How Aromatherapy Can Help Symptoms of Winter Depression
Scents to comfort, boost energy, and balance emotions
Photo courtesy of @lelia_milaya/Twenty20
By Shelby Deering
writer for The Natural
I have dealt with the winter blues as long as I can remember. Although I’ve never really loved snow and cold, I knew from a very young age that my feelings were out of my control — and I was right. It turned out after being diagnosed later in life that I have a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression that’s tied to the seasons and the lack of light that comes with the winter months. Symptoms can include low energy, a loss of interest in activities, carb cravings, and sleep disruptions, among others. Experts aren’t exactly sure why 6 to 10 percent of Americans have seasonal depression, but they do know it’s linked to decreased serotonin production.
I have a bag of tricks I turn to as soon as the days get shorter — exercise in a hot yoga room, meditation, a light box, to name a few — but I’ve also come to rely on aromatherapy as a healing and helpful tool.
Although aromatherapy isn’t a replacement for therapy or antidepressants, scents are known to have the power to lift moods, regulate emotions, and improve sleep. For example, a 2017 study in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine said that aromatherapy has been proven to be a promising treatment in the battle against depression.
These aromatherapeutic scents are helpful in all forms of depression, but they’re particularly effective for seasonal depression because they are said to target specific symptoms of SAD, like low energy and carb cravings. Each of these plant-based scents also provides a much-needed connection to the earth, something that can be difficult to feel during winter.
Here are five scents that are known to help improve your SAD symptoms, along with ways to experience their benefits through essential oils.
Citrus scents are tried-and-true for boosting energy and lifting moods. Lemon is particularly zingy and potent (study after study points to its far-reaching benefits, from better immunity to decreased nausea), but lime, orange, and grapefruit are great options, too. I love to put a few dabs of lemon essential oil on my wrists in the morning when I first wake up, or I put it in a diffuser to experience the energizing effects all day long.
Lavender has been used for centuries as a calming herb and powerful sleep aid. Since SAD is marked by suppressed melatonin, otherwise known as the “sleep hormone,” your sleep cycles may be disrupted, which means you’ll be missing out on ZZZ’s even though you’re likely feeling exhausted. Before bed, put a few drops of lavender essential oil on your pillow or use it to scent your sleep mask. Or, grow lavender in your summer garden, dry it, and place the flowers in a sachet that you can enjoy throughout winter.
Studies say that jasmine is an elevating scent that can affect brain waves and inspire positive emotions. Also, it smells amazing. To improve your mood, use a jasmine-scented body wash in the shower, wear jasmine oil as perfume, or burn a jasmine candle in your home. If anything, the floral aroma will make you think of spring.
The scent of roses has been used throughout history to help balance emotions and bring back happy memories. In fact, a 2017 study proved that rose oil has antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects when inhaled. Since depression and anxiety often go hand-in-hand (this has definitely been true through my own experiences with SAD), rose oil can be used to help you feel both calm and uplifted. Add it to a massage oil, put some drops in your bath, or soak a few cotton balls in it and carry them in your bag.
Peppermint has come to be known for its ability to improve exercise performance, and it’s no wonder. It’s an incredibly revitalizing scent, which is especially helpful on those cold winter days when your fatigued mind and body would rather stay in bed. To give yourself some pep, add a few drops to a fragrance-free body wash or diffuse it throughout the day. Also, peppermint is said to help decrease food cravings, perfect for curtailing the desire for carbs that comes with winter depression.
Aromatherapy can help you get through the worst of the winter doldrums, and then before you know it — lovely and wonderful spring will be here.
Articles from The Natural should not be considered medical advice. If you have any questions about your health, please consult a medical professional.