The olfactory system consists of specialized tissues, olfactory bulbs and olfactory mucosa, and parts of the body, the nose, and nasal passages. The olfactory system, which facilitates the sense of smell, shares an almost immediate connection with certain parts of the brain. One of the most powerful connections ties the sense of smell to the limbic system where memory and emotion reside.
This region of the brain also influences heart rate, the balance of hormones, blood pressure, stress levels, and breathing. The broad influence of the limbic system and its strong connection to the sense of smell makes aromatherapy an effective treatment for balancing emotional and mental well-being.
Aromatherapy and Depression
The causes of depression vary. Depression may arise due to a chemical or hormonal imbalance in the body, which can cause the mental state described as depression. It may also manifest following significant and difficult personal experiences characterized by loss or stress.
Depression occurs when sadness deepens into more extreme feelings like apathy, a loss of self-worth, feelings of disempowerment and lack of hope. Clinical depression occurs when these feelings last for prolonged periods of time.
A depressed state is often accompanied by physical distress and other emotional stressors in the form of:
- Low energy up to and including fatigue
- Inability to concentrate
- Insomnia or excessive sleeping
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Loss of interest and enjoyment in daily activities
- (especially previous favorites)
- Spending most of the day in a depressed mood, especially in the morning
- Feelings of stagnation
- Impaired judgement and indecisiveness
- Physical aches and pains
Aromatherapy supports other therapies to alleviate the mental and physical symptoms of depression. The close relationship between the sense of smell and the areas of the brain, which control memory, breathing, and blood pressure, make it a fast acting method for combating depressive symptoms.
Please note that aromatherapy is not a cure for depression and that you should always follow your doctor’s advice as to the best treatment options for you. However, aromatherapy is a great complimentary and all natural remedy that can uplift your mood anytime you use it.
As with many alternative therapies, aromatherapy works best with consistent and appropriate application.
Essential Oils to Treat Depression
When treating depression, essential oils may be used alone to address individual symptoms or as part of a synergistic blend to affect several symptoms at the same time. The essential oils selected to treat depression need to meet four criteria.
Selected oils should:
1. Elevate mood
2. Improve energy levels
3. Calm and soothe the nervous system
4. Improve mental clarity
Essential oils recommended to alleviate depression include:
- Basil--improves mental focus and relieves physical aches
- Bergamot--alleviates depression, anxiety and stress
- Citrus oils (orange, lemon or grapefruit)--uplifting and energizing
- Clary sage--relieves fatigue and stress
- Frankincense--improves concentration and mental clarity
- Geranium--calming and uplifting
- Lavender--balancing, calming and may help relieve insomnia
- Neroli--improves mood; alleviates insomnia and stress
- Peppermint--mental clarity
- Petitgrain--energizing and uplifting
- Rose--alleviates depression and stress
- Sandalwood--calming; relieves stress and depression
- Vetiver--has a grounding, calming and stabilizing effect on the psyche
- Ylang-ylang--relieves anxiety, depression and stress
A variety of recipes incorporating these oils may be discovered by consulting with an aromatherapist or searching online and in reference books on the topics of essential oils and aromatherapy. As you seek out blends or create your own, keep the properties of the desired oils as well as their scents in mind. The ratio of oils blended together as well as the dominance of their scent will determine the smell of the final product. Try to blend complementary oils together in complementary ratios. For example, rose, sandalwood, and vetiver would blend.
There are many methods available for the use of essential oils. You may purchase pre-blended massage oils, creams, and lotions. You may also create your own blends for use in a diffuser or to add directly to a bath. Never use essential oils directly on the skin. Always mix them with a carrier oil or shake well when suspended in water. You may also choose to burn incense or place a few drops of essential oil in a pot of warm water; the oil will evaporate permeating the air with its scent as the water cools.