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Aromatherapy uses essential oils from plants to provide a therapeutic effect in the body. They are a complementary treatment that can be used alongside other treatment approaches to promote wellbeing. Essential oils have been used throughout history, and in the first century A.D. their healing properties were described in a Greek text by Dioscorides.
Essential oils reach the limbic system via the olfactory bulb in the brain, and some oils are thought to have positive effects on mood. Whether or not there are direct mood benefits, the very practice of engaging in self-care is always helpful. And really, when it comes to managing mental illness, I feel like the more things you can do to try to promote wellness, the better.
The popular website of Dr. Josh Axe identifies the four essential oils that can have the greatest benefit for depression:
- bergamot: boosts mood and has an anti-anxiety effect
- lavender: helpful for stress and anxiety, boosts mood, and promotes sleep
- chamomile: has a soothing effect
- ylang ylang: boosts mood, promotes relaxation
A number of other essential oils are thought to have calming and mood-boosting properties, including clary sage, frankincense, geranium, lemon, patchouli, rose, and sandalwood.
Essential oils can also be helpful for some of the physical effects that can go along with mental health problems. Peppermint oil can be helpful for pain. Rubbing it on the temples is good for tension headaches; I use the Peppermint Halo roll-on from Saje Natural Wellness. Fennel oil can help with digestive unhappiness, and I like to rub it on my tummy when stress is tying my gut in knots.
Essential Oil Blends
It's nice to use essential oil blends because not only can you get an amazing range of different scents, you can get the combined benefit of multiple different oils. I get my blends from Saje Natural Wellness, which has a number of different formulas packed with oils that promote mental health. You can also buy individual oils and mix them on your own, and it's easy to find recipes for blending online.
Stress Release contains calming lavender, clary sage, geranium, and roman chamomile, all of which have an anti-anxiety effect. It comes in a bottle to use in a diffuser, and also in this convenient roll-on formula for use on the go. It's useful for grounding in stressful situations, and the lavender scent helps to quickly bring you into the present moment. I like to rub it on my temples when I'm feeling stressed.
Liquid Sunshine is one of my favourite blends. It's perfect for a rainy day, and the lovely citrus smell helps to brighten things up. It contains mood-boosting bergamot and sweet orange, as well as calming grapefruit.
The Tranquility blend contains soothing lavender and roman chamomile and uplifting ylang ylang. I like that this has ylang ylang, which most of my other blends don't contain.
This soothing blend combines lavender, bergamot, and geranium. I don't actually notice a strong sense of any of those elements in the smell of Unwind; instead, it's got its own unique scent.
Aroma Geni Diffuser
Essential oils can be inhaled, and an ultrasonic diffuser is a popular way to do this. They can also be applied topically, although they should be diluted in a carrier oil to avoid skin irritation. Aromatherapy massage can be particularly therapeutic.
I use the Saje Aroma Geni diffuser for my oil blends. I fill the base with water and add 8-10 drops of oil. It casts a soft glow of light as well as dispersing the oils. I typically have it sitting across the room from me, but I'll have it right beside me if I'm using eucalyptus to help clear up chest and sinus congestion.
Whether you go all in with a diffuser and various blends, get a topical roll-on, or pick up a single essential oil and dilute it for topical use, there are a variety of different ways to incorporate aromatherapy into your life. While it may not be a miracle cure for mental illness, it's very pleasant, and we all deserve to be nice to ourselves a little more often.