Aromatherapy/Essential Oils for Depression

Depression is a mood disorder that interferes with daily life. Antidepressants are usually prescribed for depression, but they often cause unpleasant side effects that can include headache, nausea, insomnia, agitation, and even thoughts of suicide, particularly in adolescents. Essential oils used in aromatherapy can bring relief from many of the symptoms of depression without the possibility of these serious side effects.

How Can Aromatherapy Help Depression?

Aromatherapy uses essential oils, which are distilled from aromatic herbs. Inhalation of these scents seems to have an effect on the brain, including the areas that control moods and emotions. The essential oils can be used for mild to moderate depression as well as ordinary feelings of sadness, anxiety or grief.

Essential oils that can reduce anxiety and help you feel relaxed include:

  • German and Roman chamomiles (Matricaria recutita; Chamaemelum nobile)
  • Clary sage (Salvia sclarea)
  • Frankincense (Boswellia carterii)
  • Geranium (Pelargonium spp.)
  • Jasmine (Jasminum grandiflorum)
  • Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
  • Lemon (Citrus limonum)
  • Melissa (Melissa officinalis)
  • Neroli (Citrus aurantium)
  • Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin)
  • Rose (Rosa damascena)
  • Spruce (Picea mariana, Picea pungens)
  • Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanoides)
  • Ylang ylang (Canangium odorata)

Feelings of fatigue can be helped by these essential oils:

  • Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
  • Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens)
  • Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum)
  • Lavender (Lavandual angustifolia)
  • Lemon (Citrus limonum)
  • Neroli (Citrus aurantium)
  • Orange (Citrus aurantium)
  • Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
  • Pine (Pinus sylvestris)
  • Rose (Rosa damascena)
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
  • Spruce (Picea mariana, Picea pungens)

Try a variety of oils and see which scents you find appealing and uplifting.

How to Use Essential Oils for Depression

The easiest way to use aromatherapy to improve your mood is to simply open a bottle of essential oil and sniff it for fast relief. The effects of aromatherapy can be immediate as your mind reacts to the scent of the essential oils.

Additional methods of using aromatherapy include:

  • Room diffusers – These typically consist of a candle under a bowl-shaped holder where water and an essential oil are mixed. The candle heats the oil, which allows the scent to diffuse throughout the room. Diffusers are commercially available.
  • Room mister or spray – By putting a few drops of essential oil into a spray bottle with water you can spritz an entire room. Changing the scent of your surroundings can alter your entire perspective of the world around you.
  • Lotion or body products – This can either be a commercially available product or you make one yourself by adding 20 or so drops of essential oil to your regular hand lotion.
  • Drop on a pillowcase at night – Put one or two drops of essential oil either directly on your pillowcase or on a cotton ball under your pillowcase. The aroma can help you sleep deeper and fall asleep faster. A good nights sleep is helpful in difficult emotional times.
  • Bath – Put 10 drops or so of essential oil diluted in a tablespoon of olive oil in your bath water. The warm water will help the aroma disperse. The mixture of the pleasant warm water and aromatherapy will help release your mind from your troubles.
  • Massage oil – This can be a commercial product or you can add 20 drops or so of essential oil to two ounces of olive oil or grapeseed oil to use as massage oil. Mixing massage and aromatherapy can be an effective method to unwind and balance your emotions.

Is Aromatherapy Safe and Effective?

There are very few risks involved in using aromatherapy, far fewer than conventional psychotropic drugs. There are, however, many unscrupulous vendors of aromatherapy products. It is wise to not use essential oils directly on the skin as sensitization can occur. Always dilute an essential oil in an oil such as grapeseed or olive oil before putting it on your skin.

The use of aromatherapy is currently being widely researched. Some scientific studies have found that massage with lavender oil improved quality of life in cancer patients and that lemon oil decreased stress and had antidepressant effects in mice.

Types of Depression

There are several forms of depression; the two major types are major depressive disorder and dysthymic disorder. Major depressive disorder or major depression is a disabling disease that interferes with a person’s ability to work, sleep, eat, or function normally. Activities that the individual once found pleasurable are no longer such. Major depression is also termed clinical depression.

Dysthymic disorder or dysthmia is less severe than major depression but is characterized by its long term; two or more years of duration. Dysthymic disorder includes mild and moderate depression.

Although depression is different than grief, it can be associated with an event. For instance, postnatal depression, also called postpartum depression, follows the birth of a child. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression which occurs mainly in winter due to diminishing daylight. The cause of depression is typically unknown, but its roots are deep within the brain and involve various neurotransmitters.

How is Depression Diagnosed?

Symptoms of depression are many and include:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Diminished sex drive
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Loss of interest in normal activities
  • Loss of concentration

Actual diagnosis of depression is determined by guidelines described in both the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) or the International Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-10). Severity of the depression can be determined by a number of rating scales including the Hamilton Depression Rating (HAM-D).

Additional Resources

National Mental Institutes of Health.

Lundbeck Institute Brain Explorer.

Nature’s Gift listing oils for various emotional states.

Aroma Web on Depression.

© 2017 altMD, LLC. All rights reserved. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of altMD's terms of service and privacy policy and cookie policy and Health Disclaimer. The material on this site is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified health care provider.