Aromatherapy for anxiety and depression
by Cindy Murdoch | Staff Writer
Aromatherapy has a wonderful ability to assist a person who is coping with psychological issues – anything from depression and anxiety to poor memory. It’s exciting to think that something as noninvasive as a natural fragrance can have such a powerful effect on our thoughts and even our actions and emotions.
“Smell…transports us across thousands of miles and all the years that we have lived.” – Helen Keller.
Think about it. Aromatherapy has captured the imagination of marketers who know that fragrance sells. Many stores now utilize fragrances and scents to entice you into purchasing their products. Think about the last time you walked through the cosmetics area of one of the major retail stores in the mall – they were probably using the scents of colognes and perfumes to entice you to purchase one of their products. What about when you walk past a shop like Mrs. Field’s Cookies – the smell lures you to come purchase their products.
You even experience aromatherapy in the products you use every day. Consider how you are impacted by the smell of your laundry detergent or dryer sheets, or even the smell of a newly mopped floor. These are smells that you have learned to associate with cleanliness and when you smell them you automatically think … well, clean.
Real estate agents will often advise their clients to make brownies before a showing to make a house more appealing to a potential buyer. And used car salesman have been known to spray a fragrance into their cars because they know that customers are more likely to think that the vehicle is in good condition if it smells appealing.
We can use scents, through the use of aromatherapy, to overcome feelings of anxiety and depression.
Using Aromatherapy to Overcome Anxiety
A University of Arizona researcher, Gary Schwartz, M.D., found that our sense of smell has a direct effect on the part of our brain that controls fear and anxiety. He conducted research on the sense of smell and its impact on people who were tense. He found that people were more relaxed, their blood pressure went down, and their heart rate reduced when they sniffed an apple. The effect was even more pronounced when cloves and cinnamon were added to the scent of the apple.
Herbalists and doctors have long used scents and fragrances to help patients who are suffering with anxiety. A 13th century Persian physician, Al-Samarqandi suggested that his patients sniff violets to overcome migraine headaches. Paolo Rovesti, M.D., director of the Instituto Derivati Vegetali in Milan, Italy, used fragrances to this effect on his patients in the 1970s and 1980s. The fragrances he chose where the same ones that perfumers would describe as being “herbal” or “green” such as rose, cypress , lavender, violet leaf and marjoram.
Marjoram has been used through the centuries to help alleviate feelings of anxiety. Greek and Roman texts state that marjoram “strengthens” the emotions. John Gerard, a 16th century herbalist, recommended that his patients “given to much sighing” sniff marjoram. Herbalists often use marjoram to treat specific states of anxiety such as loneliness, grief and rejection.
J.J. King, M.D., a psychiatrist at the Smallwood Day Hospital in Redditch, Worcestershire, England, has used scents combined with relaxation techniques. Once his patient has learned to associate a certain scent with relaxation, they can then use that scent to experience relaxation at any time with a simple sniff. Scents he used to help his patients control anxiety include rose, cedarwood, balsam fir, bergamot and lavender.
Aromatherapy has been used through the ages to overcome grief, sadness and anxiety. The ancient Egyptians and Greeks were said to use hyssop, marjoram and cypress to ease the feelings of grief. The ancient Indians and Egyptians used sandalwood to comfort those who were dealing with grief. Early Europeans used sage, clary sage and rosemary.
We all find ourselves dealing with anxiety at some point in our life. Some people find themselves overcome with the stress of everyday life and must deal with it daily. How wonderful that something as simple as a fragrance might be the answer to overcoming anxiety.
To create an anti-anxiety fragrance, combine the following: 4 ounces sweet almond oil, 10 drops lavender essential oil, 10 drops orange essential oil, 2 drops marjoram essential oil, and 2 drops cedarwood essential oil. Store in a small bottle, open and sniff when needed to overcome anxiety.
Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, a pet or a job, we all find ourselves having to deal with sorrow and grief from time to time. Let’s look at a mixture of oils that can help deal with feelings of grief and sorrow.
To create a fragrance that combats feelings of grief and sorrow, combine the following: 4 ounces sweet almond oil, 10 drops marjoram essential oil, 5 drops clary sage essential oil, 5 drops rosemary essential oil and 1 drop lemon essential oil. Store in a small bottle; open and sniff to ease any feelings of sorrow and grief.
Both the anti-anxiety recipe and the anti-grief recipe can be used as a bath oil to create a relaxing and comforting bathing experience.
Using Aromatherapy to Overcome Depression
According to research completed by psychologist Steve Van Toler, PhD and biochemist George H. Dodd, PhD, at the Warwick Olfaction Research Group in England, the effect that fragrance has on the brain is similar to that of some antidepressant drugs. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if something as simple as an aromatherapy prescription could treat depression, anxiety and other emotional issues?
This technique has actually been used experimentally at a convalescent clinic in Baku, Azerbaijan. At this clinic a prescription to spend 10 minutes two times a week in a special sunroom sniffing plants would be dispensed. One such plant used in the “sniffing room” was the rose geranium which was used to combat insomnia and headaches caused by worry and depression.
Depression limits the quality of life for millions of people daily. The scents provided by an orange tree might be the answer to the problem of depression. Even something as simple as peeling an orange which releases the essential oil into the air can be a quick pick me up. Orange essential oil, which is produced from the orange peel, is easy to acquire and inexpensive. Severe depression may respond to the use of neroli essential oil which is produced from the orange blossom, or its less expensive cousin, petitgrain, which comes from the stem behind the orange blossom.
Dr. Paolo Rovesti, M.D., mentioned earlier in our discussion concerning anxiety, has successfully used essential oils such as bergamot, jasmine, orange, sandalwood, ylang-ylang, lemon and lemon verbena to treat depression. He described their effect:
“Patients feel as if transported by the perfume of the essential oil into a different, more agreeable and acceptable world, so that many of their reactive instincts are curbed and they gradually return towards normality.”
Fragrances and scents have been used for centuries by European herbalists to treat and control depression. European herbalists in the 16th and 17th centuries used lemon balm and clary sage to treat the symptoms of depression, paranoia and mental fatigue. John Gerard, a 16th century herbalist, recommended sniffing lemon balm to “gladden the heart” and basil to “taketh away sorrowfulness.”
If you find yourself dealing with feelings of sadness and/or depression, consider this mixture of oils to lift your spirits.
Combine the following: 4 ounces sweet almond oil, 10 drops bergamot essential oil, 10 drops petitgrain essential oil, 3 drops rose geranium essential oil, and 1 drop neroli essential oil. Store in a small bottle, open and sniff as needed to overcome feelings of depression. If creating this mixture for children, consider replacing the petitgrain with grapefruit or tangerine essential oil. These oils are more appealing to children.
As with the anti-anxiety oil blend, this mixture can be used as a bath oil to create a relaxing and comforting bathing experience.
In summary, if you find yourself overcome with feelings of anxiety or depression, consider the use of these essential oil blends as part of your treatment plan. Essential oils can be used independently as a natural treatment or as a complementary therapy to conventional medicine.
Photo credit: Essential Oils
Sources: Damian, Peter and Kate; Aromatherapy: Scent and Psyche, Using Essential Oils for Physical and Emotion Well-Being; Healing Arts Press 1995; Print; Aromatherapy; Johnson, Thomas; The Herbal or General History of Plants by John Gerard; Dover Publications 1975; Print; Keville, Kathi; Green, Mindy; Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art; Crossing Press 1995; Print