Mild to moderate depression is a common reason for choosing complementary and alternative therapies. Natural remedies are an excellent choice for treatment, as they tend not to have adverse long-term effects that can occur with many pharmaceutical preparations. A wide range of conditions can lead to feelings of depression and a pervasive outlook of negativity. Moreover, once in a state of depression, patterns can arise that make relief all the more difficult to find. Using the brilliant aromas of essential oils for uplifting the psyche and spirit is becoming more widespread because of their broad, safe, and dramatic effects. While the oils themselves may not directly affect the underlying cause of depression (though they may, if the cause is health-related), they can help individuals break free from depressive cycles – they may provide the impetus to ‘get off the couch’, so to speak, and begin creating long lasting change.
Clinical research has shown that natural, pure essential oils stimulate multiple regions in the brain, including those controlling endocrine, immune, and limbic (emotional center) functions. Essential oils have a direct and profound effect on the deepest levels of the body, emotions, and psyche. Through inhalation, essential oils have a strong and immediate influence. Passing through the capillary beds of the sinuses and activating the olfactory nerves, the oils’ vapor, produces direct and powerful effects – the most immediate being on the emotions. Our emotions and our sense of smell have very strong ties – perhaps more than with any other of the other four senses. It is said that your body will react to a smell on a physiological level (excitement, sedation, etc.) before you can even think about it!
In both Naturopathy and Ayurvedic Medicine, essential oils are considered to enhance the flow of essential life force (the ‘Chi’) and brighten mental clarity and luminosity. In Chinese medicine, pure essential oils are therapy for the heart’s spiritual essence, the Shen. Used consciously, essential oils positively enhance mental and emotional states. Further, the medicinal properties of essential oils, through their ability to support healing of the physical body, can also be of great benefit to the heart and mind. A study on the effect of aromatherapy on pain in patients with arthritis found that receiving massage with essential oils significantly decreased both the pain AND depression levels.
Following are some oils that have a reputation for positively affecting Chi and Shen, directly influencing the state of the psyche and emotions. These oils can be used alone or in combination in a diffuser (nebulizers or cold-air diffusers are best), or in aromatherapy massage, thereby inhaled and absorbed through the skin concurrently.
Bergamot (pressed from the peels of bitter oranges) has a strong reputation for its ability to uplift the mind and emotions. In terms of Chinese medicine, this is a direct result of its smoothing the flow of liver-Chi, the liver being thought of as the seat of the eternal soul. Bergamot has the ability to both relax the nerves and invigorate the spirit; it is suitable for many types of depressive states. Sweet orange, a close relative, works in a similar fashion, with a slightly sweeter aroma.
Neroli, distilled from the flowers of the tree producing the Bergamot fruit, also regulates the Chi – and like Jasmine oil, inspires a feeling of comfort. Neroli is called for where the depression is a result of nervous and emotional exhaustion. Neroli also assists in retrieving and releasing repressed emotions. Neroli is additionally indicated for individuals who, in order to escape from emotional pain and suffering, cut themselves off from their feelings and senses.
Chamomile is wonderful to use when the depression manifests in a moody, irritable, dissatisfied outward expression – generally ‘cranky’ – associated with stagnant liver-chi. Chamomle aroma is earthy and floral, with grounding and inspiring actions. It is best used in a blend with other oils, subtly enhancing the depression-relieving effect.
When depression is of a Fire (overly aggressive) nature, it often involves an imbalance of (or distinct lack of) joy and love – the root emotions of the heart and mind. Joy is an extension of spiritual essence’s innate sense of harmony and perfection, an experience of emotional and spiritual well-being. Rose oil may have a profound effect on this state, and is thought the premier heart opening aromatic, bringing joy, uplifting and restoring balance.
The needle and wood oils are particularly appealing to men. Fine grades of Spruce, Fir and Pine needle oils, Juniper Berry, and woods such as Cedarwood and Sandalwood are both grounding and uplifting. Diffusing these oils alone or in combination creates a welcoming, relaxing atmosphere, and many find these aromas help motivate them in completing otherwise arduous tasks at home or in the office.
What follows are a few recipes for uplifting and releasing depressed emotional states – use your intuition to find the right one. Most often in the therapeutic use of essential oils, the oil or blend you find most attractive will be the one that serves you best. Don’t be afraid to try new things, have fun, and enjoy yourself!. These blends may be used in a diffuser or in a massage base at 5% concentration (unless where a carrier oil is indicated) – blends with carriers are intended specifically for aromatherapy massage.
For opening the heart: 1 part Rose 3 parts Sandalwood 1 part Sweet Orange or Bergamot; also 3 parts Jasmine, 1 part Ylang Ylang, 1 part Sandalwood. For brightening, refreshing and uplifting: 3 parts Bergamot, 1 part Ylang Ylang, 1 part Grapefruit; also 2 parts Bergamot, 2 parts Clary Sage, 1 part Frankincense; also 3 parts Bergamot or Sweet Orange, 2 parts Clary Sage 2 parts Frankincense; also 1 part Lemon 1 part either Jasmine or Neroli. For nourishing or ‘comforting’: 1 part (Roman) Chamomile 1 part Vanilla 10 parts in the carrier oil of choice. For uplifting and softening with a floral and earthy aroma: 1 part Neroli 1 part Vanilla 1 part Orange 1 part Sandalwood; also 1 part Chamomile 1 part Bergamot 1 part Helichrysum.
In addition, the oils may also be effectively used individually. For depression with negativity, try Bergamot, Chamomile, Helichrysum, Neroli, Orange, or Spikenard. If there is a marked lack of joy, try Rose, Jasmine, Melissa, Patchouli, Rosemary or Ylang Ylang. If over-thinking and worry are causing blockage, try Cardamom, Frankincense, Lemon, Marjoram, Myrrh or Vetiver. For overwhelming regret and remorse, try: Clary Sage, Cypress, or Pine. For inability to cope with overwhelming situations, try: Rose Geranium, Ginger, Juniper or Thyme.
While aromatherapy can provide support in many cases, it may not be the answer for everyone. Seek professional assistance in any case where one is losing the will to live, or any other seemingly impossible situation. Aromatherapy has few contraindications, and can be used effectively as an adjunct to other treatments; one should consult their care giver to ensure there are no contraindications with any prescribed medication.