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Eight Powerful Essential Oils for Relaxation and Stress Relief and How to Use Them

What is Aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy involves the use of aromatic or essential oils from plants for therapeutic benefits. Essential oils are pressed or distilled from fragrant plant parts such as leaves, roots, fruit, flowers, bark, or resin. If you've ever peeled an orange, walked by a fragrant rose bush, or smelled the aroma of herbs such as rosemary or thyme you've experienced a plant's essential oils.

Essential oils can be inhaled, used topically, and in some cases internally (under the guidance of a clinical aromatherapist) for a variety of benefits such as to support relaxation and sleep, to ease muscle and joint aches, to calm the mind, support focus, memory, and mood, and even to fight germs and help ease congestion.

In this post we'll focus on essential oils to support relaxation and ease feelings of stress and how to use them.

How do Essential Oils Work?

Essential oils are comprised of small aromatic compounds. When inhaled these compounds bind to receptors in the nose that link directly to the brain's olfactory bulb that in turn sends the information directly to the limbic system including the amygdala and hippocampus, which relate to emotion, memory, and decision making. This explains why aromas and smells can have such a powerful impact on our emotion or memory -- transporting us back in time and space.

Additionally aromatic molecules from plants can enter the bloodstream and affect us physiologically. When inhaled or applied topically they can offer antispasmodic and sedative properties that cause changes in the muscles and the nervous system. If you've ever had a glass of wine, beer, or cocktail or chamomile tea and felt the relaxing effects you've experienced how plant compounds can calm the body. Certain aromatic compounds from essential oils can also produce relaxation and ease feelings of stress.

What are the Best Essential Oils for Relaxation and Stress Relief?

The best essential oils for relaxation and easing feelings of stress are those with aromatic compounds that act to calm or sedate the central nervous system, offer antispasmodic properties, or even evoke postive memories. In addition, aromas resonate differently with everyone. It's helpful to recognize what aromas (floral, citrus, earthy, etc.) most appeal to you and choose accordingly from the palate of relaxing essential oils that you enjoy.

1. Lavender: Floral Lavendula angustifolia or lavender essential oil is well known and loved. It is distilled from the flowers, is readily available, and smells lovely. It has been shown to offer sedative and healing effects on the nervous system. It can help relax tense muscles, digestive issues, headache, and quiet mental chatter. It can also act as a tonic to strengthen and restore vitality. (1-5)

2. Bergamot: Citrus bergamia or bergamot is a small citrus fruit and is used to flavor Earl Grey tea. It has some chemical similarities to lavender as well as citrus essential oils. It is useful when dealing with feelings of stress, anxiety, and low mood. It has been shown to reduce psychological stress responses, reduce serum cortisol levels, and reduce blood pressure (6). Safety note: bergamot is highly phototoxic and is not recommended for topical use unless it is furanocoumarin-free (FCF).

3. Lemongrass: Cymbopogon citratus or lemongrass is distilled from the fragrant grass. The herb is often used in Thai and other cooking to lend a citrusy flavor and aroma. Lemongrass is both uplifting and relaxing. It can calm the mind, reduce feelings of restlessness, and support sleep. It can be a comfort during times of emotional transition. Safety note: lemongrass is aldehyde rich and can be irritating to the skin and mucus membranes and should be used in low dilutions (0.7% or less). (7-8)

4. Roman Chamomile: Chamaemelum nobile or Roman chamomile is distilled from the flowers of the plant and has a sweet, apple-like, floral aroma. It is wonderfully calming and soothing. Chamomile can encourage relaxation, support sleep, ease feelings of anxiety, and act as a tonic to the body. (9)

5. Ylang-ylang: Cananga odorata or ylang-ylang is sweet, exotic, almost intoxicating floral and a little goes a long way! It is a strong sedative and is said to have a harmonizing effect. Heart rate and blood pressure decrease, while alertness and attention increase. It can produce feelings of relaxation and calmness. Ylang-ylang is best used in small amounts. Too much can cause a headache in some people. (10-12)

6. Frankincense: Boswellia carterii or sacra also known as frankincense is distilled from the resin of its namesake tree. It has an earthy, balsamic, rich aroma that people often associate with the sacred. It has long been used as incense in churches or for meditation. Frankincense can soothe and calm. It can be used to ease feelings of stress or to deepen meditation or prayer. Sustainability note: be sure to purchase sustainably sourced frankincense essential oil from a reputable supplier and use it responsibly. (13)

7. Sandalwood: Santalum album or sandalwood is a beautiful oil with a rich, woodsy, sweet aroma. It is distilled from the bark of the tree. I use this essential oil sparingly and with great respect. It is a powerfully relaxing oil. It calms and quiets the mind and is one of my personal favorites to use in blends to ease muscular tension and aches. It is grounding, soothing, and strengthening. Like frankincense be sure to purchase sustainably sources sandalwood from a reputable supplier. It can be used in small amounts and yet elicit profound effects. (14)

8. Vetiver: Vetiveria zizanioides or vetiver essential oil is distilled from the root of this hardy grass. Vetiver has an earthy, musky, rich aroma that can be a bit intense. This essential oil is rather thick and can be tricky to diffuse. I tend to use it in small amounts and tuck it into blends where it can quietly do its calming work. Vetiver is grounding, calming, and used to "cool the mind and improve concentration". I often tuck it in blends for sleep. (15)

What are the Best Ways to Use Essential Oils for Relaxation and Stress Relief?

Essential oils can easily be used via inhalation or topically. Internal ingestion is not recommended unless you are under the guidance of a clinical aromatherapist.

Here are some of my favorites ways to use essential to support relaxation and ease feelings of stress.

  1. Aroma Inhaler: An aroma inhaler is like a personal diffuser that allows one to directly inhale essential oils. They are simple but powerful. They use a small amount of essential oil and last a long time. You can tuck them in your purse, pocket, or desk and couple with breathing techniques for powerful stress relief. Click here to check out this video about creating an aroma inhaler

  2. Diffuse Essential Oils: Simply add essential oils to a diffuser and enjoy.

  3. Add Essential Oils to a Bath: Creating time for relaxing and soothing is necessary. Adding essential oils to a bath (see how to do so safely below) is simply amazing.

  4. Add Essential Oils to Massage: Adding essential oils to creams or oil and doing self or partner massage can be deeply relaxing.

Bonus -- Recipes for Relaxation:

Relax Aroma Inhaler Recipe:

* 8 drops lavender essential oil

* 8 drops bergamot essential oil

* 3 drops frankincense essential oil

* 1 drop ylang-ylang essential oil

Add essential oils to the cotton wick of an aroma inhaler and enclose in the inhaler housing (see how to video here). Uncap and inhale to support relaxation and ease feelings of stress.

Create Your Own Day Spa Diffuser Blend:

Need to relax but don't want to fall asleep? A combination of lavender, lemongrass, and bergamot will relax while offering uplifting citrus notes.

To a diffuser add: 2-3 drops lavender essential oil

2-3 drops bergamot essential oil

1 drop lemongrass essential oil

Optional: 1-3 drops peppermint or rosemary essential oil

Soak the Stress Away Bath Blend: Adding essential oils to a bath is an amazing way to enjoy their benefits. However, it is not recommended to just add straight essential oil to the bath undiluted. Diluting then in a carrier oil or adding them in a blend with a solubulizer is recommended. Why? Adding essential oils directly to a bath is similar to adding them directly to the skin. Essential oils are powerful and should be diluted when used topically and the same applies in a bath. Since they float on water they can come in direct contact with skin.

Beautiful Bath Blend:

3 drops lavender essential oil essential oil

1 drop bergamot essential oil essential oil

1 drop Roman Chamomile essential oil essential oil

1 drop sandalwood essential oil essential oil

1 teaspoon carrier oil such as almond, sunflower, coconut, etc.

1 teaspoon polysorbate 80 or other solubulizer (optional)

Sandalwood is one of my absolute favorites for easing muscle aches and for relaxation in a bath but it is critical that it is sustainably sourced. Fortunately a drop of sandalwood goes a long way. It is deeply relaxing and smells wonderful. Since the essential oil is sourced from a tree it is critical that sustainable practiced ensure a continued supply of the essential oil. Polysorbate 80 allows oils and water to mix. There are many natural solubulizers available but each has its own specifications and limitations.

If you have questions about using essential oils for relaxation feel or easing feelings of stress feel free to contact Tricia. I hope this article has been useful for you.

Aromatic blessings,



1. Buchbauer, G., Dietrich, H., Karamat, E., Jirovetz, L., Jager, W., and Plank, C. (1991) Aromatherapy: evidence for sedative effects of the essential oil of lavender after inhalation. Journal of Biosciences 46, 1067-1072.

2. Buchbauer, G., Jirovetz, L., Jager, W., Plank, C. and Dietrich, H. (1993) Fragrance compounds and essential oils with sedative effects upon inhalation. Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences 82, 6, 660-664.

3. Hwang, J.H. (2006) The effects of the inhalation method using essential oils on blood pressure and stress responses of clients with essential hypertension. Taehan Kanhoe Hakhoe Chi 36, 7, 1123-1134. Article in Korean. Available at

4. Itai, T., Amayasu, H., Kuribayashi, M., Kawamura, N., Okada, M., Momose, A., Tateyama, T., Narumi, K., Uematsu, W. and Kaneko, S. (2000) Psychological effects of aromatherapy on chronic hemodialysis patients. Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences 54, 4 393-397.

5. Linck, V.M., da Silva, A.L., Figueiró, M., Caramão, E.B., Moreno, P.R.H. and Elisabetsky, E. (2010) Effects of inhaled linalool in anxiety, social interaction and aggressive behaviour in mice. Phytomedicine 17, 679-683.

6. Chang SY (2008) Effects of aroma hand massage on pain, state anxiety and depression in hospice patients with terminal cancer. Taehan Kanho Hakhoe Chi 38: 493-502 (Article in Korean). Cited by Dobetsberger C, Buchbauer G (2011) Actions of essential oils on the central nervous system: an updated review. Flavour and Fragrance Journal 26 (5): 300

7. Silva, M.R., Ximenes, R.M., da Costa, J.G.M., Leal, L.K.A.M., de Lopes, A.A. and de Barros Viana, G.S. (2010) Comparative anticonvulsant activities of the essential oils (EOs) from Cymbopogon winterianus Jowitt and Cymbopogon citratus (DC) Stapf. in mice. Naunyn-Schmiedeberg's Archives of Pharmacology 381, 415-426.

8. Costa, C.A., Kohn, D.O., De Lima, V.M., Gargano, A.C., Flório, J.C and Costa, M. (2011) The GABAergic system contributes to the anxiolytic-like effect of essential oil from Cymbopogon citratus (lemongrass). Journal of Ethnopharmacology 137, 1, 828-836.

9. Moss, M., Howarth, R., Wilkinson, L. and Wesnes, K. (2006) Expectancy and the aroma of Roman chamomile influence mood and cognition in healthy volunteers. International Journal of Aromatherapy 16, 2, 63-73.

10. Hongratanaworakit, T. and Buchbauer, G. (2004) Evaluation of the harmonizing effect of ylang ylang on humans after inhalation. Planta Medica 70, 7, 632-636.

11. Hongratanaworakit, T. and Buchbauer, G. (2006) Relaxing effect of ylang ylang on humans after transdermal absorption. Phytotherapy Research 20, 9, 758-763.

12. Hwang, J.H. (2006) The effects of the inhalation method using essential oils on blood pressure and stress responses of clients with essential hypertension. Taehan Kanhoe Hakhoe Chi 36, 7, 1123-1134. Article in Korean. Available at

13. Awadh Ali, N.A., Wurster, M., Arnold, N., Lindequist, U. and Wessjohan, L. (2009) Chemical composition and biological activities of essential oils from the oleogum resins of three endemic Soqotraen Boswellia species. Records of Natural Products 2, 1, 6-12.

14. Erligmann, A. (2001) Sandalwood oils. International Journal of Aromatherapy 11, 4, 186-192.

15. Svoboda, R. E. (2004) Ayurveda: Life, Health and Longevity. Albuquerque: The Ayurvedic Press.


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