Treating Depression With Aromatherapy by Misty Rae Cech
A fantastic and mysterious relationship is continuously unfolding between plants and their surroundings. These organic green machines are ceaselessly performing a glorious alchemy with water, soil, air and sunlight. The nearly infinite possible combinations of plant genetics and environmental conditions on the face of the earth have allowed for an almost immeasurable diversity of alchemal floral expression, resulting in a vast array of natural botanical materials. These range from simple staple foodstuffs to gourmet fruits and vegetables, from rich exotic spices to effective medicinal herbs, and from enchanting natural perfumes to complex therapeutic essential oils. Mankind is reaching ever further into the jungles and rainforests, knowing that nature is the true master of creation in these fields.
The line between food-plants and medicinal herbs is a fuzzy one. Science regularly reports newfound medicinal effects in plants once taken for granted; many fruits once thought quite plain contain some of the world’s most potent anti-cancer agents. The same goes for teas – green tea is one of the most potent anti-oxidants known – and spices – cinnamon may prevent the onset of debilitating diabetes – and this list continues to grow. This same lack of distinction exists between natural fragrances and therapeutic essential oils. The oil of a rose, laden with Citronellol, does triple duty as a perfume, an effective agent against the herpes simplex virus, and an uplifting aromatic that can help one open emotionally after a traumatizing experience.
The use of so-called ‘alternative’ therapies is on the rise; more individuals are turning to the wisdom of nature for assistance for all types of ailments, both physical and psychological. Interestingly, the source of most ills, from a naturopathic point of view, is being out-of-balance with nature. Eating unnatural things, following unnatural cycles,and living in unnatural environments. Lack of balance with the earth, from which we are made and upon which we live, leads to ‘dis-ease’ in our bodies and minds. As plants have created their wondrous botanical materials in a process guided by the rhythms of the heavens and earth, we may look to ‘plant wisdom’ to lead our way back into balance.
A depressed emotional state is a common reasons for using complementary and alternative therapies today. A wide range of psychological, physical, and energetic issues 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. The use of essential oils for uplifting the psyche and spirit is becoming more widespread because of the oils’ broad and dramatic effects. While the oils themselves may not directly affect the underlying cause of depression, they may 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. Many natural healers believe depression to be a result of, like many other ills, of being out of balance; being unable to ‘synch up’ with the natural state of harmony that permeates the universe. For relieving this is-harmony, aromatherapy can be a very powerful means to infuse one’s body and mind with the most concentrated, sublime botanicals nature has to offer.
In humans, the olfactory (sense of smell) region is an area of about 2 and a half square centimeters, and is located in each of the two nasal cavities between and below the eyes. Containing approximately fifty million primary sensory receptor cells, this region is highly intricate, being 10,000 times more perceptive than the sense of taste. When compared to sight, we find that olfaction is more complex – it is able to distinguish a nearly infinite number of element compounds at very low concentrations. In order to perceive the visible spectrum, humans use only three types of photoreceptors; in contrast, the sense of smell relies on several hundred distinct classes of receptors.
Modern research has shown natural plant 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, volatile plant oils enter the brain, producing direct and powerful systemic 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.
In both Naturopathy and Ayurvedic Medicine (The Science of Life), essential oils are considered to enhance the flow of prana (essential life force), enhance and nourish ojas (sustaining energy and immunological essence), and brighten tejas (clarity and mental luminosity). In Traditional Chinese Medicine, essential oils in general are medicines for the Shen, the spiritual essence that resides in the heart and guides and governs consciousness. Used consciously, essential oils powerfully enhance positive mental and emotional states.
Further, the medicinal properties of essential oils, through their ability to support physiological healing, can also be of great benefit to the heart and mind. A Korean study on the effect of aromatherapy on pain in patients with arthritis found that receiving massage with lavender, marjoram, eucalyptus, rosemary, and peppermint oils significantly decreased both the pain AND mental depression levels.
Following are some oils that have a reputation for up-lifting Shen, enhancing prana, nourishing ojas, and brightening tejas – combinations that may have marked effects on symptoms of depression. These oils can be used alone or in combination in a nebulizing diffuser (producing a fine mist of oils for inhalation), 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 gently uplift. In terms of Chinese medicine, this is a direct result of its smoothing the flow of Liver-Qi (‘Chi’ or Life Force), the liver being thought of as the seat of the eternal soul. Bergamot combines the ability to both relax the nerves and refresh the Spirit; it is suitable for many types of depressive states.
Neroli (from the flower of bitter oranges), like Bergamot, regulates the Qi – and like Jasmine flower oil, comforts the mind and heart. Neroli is called for at a core level, for the type of depression that comes from nervous and emotional exhaustion. Neroli uplifts the mind and Spirit with its potential to nourish and unify. Neroli assists in retrieving and releasing repressed emotions, with potential to nourish and unify a fragmented psyche. Neroli is specifically indicated for individuals who, in order to escape from emotional pain and suffering, cut themselves off from their feelings and senses.
The Chamomiles (German and Roman) are wonderful oils to use when the depression manifests in a moody, irritable, dissatisfied outward expression associated with stagnant Liver-Qi. These flower oils are earthy, rich, and grounding with subtle uplifting qualities.
When depression is of a Fire (overly aggressive) nature, it often involves an imbalance of joy and love – the root emotions of the heart and mind. Joy is an extension of Shen’s (spiritual essence’s) innate sense of harmony and perfection, an experience of emotional and spiritual well-being. The depression that afflicts the heart and Shen involves a loss of one’s natural sense of joy. There is often an accompanied lack of enthusiasm and interest as well as an inability to become inspired. Rose otto – steam distilled rose essential oil – or Rose Absolute may have a profound effect on this state. Rose is thought the premier heart opening aromatic, bringing joy, uplifting and restoring balance.
What follows are a few recipes for uplifting and releasing depressed emotional states – use your intuition to find the right one. Often, the single essential oil or blend you find most attractive will be the one that serves you best. Experiment, explore, and have fun with these fantastic gifts of nature. These blends may be used in a diffuser or candle lamp, unless where a carrier oil is indicated – blends with carriers are intended specifically for aromatherapy massage (self-massage is very effective, as well as a simple massage from a friend or loved one).
For releasing and opening the heart: 1 part Rose 3 parts Sandalwood 1 part Sweet Orange or Bergamot; 3 parts Jasmine 1 part Ylang Ylang 1 part Sandalwood
Brightening, refreshing and uplifting: 3 parts Bergamot 1 part Ylang Ylang 1 part Grapefruit; 2 parts Bergamot 2 parts Clary Sage 1 part Frankincense; 3 parts Bergamot or Sweet Orange 2 parts Clary Sage; 2 parts Frankincense 1 part Lemon 1 part either Jasmine or Neroli
Nourishing: 1 part (Roman) Chamomile 1 part Vanilla 10 parts Carrier oil of choice
Floral and earthy (uplifting and softening to Spirit): 1 part Neroli 1 part Vanilla 1 part Orange 1 part Sandalwood; 1 part Chamomile 1 part Bergamot 1 part Helichrysum
Single oils can also be used, and should be investigated so one can learn the different energies of each plant. For depression associated with negativity: Bergamot, Chamomile, Helichrysum, Neroli, or Sweet Orange. For a profound lack of joy, try Rose, Jasmine, Patchouli, or Ylang Ylang. For overthinking and worry, try Frankincense, Lemon, Marjoram, Myrrh or Vetiver. For pessimism, regret and remorse, try Clary Sage, Cypress, Hyssop, or Pine needle. For doubt of one’s capacity to cope with overwhelming situations, try Juniper Berry.
For cases of moderate to severe depression, professional help should always be sought. It is important to consider if you one requires professional help if the depression is overwhelming – while aromatherapy can provide support in a significant number of situations, it may not be for everyone. Essential oils can safely be used in conjunction with other treatments – consult your care giver to ensure there are no conflicts if medications have been prescribed.