes the hypothalamus, pineal and pituitary glands. A study carried out in 2008 found that one of the constituents of Frankincense oil – incensole acetate – was found to have properties that lower both anxiety and depressive behaviour.[2] Little wonder it has been used since ancient times for prayer and meditation (I’ve written about frankincense on this blog before as it’s wonderful for so many reasons, including its spiritual uses).
Blend classification: Enhancer and equaliser
Blends with: All oils
Odour: Type: Base note (5-20% of the blend); Scent: Rich, deep, warm, balsamic, sweet.

Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens). Geranium is an essential oil that helps relieve tension, stress and release negative memories (it works with the liver chakra to release toxins from the body). It also helps to open the mind to new ideas. Can be applied topically or diffused.
Blend classification: Enhancer and equaliser
Blends with: All oils
Odour: Type: Middle note (50-80% of the blend); Scent: Sweet, green, citrus-rosy, fresh
Safety data: Repeated use can possibly result in some contact sensitization

Jasmine (Jasminum officinale). Jasmine is known as a stimulating aroma as it uplifts and produces feelings of confidence and optimism; hence it’s great for alleviating depression. But it’s also great for bringing about relaxation, relieving headaches and insomnia. Can be applied topically or diffused in a room.
Blend classification: Equaliser, modifier and enhancer
Blends with: Bergamot, frankincense, geranium, helichrysum, lemongrass, mandarin, melissa, orange, palmarosa, rose, rosewood, sandalwood and spearmint.
Odour: Type: Base note (5-20% of the blend); Scent: powerful, sweet, tenacious, floral
(Note: Pure jasmine oil can cost anywhere between $1200 and $4500, whereas synthetic jasmine can cost as little as $3.50 a pound. Synthetic jasmine won’t have the properties that pure jasmine oil has. So buyer beware!)

Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia). Lavender is regarded as the ultimate adaptogen essential oil as it can balance any personality. A study was carried out in 1998, measuring the EEG patterns of subjects who had inhaled lavender oil. The subjects reported feeling relaxed and their EEG patterns suggested they were in a state of drowsiness. However the subjects were able to carry out maths computations much faster and more accurately.[3] So Lavender relaxes you, whilst making you more alert. How many sedatives on the market can make that claim, I wonder? For more information on lavender oil, see my post on 20 ways to use lavender oil.
Blend classification: Enhancer, modifier, and equaliser
Blends With: Most oils, especially citrus oils, chamomile clary sage and geranium
Odour: Type: Middle note (50-80% of the blend) Scent: Floral, sweet herbaceous, balsamic, woody undertones.

Marjoram (Origanum majorana). In folklore, Marjoram was known as the “herb of happiness” to the ancient Romans and the “joy of the mountains” to the Greeks. A muscle relaxant, anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory, it has properties that promote sleep. Also useful for migraine headaches. This oil is best diffused.
Blend classification: Enhancer and equaliser
Blends with: Bergamot, cedarwood, chamomile, cypress, lavender, lemongrass, orange, nutmeg, rosemary, rosewood and ylang ylang.
Odour: Type: Middle note (50-80% of the blend); Scent: Herbaceous, green, spicy
Safety data: Avoid during pregnancy.

Neroli or Orange Blossom (Citrus aurantium bigaradia). This oil is distilled from the flower of the orange and its aroma is calming, relaxing and promotes confidence, hopefulness, peace and sensuality. May be applied topically as a perfume or diffused.
Blend classification: equaliser, modifier and personifier
Blends with: Rose, lavender, sandalwood, jasmine, cedarwood, geranium and lemon
Odour: Type: Middle Note (50-80% of the blend); Scent: floral, citrusy, sweet, delicate, slightly bitter.

Orange (Citrus sinensis). Researchers from Mei University in Japan found that patients who had orange fragrance administered to them were able to markedly reduce the amount of anti-depressants they took. [4] The orange oil also restored their endocrine and immune systems to normal levels. This oil can be diffused or taken internally. See my post on citrus oils for more information on this beautiful oil.
Blend classification: Enhancer and Personifier
Blends with: Cinnamon bark, frankincense, geranium, juniper, lavender, nutmeg, rosewood.
Odour: Type: Top Note (5-20% of the blend); Scent: Fresh, citrusy, fruity, sweet.
Safety data: If applying topically on uncovered skin, avoid direct sunlight for at least 12 hours after use.

Rose (Rosa damascena). Rose oil stimulates the mind and helps promote a sense of well-being. It has the highest frequency amongst essential oils at 320 MHz. The fragrance of pure, therapeutic grade rose oil is almost overpowering, so If you are going to apply this oil on its own topically you need only a slight dab. This is likely to be an oil you will use in a blend, rather than on its own.
Blend classification: Personifier, enhancer, equaliser and modifier
Blends with: Citrus oils, cedarwood, clary sage, cypress, frankincense, juniper, myrrh, patchouli, pine, rosewood, and sandalwood
Odour: Type:  Middle to Base Notes (20-80% of the blend); Scent: Floral, spicy, rich, deep, sensual, green, honey-like
Safety data: To be used with caution during pregnancy.
(Note: Like jasmine oil is very expensive. So again, careful of any cheap imitations. )

Sandalwood (Santalum album). Sandalwood is used as an aid in yoga and meditation and in many cultures, for example in India, it is regarded as a sacred oil. Like a number of other oils it has an effect on the brain’s limbic systems. It works well to balance both the emotions and the immune system. May be applied topically or diffused.
Blend classification: Modifier and equaliser
Blends with: Cypress, frankincense, lemon, myrrh, patchouli, spruce and ylang ylang.
Odour: Type: Base note (5-20% of the blend); Scent: Minty, slightly fruity
Safety data: To be used with caution during pregnancy.
(Note: The supply of sandalwood trees is diminishing, so increasingly sandalwood oil is being diluted or adulterated. So like rose and jasmine, true sandalwood will be expensive).

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis). This is an oil that is well known for its positive effects on sleep enhancement, but it can also be used as a stimulant. The aroma of valerian of is somewhat unpleasant but it has amazing effects on reducing anxiety. A study undertaken by German researchers in 2000 compared the sleep improvements of 2 groups of patients – one taking benzodiazepine sedatives – and the other, a valerian extract.[5] While both groups showed an identical improvement, the group on valerian reported far fewer side effects. You can apply this oil topically to the soles of the feet or wrists, or take it internally as a supplement. If the latter dilute one drop in 1 tsp of honey or in 120ml/4oz of beverage.  Not for children under 6 years of age and to be diluted for children over that age.

Ylang ylang (Cananga Odourata). Ylang ylang can be either stimulating or calming and is considered to have aphrodisiac properties (see my previous post on using essential oils in your love life). It’s especially useful for dealing with anger stress and by inhaling the aroma one can stimulate circulation and lower blood pressure. You can apply this oil topically (on the feet, neck, wrists and back) or diffuse it.
Blend classification: Personifier and modifier
Blends with: Anise, bergamot, cardamom, chamomile, cumin, geranium, grapefruit, lemon, marjoram, sandalwood and vetiver.
Odour: Type: Middle to base notes (20-80% of the blend); Scent: Sweet, heavy, cloying, tropical floral with spicy balsamic undertones.
Safety data: Repeated use can possibly result in contact sensitisation.

You may wish to try blending some of these oils, as you will get a greater effect than using the oils individually (see my previous post on the magic of essential oil blends).

If you are interested in obtaining any of the essential oils referred to, please contact our helpdesk.

Till next time!

Disclaimer: Please remember that anything discussed here does not constitute medical advice and cannot substitute for appropriate medical care. Where essential oils are mentioned, it’s recommended you use only pure, unadulterated therapeutic grade essential oils and follow the safety directions of the manufacturer.

[1] Perkins, A. Saving money by reducing stress. Harvard Business Review. 1999, 72(6):12
[2] Moussaieff, A, et al. Incensole acetate, an incense component, elicits psychoactivity by activating TRPV3 channels in the brain. FASEB J. 2008, Aug;22(8):3024-34
[3] Diego, MA, et al. Aromatherapy positively affects mood, EEG patterns of alertness and math computations. Int J Neurosci. 1998, Dec;96(3-4):217-24.
[4] Komori, T, et al. Effects of citrus fragrances on immune function and depressive states. Neuroimmunomodulation. 1995 May-Jun;2(3):174-80
[5] Dorn, M. Valerian vs oxazepam: efficacy and tolerability in nonorganic and nonpsychiatric insomniacs: a randomized double-blind, clinical comparative study. Forsch Komplementarmed Klass Naturheilkd. 2000 Apr;7(2):79-84

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essential oils stress relief



Anthony Zappia writes a regular blog about health and social issues, areas that he's passionate about. Twelve years ago he became especially interested in essential oils and their ability to enhance health and wellbeing. Anthony continues to follow the latest research and is himself a distributor of essential oils.