Stress & Anxiety

Dr.Kim’s Ultimate Guide to the Best Aromatherapy for Stress Relief

By Kim Crawford, M.D. Last updated: February 16, 2018
best aromatherapy for stress relief

The Best aromatherapy for stress relief has to be proven to relieve stress!

This headline may seem silly but to actually be a “blend” thought to be the best aromatherapy for stress relief you do need proof. In order to relieve stress or anxiety, an essential oil has to be proven to either lower cortisol or bring on noticeable feelings of relaxation. I’ll discuss the concept of an essential oil, a “blend” versus “monotherapy” and how to use essential oils. You can then decide if this form of de-stressing is for you. Indeed, I’ll discuss only essential oils with science to back up their claims.

Stress and Anxiety

I want you to realize that many others share your feelings. For an estimated 40 million U.S. adults, a sense of anxiety may occur even when there’s no real threat, causing stress, emotional pain, and even illness. These feelings cause an elevation of the stress hormone cortisol and can cause immune issues, plaque formation in coronary arteries and brain issues including short-term memory loss and long-term higher risk of Alzheimer’s too.

Unfortunately, most people who suffer from anxiety either choose to suffer or take what their doctor prescribes which are brain cell health killing anti-anxiety drugs like Ativan, Xanax, and Valium. Ironically, the symptoms of withdrawal from these anxiety medications include extreme states of anxiety—some of which are worse than your original symptoms of stress!

We have talked about natural stress relief quite a bit on this blog, but in my opinion, Aromatherapy is a wonderful addition to all techniques and supplements.  Aromatherapy with pure essential oils is a safe and natural way to treat stress-symptoms, so it’s well worth trying if you find the right formulation. The definition of aromatherapy is the use of essential oils to support physical health and well-being. However, does that mean the essential oils need to be pure? Of course, it does!

What are Essential Oils?

Essential oils carry biologically active volatile compounds of flowers and plants in a very concentrated form. They are the essence of the plant and provide therapeutic benefits in very small amounts. The particles in essential oils, which come from flowers, twigs, leaves, or bark, can be inhaled, initiating many beneficial effects. There are many uses for aromatherapy, but one of the most active areas of research is for stress and anxiety. There is a remarkable quantity of research that shows essential oils help relieve anxiety without the side effects of drugs.

Further, pure, therapeutic grade essential oils from plants, not synthetic fragrance oils or perfumes are “real” essential oils. However, the quality of essential oils can vary, depending on things like growing conditions and methods of manufacturing and storage. In fact, there are international standards for essential oils. One of the most important considerations is to look for a statement of purity. To clarify, you need to look for a 100% essential oil (mixed with nothing else). Price can be a great tip-off. So, if it’s cheap, it’s also likely poor quality. Essential oils tend to work synergistically, and using a combination of oils usually creates a much more powerful effect than any one individual oil.

What does aromatherapy do?

Our sense of smell triggers powerful emotional responses. We sort through quite a bit of information through our sense of smell. In fact, this occurs in the brain next to the area where we process emotions called the limbic region. When we inhale the scent of an essential oil, molecules enter the nasal cavities and stimulate limbic system “firings.” The scents of the essential oils we’ll discuss can regulate stress responses, such as breathing patterns, production of brain chemicals, adrenal gland chemicals and hormones, heart rate and blood pressure.

Current research—What is the Best Aromatherapy for stress relief?

Following, are the results of my review of over 15 clinical trials examining the anxiety-inhibiting effects of aromatherapy. I have not included studies or mentions of herbs where I found no definitive anxiety reducing effects. Markedly, in all of these studies, no adverse effects whatsoever were noted. 

Bergamot (Citrus bergamia):

Bergamot essential oil is calming and used to treat depression as well as stress and anxiety symptoms. It can provide help falling asleep for those with a sleep initiation issue. It’s been proven to reduce the spike in cortisol as a stress response. It also increases the level of the brain chemical serotonin which then induces feelings of relaxation and sedation.

A study which used a blend of this oil plus lavender essential oil showed a synergistic effect between the two oils. In fact, people exposed to bergamot essential oil aromatherapy with lavender oil before surgery had a greater reduction in pre-operative anxiety than those in control groups receiving only bergamot oil. In addition, compared with the placebo, the dual blended essential oil participants in another pre-op study group rated themselves as “more calm” and “more relaxed” than the control group.

Bergamot is safe, but it is photo-sensitizing, meaning it can increase the risk of sunburn. Therefore, it’s best to avoid use within 12 hours of sun exposure.

Frankincense (Boswellia carteri or Boswellia sacra):

Frankincense provides a calming and tranquil energy and is frequently used in meditation for it’s “mind quieting” effect. Frankincense oil is very effective as a sedative because it induces a feeling of mental peace, relaxation, satisfaction and spirituality according to many users. When used in a diffuser, Frankincense essential oil promotes deep breathing and relaxation. Reports are revealing it is indeed a way to lower blood pressure as well.

In a well-done study, this essential oil was mixed with both lavender and bergamot oils. This blend (when inhaled via diffusion) reduced stress symptoms, pain, and depression in hospice patients. Furthermore, in a 2014 study, 60 hospice patients had this same blend massaged on their hands. All of the patients who received the aromatherapy hand massage reported less pain, anxiety, and depression.

Sweet orange oil:

This essential oil has anxiety-inhibiting effects in humans. In one recent study, diffused scents of sweet orange and lavender blended essential oils reduced anxiety and improved mood in patients waiting for dental treatments. Compared to the controls, those who inhaled the “piped in” oils reported a greater level of calmness.

Clove oil:

Clove oil is an excellent stress reliever. It has a non-toxic stimulating effect on the brain and helps to relieve mental exhaustion and “brain fatigue.” Studies based on questionnaires reveal many study participants found it to be a way to regain mental energy after “brain drain.” Additional studies have found clove oil also helps induce sleep and is yet another essential oil which helps insomnia.

Ylang-ylang essential oil:

best aromatherapy for stress reliefAlong with its widespread use in perfumes and aromatherapy treatments due to its very pleasing and delicate fragrance, ylang-ylang essential oil is used for a variety of science-based medicinal purposes.

A major health benefit of ylang-ylang is to provide relief from stress and anxiety. Clinical studies demonstrate this over and again.

Other well studied Essential Oils for Stress:

Lavender, cited in studies above, smells absolutely yummy. It has been validated in many multiple-blend studies. Notably, it has been approved for use in Alzheimer’s patients for everything from anxiety to agitation with excellent results. Thumbs up for clinical studies supporting Lemon, Rose absolute, Jasmine Sambac and Roman chamomile as well. I have written a slew of articles about cortisol and adrenal fatigue which you can easily find. While a good aromatherapy blend isn’t actually an adrenal fatigue supplement, it is simply invaluable to help adjust cortisol levels.

How to Use Essential Oils:

Essential oils can be administered in three different ways: via inhalation, ingestion or topical usage. Aromatherapy is most commonly used in a bath, as a direct inhalation or best yet, via aromatherapy diffusers.

Oral Application:

Many essential oils can be ingested by mouth; however, it is super-important to make sure the oils are safe and pure. Many oils on the market may be diluted or blended with synthetics that are unsafe for ingesting. The Food and Drug Administration has approved some essential oils generically for internal use and assigned them the generally recognized as safe (GRAS) designation for human consumption.

The most effective way to consume these oils is to add a drop of oil in a glass of water. Alternatively,  you can simply add a drop or two underneath the tongue. This method is the most efficient because blood capillaries are close to the surface of the tissue under the tongue. To explain, this means that sub-lingual (under the tongue) application allows the drops to pass more quickly into the bloodstream and travel to the different areas of the body in need.

Oral application is generally limited to single essential oils. When you have a large blend, this is not as effective as just taking a big whiff or a relaxing bath.

Topical Application:

Topical application is a process of placing an essential oil on the skin, hair, mouth, nails or mucous membranes of the body. When the oils touch the skin, they penetrate rapidly. Since they are so potent, it is crucial to dilute and blend with a carrier oil, such as sweet almond, or coconut oil. When you add it to a massage balm or oil, a massage with stress-busting essential oils is just “heaven.” (This is my personal opinion, obviously!)

Another wonderful type of topical use is to add drops of a particular blend to a relaxing bath. My vote for total relaxation is to do a bath with aromatherapy followed by a massage. It doesn’t get any more relaxing than that!


Essential oil can be sprinkled on a pillow, on a sachet pinned to your collar or intermittently “sniffed.” However, the easiest way to give yourself a continuous relaxing “dose” of essential oils is to use a diffuser. They are available in many places on the internet. Here is the best seller on Amazon.

Product pick:

serious skin care


This pure, essential oils blend gets a #1 rating from the Environmental Working Group, and it smells incredible. To be honest, I don’t think I could fall asleep without it! This blend includes the following oils: Bergamot, Clove Bud, Himalayan Cedar, Roman Chamomile, Frankincense, Jasmine Sambac, Highland Lavender, Lemon, Sweet Orange, Rose Absolute, Sandalwood and Ylang Ylang.



  1. Just want everyone to know the S formula you have works-I’m finally sleeping. I’ll do a review too when I get a minute!

  2. I have fibromyalgia and found the S formula to be quite helpful. This is a great aromatherapy guide-very useful.

  3. Thank you for always giving such high quality info. I’m for sure going to try this S blend. I’m going to cross my fingers that it will be a featured product on your GREAT newsletter!

  4. I never realized how many benefits different essential oils have. I love the smell of lavender and I’ve used it in my diffuser. I have two small kids and I’m so glad to find an essential oil that would help me with the daily stress. Great Blog

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