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Inhale Your Way to Calm with These Soothing Essential Oils

You can’t erase stress from your life, but you can use aromatherapy to help you cope with these 8 tension-taming essential oils.

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It’s normal to experience occasional stress, anxiety, mood swings, and a lack of focus. But you don’t have walk around feeling like a stress ball all the time. Natural essential oils can help ease stress, boost mood, and bolster your mental health. And some stress-busting essential oils can even help enhancing alertness and boost motivation.

Spritz, sniff, or soak your way to calm with these soothing selections.

1. Lavender

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 shows that 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, and elevated vigor the following morning—even in people with insomnia. It’s especially effective when used 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 that inhaling clary sage essential oil lowers 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, promotes relaxation, and boosts 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 that 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.

stress-busting lemongrass essential oil
Photo: Getty Images

5. Lemongrass

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 stress-provoking situations.

How to use it: Add a few drops to a basin of warm (not hot) water for a tension-taming facial steam.

6. Vetiver

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, which eases stress and promotes alertness and brain function. Vetiver oil also impacts brain wave patterns to deepen sleep. Some studies show that 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.

7. Bergamot

Derived from the peel of Citrus bergamia, a small fruit that gives Earl Grey tea its distinctive aroma, bergamot oil has a floral smell 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 that 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.

neroli essential oil
Photo: Adobe Stock

8. Neroli

Distilled from the flowers of the bitter orange tree (Citrus aurantium), neroli has a sweet, sharp, citrusy aroma. It’s packed with volatile compounds that influence the nervous system and impact the limbic system, the brain region involved in emotions. Studies show that inhaling neroli reduces anxiety, eases stress, and supports restful slumber. Combined with lemon oil, it 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.