If you have been touched by depression or anxiety then you know how much of an impact it can have on your quality of life. If you haven’t, consider yourself lucky. Depression is extremely common and the leading cause of disability worldwide. It’s estimated that 350 million people of all ages suffer from depression globally. (source)
Everyone suffers from situational depression or “feeling down” sometimes. With the stresses and pressure of modern life, it’s no surprise that when we are struggling to cope, many of us look for an alternative solution such as essential oils. Read on to learn more about how to use essential oils for anxiety and depression.
What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are concentrated aromatic liquids made from the roots, seeds, flowers, fruits and leaves of plants (source). They are easily vapourised to release a strong, pleasant odour. They are called “essential” oils as they contain the plant’s “essence”, i.e. chemical compounds present in the plant that may have health benefits. (source)Essential oils have been used for thousands years in Egypt, Greece, China, India and the Roman Empire as part of ceremonies, primitive cosmetics and medicinal remedies. (source)
Why Use Essential Oils for Anxiety and Depression?
There are many reasons to use essential oils for anxiety and depression. Before we go any further, we must differentiate between mild cases of emotional distress which are a normal part of life, and clinical depression and anxiety which are mental illnesses. Although essential oils can be helpful in both scenarios, severe depression and anxiety require more complete treatment.
Essential oils should not be viewed as a replacement for traditional treatments such as medicine or talking therapies but as an enhancement. Essential oils offer a holistic approach. Using massage or aromatherapy forces you to take time out from a stressful routine to relax and focus on yourself. This is almost always beneficial.
Essential oils also don’t have any side effects if used correctly, unlike most medicines. Sometimes, medicine is needed, but if you are suffering from mild stress – try using essential oils for some relief. Essential oils are also a very cheap option.
How do Essential Oils Work?
We all know from experience that scents can have a powerful effect on our emotions. The mechanism of action of essential oils is not fully understood, however it is believed that the active compounds are carried via smell directly to the brain. There they act on the area controlling basic emotions such as fear, anger and depression. It follows that the right blend of oils can help to lift our mood. (sources 1, 2, 3)
The Best Essential Oils for Anxiety and Depression
Lavender is one of the most commonly used essential oils, popular for its pleasant fragrance and relaxing effects. It’s used as a sleep aid and remedy for stress and tension.
One study gave participants lavender capsules and then had them watch an anxiety-provoking film. Their heart rate and other stress signs were monitored and it was found that the lavender group had lower stress levels than the placebo group. (source)
A study in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice reported that lavender oil taken orally had similar efficacy in patients with generalised anxiety disorder to low doses of anti-anxiety medicine lorazepam. (source)
Inhalation of lavender essential oil eased anxiety in dental patients (source). Lavender oil also reduced postpartum depression in high-risk women (source) and improved mood in people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). (source)
You may have heard of chamomile tea for its sedative effects. Well, the essential oil is useful too. One study found that it has “clinically meaningful antidepressant activity” when taken as an oral capsule. (source)
Another study in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology found that chamomile capsules have “modest anxiolytic activity in patients with mild to moderate generalised anxiety disorder.” (source)
A study used an inhalation and 10-minute foot bath with oil rose in women in the “active phase of labor”. Anxiety levels in this group were significantly lower than in the control group who received a foot bath with just plain water. (source)
4. Ylang Ylang
A study in Korea used an inhalation of a blend of essential oils including ylang ylang to reduce stress in patients with hypertension. Their pulse, blood pressure and blood levels of stress marker cortisol were monitored and compared with a control group. It was concluded that the essential oils were an effective treatment to reduce psychological stress. (source)
A study used a blend of bergamot with lavender essential oils to help treat anxiety and depression. The blend was applied to the skin of the abdomen. Various different parameters were recorded – blood pressure, pulse rate, breathing rate and skin temperature. Participants were also required to rate their emotional condition in terms of relaxation, vigor, calmness, attentiveness, mood and alertness.
Compared with the placebo group the essential oil caused significant decreases of pulse rate, and blood pressure. Emotionally, the essential oil group rated themselves as ‘more calm’ and ‘more relaxed’ than the control group. (source)
A study in Korea measured the effect of daily essential oil hand massages on hospice patients. A blend of bergamot, lavender, and frankincense was used. All patients who received this treatment reported lower levels of pain and depression. The response was higher than using massage alone. (source)
How to Use Essential Oils for Anxiety and Depression
There are many different ways to use essential oils for anxiety and depression. You can use the influence of smell i.e. aromatherapy. A diffuser or essential oil burner are ideal for this. To relieve stress at night and improve your sleep, put a diffuser beside your bed.
You can inhale the essential oil vapour directly by putting a drop on the palms of your hands, rubbing them together and then cupping them over your nose and inhaling. Another idea is an essential oil necklace so that you can use it on the go.
Massage using essential oils blended with a carrier oil such as almond, coconut or grapeseed oil is one of the most relaxing aromatherapy methods. You should use 1 drop of essential oil for each tablespoon of carrier oil.
Another very relaxing option is to add 5 to 10 drops of essential oil to your bath tub. Not only will the vapour have a calming influence but the bath itself makes you take time out of a busy day to heal yourself. (source 1, 2, 3)
I mentioned this earlier but it’s an important point so I’ll re-iterate – essential oils should be an adjunct to conventional treatment of anxiety and depression, not an alternative. Only in very mild cases should you try to treat your stress with essential oils alone. Healthcare professionals will be able to give you the best advice depending on your particular situation.
Never stop taking your medications without your doctor’s approval. There can be serious side if you stop suddenly. If you take a prescription medicine or have an ongoing health condition, check with your doctor if it’s safe to use essential oils as there can be interactions don’t stop taking meds.
Always use pure, high quality oils and dilute with a carrier before applying to the skin. Some oils can be irritating or sensitizing to the skin so always heed the precautions on the label. (source)
I hope essential oils will help you on your journey to good mental health. I love taking a bath with some lavender essential oil when I’m feeling stressed. It gives me 30 minutes of peace – even if it means closing the bathroom door and kicking the kids out to their friends’ house for a few hours!