Which Essential Oils Can Help with Depression

(Last Updated On: August 3, 2018)

Depression is when someone feels low in mood to the extent that it begins to affect their everyday life. The condition can range from mild depression, which is where someone is low in mood and they lose motivation and enjoyment of the things they usually like to do, to severe depression, where a person can feel suicidal and stop functioning.

We all feel down from time to time, but low mood becomes depression when it interferes with our lives, and it doesn’t go away after a few weeks.

According to the World Health Organization, major depression also results in the highest incidence of disability of the mental and behavioural disorders. In 2013, around 15.7 million adults aged 18 or older in the U.S. had at least one episode of clinical depression in the past year. This represents around 6.7 percent of all U.S. adults.

Different types of depression

As well as being classed as mild, moderate or severe, there are specific types of depression.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

This usually occurs in the winter, and it has been linked to a lack of daylight. Sufferers experience a low mood in the winter months.

Dysthymia

This is a persistent low mood that lasts for 2 years or sometimes even longer.

Postnatal depression (PND)

This occurs due to hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy, and after childbirth. Lack of sleep and the demands of a newborn can also add to the problem.

Symptoms of depression

Symptoms can vary but sufferers experience most, if not all of these symptoms:

Feeling upset or tearful

Feeling irritable

Feeling worthless

Feeling numb

Finding no pleasure in things you usually enjoy

Avoiding people and social activities

Loss of concentration and memory

Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much

Having no appetite and losing weight or eating too much and gaining weight

Causes of depression

Chemical imbalance

This is a common explanation, but the evidence is limited. It is not known whether depression causes changes in brain chemistry or vice versa.

Childhood experiences

Difficult or painful experiences in childhood can make you more susceptible to depression in adulthood. Any form of abuse, a traumatic event or the death of a loved one can all contribute. Childhood difficulties can also lead to problems with self-esteem, and with how you cope with things that happen in life.

Life events

Depression can be triggered by stressful life events, such as the loss of a loved one, a divorce, or losing your job

Other mental health problems

Depression goes hand in hand with some other mental health problems, such as anxiety, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress.

Physical health problems

Physical health and mental health are not 2 separate entities. If your physical health is poor, it will impact upon your mood. If you have a chronic or life-threatening illness, you might feel depressed. Other health problems which can cause depression include issues with the thyroid, menstrual problems, and sleep disorders.

Genetics

Research has suggested that if a close family member has suffered from depression, that you are more likely to. Though it is not clear whether this link is biological, or whether growing up around this behaviour has impacted upon a person.

Medication, drugs and alcohol

Medicines can cause depressive symptoms, so always check the list of side effects and speak to your doctor if you feel you are being affected in this way. Alcohol and other recreational drugs can make you feel depressed. People use them as a way to cope with bad things that happen, but they will make you feel worse in the long run and they bring with them their own set of problems.

Sleep, diet and exercise

If you eat an unhealthy diet and don’t take enough exercise, you will feel unfit, sluggish, and down on yourself. Quality sleep is needed to replenish our reserves and make us feel refreshed, and if we don’t get enough sleep, we can feel low in mood and irritable.

How is depression treated?

Treatments like psychotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy

Talking treatments

Treatments like psychotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy can help you to understand why you react to things as you do, and what impact that the way you think has upon your mood and mental state.

Medication

Medications for depression are categorised an SSRI’s, tricyclic antidepressants or MAOI’s. This sounds complicated but their job is to change the chemistry in your brain. An imbalance of certain brain chemicals such as serotonin has been linked to depressive symptoms. These medications can be very helpful, though they can have considerable side effects, so your doctor should always discuss the possibility of these with you.

Other treatments

Exercise programmes, art therapy, mindfulness, support groups, and alternative therapies are alternative forms of treatment for depressive symptoms.

Essential oils

Medication is the go to treatment for depression

Medication is the go to treatment for depression in the majority of cases, and while it does have its place, have you considered trying something more natural to restore mental balance?

What are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are made from the leaves, stems, bark, root, or other parts of a plant, and they are extracted by a distillation process. The oils are literally the essence of a plant. They are very concentrated, and so often need to be diluted before they are used. The chemical makeup and aroma of the oils can bring therapeutic benefits. The oils are often diluted with a carrier oil such as sweet almond oil before they are applied to the skin. They can also be inhaled, and enter the bloodstream through the lungs.

How do you use essential oils?

Inhalation from a tissue

Put a few drops of the oil on a tissue and inhale. This will help to check for possible sensitivity to the oil too.

Steam Inhalation

Boil 2 cups of water, add the water to a bowl, then add between 3 and 7 drops of your chosen oil to the water. Sit with your head about 12 inches from the bowl and inhale. This can help with colds and flu, if you have congestion, or you can inhale a relaxing oil such as lavender before bed.

Use a diffuser

You can put the oil in a diffuser so it diffuses throughout a room. Try a relaxing one in your bedroom.

Massage

Add around 20 drops of your chosen oil to a carrier oil like sweet almond oil, and use it to massage yourself. Never use undiluted oils on the skin and always be sure to check for contraindications.

Put them in the bath

Add 5-7 drops of your chosen oil to a carrier oil and add the blend to your bath. Again, be sure about the safety instructions, and ensure that you rinse your bath afterwards as the oil can leave a slippery film on the base of the bath.

Essential oils for depression

Clinical trials have shown essential oils do lift mood. This is thought to be because aromas go straight to the brain, and they can trigger emotions. The brain evaluates the scent and triggers a response, such as attraction or a particular memory. Here are the top oils which have been found to help when you have depression:

Bergamot

This is a stimulating oil. It improves blood circulation and creates a feeling of being energetic. A 2011 study also found that it can lower anxiety. Another study tested the efficacy of bergamot mixed with another oil for treating depression. Participants in the study had their blood pressure and pulse rate taken, plus they were asked to rate their own mood. Other participants were given a placebo. Those given the essential oil were found to have lower blood pressure and pulse rates, and they rated themselves as more calm and relaxed than those who were given the placebo.

How to use it

Rub 2-3 drops of bergamot oil in your hands and cup your mouth and nose. Inhale the oil. You can also rub it on your feet and stomach.

Lavender oil

Lavender oil has been used for a long time to treat depression. A study in the International Journal of Psychiatry found that 80 mg capsules of lavender oil could help to improve depressive symptoms. They did this without having any adverse side effects too. This is big news, as traditional antidepressants can have intolerable side effects.

A 2012 study in the journal Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice found that postnatal depression was significantly reduced in women who were at high risk of becoming very unwell. All they had done was diffused lavender oil in their home for 4 weeks.

Another study carried out on people who suffered from post- traumatic stress disorder found that daily use of lavender oil helped to improve mood and reduce other depressive symptoms such as sleep disturbance in 47 people.

How to use it

To combat stress and improve sleep, put a diffuser in your bedroom and diffuse the oils at night, or diffuse them while you’re relaxing in the evening. The oil can be applied behind the ears for a similar effect.

Roman Chamomile

Chamomile is well known for being used to relieve stress and induce relaxation. Chamomile is an ingredient in candles and other relaxing aromatherapy products, and teas. Research into alternative therapies and depression has shown that inhaling the vapour from chamomile oil can relieve anxiety and reduce depression.

Ylang Ylang

This oil is known for helping to reduce depressive symptoms and negative emotions. Inhaling the oil has been shown to have immediate effects on mood, and anecdotal evidence has suggested that it can calm anger and boost self-esteem. Ylang ylang has a sedative effect which can help you to relax.

How to use it

Diffuse the oil in your home or apply it to the skin and give yourself a massage.

How to use essential oils to help with depression

There are a few ways to use oil for depression. To relieve stress and get a better sleep, put the oil in a diffuser by your bed so it can work while you sleep. You can also apply it topically, behind your ears, on the back of your neck, on your stomach or on the soles of your feet. You can also make a massage oil blend.

Lavender and Chamomile massage blend

What you’ll need

20–30 drops pure lavender essential oil

20–30 drops pure chamomile essential oil

2 ounces grapeseed oil

How to make it

Blend all the ingredients well and pour them into a glass jar.

Massage the oil into your entire body, or take it to a masseuse and ask him or her to use it during your treatments, at least 2–3 times per month.

You can also use it as a hand and neck massage oil daily or even massage it into the bottoms of your feet at night before going to bed.

Are essential oils safe?

They are very concentrated so they should be used sparingly. Some essential oils might cause reactions and sensitivity, especially citrus based oils, so always test a drop in the inside of your upper arm to see if your skin reacts. Just because essential oils are a natural product, it does not mean that they are safe. They may interact with medications you are taking or they may worsen an existing health condition. If in doubt, speak to a doctor or another qualified health practitioner. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding this is especially important, and never use them on children without checking out whether they are suitable.

Final thoughts

Depression is a devastating illness. Many of us feel down in the dumps every now and then, but when does this become depression? It becomes depression when the low mood persists for weeks and months and it starts to affect your daily life. You might feel sad, tearful, irritable and anxious. You might start sleeping too much, or struggle to get to sleep. You might lose your appetite and lose weight, or you might turn to food for comfort and eat too little.

Depression ranges from being classed as mild, where a person might have a low mood, but they can still function to an extent, to severe, where a person can barely function. They might stop looking after themselves or feel suicidal. The toughest thing for a person with depression is seeking help. But there is help available.

The first port of call for many people is their doctor, who will usually prescribe medication, talking therapies, or other alternative treatments such as exercise or group therapy. Medication is often resisted initially by people, as many psychiatric drugs have terrible side effects, which many people aren’t able to tolerate. But medication does have its place, and it is a lifeline for many.

Talking therapies are helpful as they explore thoughts and behaviours, and they can help you to understand your condition. Other forms of treatment such as exercise have been shown to be very effective, and obviously don’t have side effects like medication.

But medication is not the only answer, and many people with depression will research their condition and look for alternative treatment options. Essential oils are one of these options. Essential oils have been used in various research studies, and have been found to successfully alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Essential oils are the extracted from a plant using a distillation technique. They are the concentrated essence of a plant. They are usually either inhaled, put in a diffuser, put into a bath or massaged into the skin. Inhalation has been found to be particularly effective for depression, as when we smell an aroma, it travels directly to our brain, and it evokes emotional responses and memories. Some scents in particular are useful in cases of depression. Bergamot is a stimulating oil which boosts energy and makes you feel positive. This is important for people suffering from depression, who will often lack energy and feel very negative.

Lavender is a well-known relaxant, and many aromatherapy products that are geared towards helping us sleep contain lavender. Lavender is a soothing oil, and it’s a good idea to put it into a diffuser either in your living room when you are relaxing in the evening or in your bedroom so it can take effect while you’re in bed.

Chamomile is another well-known soothing oil. Chamomile tea is often touted as being a relaxation aid and the oil is used in many aromatherapy products that are aimed at relieving stress and anxiety.

Ylang ylang is another soothing oil. It is said to help you to release pent up emotions, and this is where a lot of depression comes from. Depression can be pent up anger, anxiety, worry, or frustration. It smells good too and it makes for a gorgeous relaxing massage blend.

Using oils to treat depression is an exciting concept, as currently the available medication for the condition has intolerable side effects. Using something naturally derived to restore mental balance might be just what someone needs at a time when they feel completely out of balance.  

Written by Irina Radosevic MD
Irina graduated from the University of Belgrade, School of Medicine as a Doctor of Medicine (MD) and spent over 3 years working in the Clinical Hospital Center Zvezdara, in the Department of Emergency Medicine. She also undertook a postgraduate in Cardiology from the same University and had previously worked for over a year as a Physician and Nutritionist Dietitian for the Fitness club Green Zone. She eventually left her chaotic but fulfilling job in the ER to pursue her passion of writing, travelling and mountain climbing which has included writing a first aid course for the alpine club of Belgrade. Irina currently works as a VA for PintMedia focusing on medical and travel writing. Feel free to connect with Irina on LinkedIn and FaceBook. Her CV can be seen here.