Depression can be a debilitating mental health condition that affects how you think, feel, and act. While considered a mood disorder, depression can cause both emotional and physical symptoms including:
- Sleeping problems
- Concentration problems
Depression is a major issue facing our youth and young adults across the United States. According to the National Institute of Health:
Major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability in the United States for people ages 15 — 44, affecting approximately 14.8 million American adults. A less severe form of depression, dysthymic disorder, affects approximately 3.3 million American adults. Anxiety disorders affect 40 million American adults, and frequently co-occur with depressive disorders.
In this post, we will explore depression in more detail and outline a holistic treatment approach called Aromatherapy. We’ll also review 10 of the best essential oils for depression used in aromatherapy.
How Does Depression Affect Your Brain?
Depression, known as major depressive disorder or clinical depression, is a common and very serious mood disorder. If you suffer from depression, you often experience feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and lose interest in activities you once enjoyed participating in.
Beyond emotional symptoms, depression can cause physical, mental, and social problems.
Depression affects several parts of your brain including: the hippocampus, the amygdala, and the prefrontal cortex.
The hippocampus is known as our memory center and produces a chemical stress hormone known as cortisol. Excessive release from situations involving high anxiety or from chemical imbalances can cause neurons to shrink. This reaction is linked to symptoms of depression such as having trouble concentrating and memory loss.
The amygdala portion of your brain determines if you feel pleasure of fear in certain situations. During depression, excessive levels of cortisol are released which causes the amygdala to be hyperactive and enlarged. This in turn releases unnecessary chemicals and hormones which can cause further complications. Sleep can be disrupted by a hyperactive amygdala.
Your prefrontal cortex is responsible for regulating emotions, decision making, and memory making. When your hippocampus releases too much cortisol, your prefrontal cortex shrinks, which lowers your ability to think, remember information, and causes issues to your decision making processes.
Benefits of Essential Oils for Depression
More and more, depression sufferers are searching for holistic healing options that can support their treatment plan, which typically includes therapy and medication. Medications, however, can present unwanted side effects. It’s important to note that essential oils do not cure depression. They are a drug-free alternative option that may help relieve some symptoms of depression and help you better manage your condition. In most cases, essential oils are safe to use if used properly and carefully.
How Do Essential Oils Improve Mental Health?
…written records about medicinal plants dated back at least 5,000 years to the Sumerians, who described well-established medicinal uses for such plants as laurel, caraway, and thyme , archeological studies have shown that the practice of herbal medicine dates as far back as 60,000 years ago in Iraq and 8,000 years ago in China.
In fact, medicine was often made from plants prior to the rise of western pharmaceuticals. Essential oils are intense extracts taken from plants. Inside these extracts are chemical compounds that can positively affect the chemicals in your brain.
While plants can be eaten to heal your body from within, essential oils can be used through aromatherapy. Think back when you saw a beautiful landscape or heard your favorite song come on the radio, you most likely received an instant boost in mood. Essential oils can do the same by affecting your sense of smell, which is one of the most powerful senses we possess.
Using essential oils for depression in your daily routine can help lower the severity and frequency of this condition. According to the National Institute of Health in a study reviewing the effectiveness of aromatherapy for depression:
Inhalation aromatherapy showed to be effective, but further studies will be needed to have more conclusive evidence on this aromatherapy modality. In the overall analysis carried out, aromatherapy showed potential to be used as an effective therapeutic option for the relief of depressive symptoms in a wide variety of subjects.
There are many essential oils that can be used to improve your overall health. When searching for the best essential oils for depression, scientists keep specific chemical compounds in mind. Keep in mind that data on research, potential benefits, risks, and efficacy are often limited. Let’s jump into our top 10 essential oils for depression:
1. Lavender Essential Oils
Lavender oil is one of the most common oils used in aromatherapy. It’s floral scent can provide a calming effect and help to lower your cortisol levels and regulate your nervous system.
Benefits of Lavender Essential Oils
- Lowering anxiety
- Decrease stress
- Improve mood
- More relaxation
Research suggests that lavender aromatherapy may help you:
- decrease stress levels
- improve your mood
- relieve your anxiety
Studies also show that lavender aromatherapy significantly lowered stress, anxiety, and depression in a group of patients over a 4 week period. Lavender is a top choice as an essential oil for depression.
2. Ginger Essential Oils
Ginger directly affects the serotonergic system in your body. This system can be positively affected by ginger aromatherapy similarly in the way an antidepressant would.
Benefits of Ginger Essential Oils
- Decreasing stress
- Lowering symptoms associated with depression
An animal study in 2011 suggests that ginger may protect the brain from damage related to stress. Researchers discovered that stressed rats that received ginger extracts were more protected from brain damages caused by stress. Another animal study concluded that ginger extracts can reduce anxiety.
3. Frankincense Essential Oils
Frankincense is a popular essential oil for depression because when inhaled through aromatherapy, can boost mood and decrease your cortisol levels. It can also activate the part of your brain which makes you feel good.
Benefits of Frankincense Essential Oils
- Boost your mood
- Decrease cortisol levels
- Make you feel good
According to the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology:
Burning frankincense (resin from the Boswellia plant) activates poorly understood ion channels in the brain to alleviate anxiety or depression. This suggests that an entirely new class of depression and anxiety drugs might be right under our noses.
4. Bergamot Essential Oils
Bergamot essential oils are best used to treat anxiety, which is a common side effect of depression. Bergamot is a citrus-y scent that offers a calming and uplifting effect.
Benefits of Bergamot Essential Oils
- Calming effect
- Lowering symptoms of anxiety
In 2013, a study introduced bergamot aromatherapy to see if it could be used to lower anxiety in patients awaiting surgery. According to the study:
A total of 109 preoperative patients were randomly assigned to experimental (bergamot essential oil) and control (water vapor) conditions and their responses to the State Trait Anxiety Inventory and vital signs were monitored. Patients were stratified by previous surgical experience, but that did not influence the results. All those exposed to bergamot essential oil aromatherapy showed a greater reduction in preoperative anxiety than those in the control groups. Aromatherapy may be a useful part of a holistic approach to reducing preoperative anxiety before ambulatory surgery.
While anxiety is a different disorder than depression, they are often intertwined, making bergamot a great essential oil for depression.
5. Chamomile Essential Oils
Like bergamot above, chamomile is used to lower levels of anxiety and can actually lower inflammation in your body similarly to other medications. Inflammation has been shown to be directly linked to depression. A study found that eating chamomile showed a clinical reduction in depression scores compared to those tested who took a placebo.
Benefits of Chamomile Essential Oils
- Lowering of anxiety
- Lower inflammation levels
6. Cedarwood Essential Oils
Cedarwood has been used for stress relief and may offer benefits to your mood.
Benefits of Cedarwood Essential Oils
- Improving your mood
- Reducing stress
- Lowering anxiety symptoms
According to an animal study in Physiology and Behavior, the cedrol in cedarwood oil may soothe your mood, reduce stress, and benefit potentially lowering anxiety symptoms.
7. Sandalwood Essential Oils
According to research, one of the major compounds found in sandalwood called alpha-santalol, can improve your mood and make you more attentive. It can also potentially improve symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression too.
Benefits of Sandalwood Essential Oils
- Improving your mood
- Lowering stress
- Mental sharpness
8. Jasmine Essential Oils
Jasmine when inhaled may effectively increase positive mood. According to the Journal of Health Research’s study:
Our study shows a stimulating effect of inhaling jasmine oil. The findings suggest that brain wave activity and emotions. The results lend some support for including jasmine oil in the group of stimulating essential oils.
Benefits of Jasmine Essential Oils
- Improving mood
- Feeling more positive
- Having more energy
9. Grapefruit Essential Oils
Grapefruit oils have been shown to improve mood, fight fatigue, brain fog, and even depression symptoms.
According to research at the Department of Applied Chemistry at Kinki University in Japan, grapefruit essential oil inhibits acetylcholinesterase activity, also known as AChE. Because grapefruit inhibits AChE from breaking down acetycholine, both the level and duration of action of the neurotransmitter increases, thus improving a person’s mood.
Benefits of Grapefruit Essential Oils
- Improving mood
- Lessening brain fog
- Lowering of stress
- Lowering depressive symptoms
10. Sweet Orange Essential Oils
Sweet orange oils through aromatherapy appear to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, although more studies are needed, according to a 2012 study:
Although more studies are needed to find out the clinical relevance of aromatherapy for anxiety disorders, the present results indicate an acute anxiolytic activity of sweet orange aroma, giving some scientific support to its use as a tranquilizer by aromatherapists.
Benefits of Sweet Orange Essential Oils
- Reducing symptoms of anxiety
- Calming effect
- Potential lowering of depressive symptoms
How to Use Essential Oils for Depression
Our list above of the top 10 essential oils for depression are primarily recognized for their aromatic effects on depression and the symptoms associated with depression. Here are some common ways you can use the above essential oils to benefit you:
- Inhale the scent directly from the essential oil’s bottle or inhaler tube
- Add a few drops to a diffuser and inhale directly
- Add a few drops to a cotton ball and inhale directly
- Add several drops in your next bath along with honey, milk, or carrier oil
- Add a few drops to your favorite massage oil and get an aromatherapy massage
Risks and Warnings
Pregnant women, people with respiratory problems, and children should avoid using essential oils unless under the supervision of a medical professional.
Final Thoughts on Essential Oils for Depression
Thank you for reading our article on essential oils for depression. Essential oils through aromatherapy can be a great holistic approach to reducing symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression. While more studies are needed, research is showing promising benefits of essential oils for depression.
Although Major Depressive Disorder can be treated, there is no “cure.” Remission is the goal of treatment by trained and licensed professionals. Remission varies from person to person. Some people may have few to no symptoms remaining, while others may still experience some of the symptoms outlined in the DSM-5.
If you need help, there is hope! Reach out to a licensed mental health professional that treats depression. If you are in need of immediate assistance, please dial 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 (800) 273-8255.