There is widespread belief that the use of aromatherapy and massage in an intensive care environment offers a means of increasing the quality of sensory input that patients receive, as well as reducing levels of stress and anxiety. Despite a wealth of anecdotal evidence in support of these claims, there have been few objective studies to evaluate the effects of these therapies. In this experimental study 122 patients admitted to a general intensive care unit were randomly allocated to receive either massage, aromatherapy using essential oil of lavender, or a period of rest. Both pre- and post-therapy assessments included physiological stress indicators and patients' evaluation of their anxiety levels, mood and ability to cope with their intensive care experience. Ninety-three patients (77%) were able to complete subjective assessments. There were no statistically significant differences in the physiological stress indicators or observed or reported behaviour of patients' ability to cope following any of the three interventions. However, those patients who received aromatherapy reported significantly greater improvement in their mood and perceived levels of anxiety. They also felt less anxious and more positive immediately following the therapy, although this effect was not sustained or cumulative.