I live for those moments when I’m outside, strolling along, and a light breeze shares a fragrance that makes me stop in my tracks and inhale deeply. The fragrance might be from the local bakery, a nearby flower garden, coffee brewing in someone’s kitchen, a refreshing rainfall, from a perfumed stranger passing by me or perhaps something totally random. Sometimes it’s a smell that brings back fond memories of childhood, like a specific, birthday cake or a fragrance my grandmother wore. Whatever it is, for a precious moment, I’m locked in time, swaying and smelling in the wind’s scent and feeling it relax my every muscle and all of my twitching nerves. My heart rate slows, my stress level drops and a lot of times, I’ll crack a smile, sigh longingly and announce how much I adore that smell. Of course, this is when the wind shares a “good” smell. When it’s a bad smell, my nose goes into lockdown mode. Let’s pretend the breeze smells like rotten eggs or potent, body odor. I hold my breath, grimace, feel stressed, walk faster or sometimes even sprint. Good smells or bad smells, the aromas of life are extremely powerful.
There still isn’t a lot of scientific research to support the benefits of aromatherapy, though it has been in use for many years. In 1910, Rene Gattefosse, a French chemist and scholar, discovered the many healing benefits of essential oils and wrote one of the earliest books on aromatherapy titled, “Aromatherapie: Les Huiles Essentielles Hormones Vegetales.” Gattefosse was known to successfully use the healing properties of essential oils on wounded soldiers in military hospitals during World War I. Another Frenchman and army surgeon, Dr. Jean Valnet, continued to use essential oils to treat battle wounds as well as the emotional scars of war. His book, “Practice of Aromatherapy” was published in 1980. The first established system of aromatherapy is credited to Dr. Edward Bach. He created 38 flower essence remedies for specific mental and physical ailments and if you’re interested in learning more about Bach flower therapy, which is still utilized today, a great book to read is, “The Bach Flower Remedies,” by Edward Bach.
Though there’s scant, objective scientific data on the mental benefits of aromatherapy, I found a few noteworthy studies, especially ones on lavender. A small, pilot study on the effects of aromatherapy on depressed, anxious, postpartum women was conducted a t a women’s center in Indianapolis and published online in Complimentary Therapies in Clinical Practice. The experimental groups inhaled an essential oil blend of Rose Otto and Lavandula Angustifolia at 2 percent dilutions. Depression and anxiety were measured using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale ( EPDS) and the Generalized Anxiety Disorder Scale ( GAD-7). Results showed significant improvement in the group treated with aromatherapy, and no adverse effects were reported.
Another study by the Department of Nursing at Keukdong College, Chungcheongbuk-Do, Korea, evaluated lavender’s effect on insomnia and depression in female, nursing students. Results showed that the lavender-exposed group showed significant improvements in sleep and were less depressed, as compared to the control group.
There was also a study conducted by the Department of Cardiovascular Science and Medicine, Chiba University Graduate School of Medicine, in Japan and published in the 2008, September issue of the International Journal of Cardiology, which explored lavender’s effect on coronary blood flow and cortisol levels in young men. Results showed an increase in coronary blood flow and a reduction in cortisol after lavender inhalation. These findings imply that lavender has a significant relaxation effect as well as reduces stress, two things that can only improve one’s mood. There’s research that shows aromatherapy with essential oils can lower blood pressure, pulse rate and breathing rate, all things that potentially rise in stressful, anxious situations. Subjectively, many people report feeling “more calm and more relaxed” after aromatherapy, especially after inhaling blends of bergamot and lavender. There’s also evidence that supports jasmine’s use as an antidepressant and its use as a stimulating effect, which can potentially help a depressed person get moving again.
Here’s my top lists for the best essential oils for depression/sadness and anxiety/stress relief:
For depression or just a general case of the blues:
6. Ylang Ylang
2) For anxiety and stress relief:
5. Ylang Ylang
What are the best ways to use essential oils? The right answer is whatever is most comfortable for you.
1) Purchase an aromatherapy diffuser, which dissipates the aroma of essential oils quite effectively and efficiently.
2) Have an “essential oil bath” by putting drops of essential oils in your tub while it’s filling
3) Get a massage with essential oils. Also, don’t be shy with yourself! If you can’t afford a massage or don’t have a significant other or friend around to do one, give yourself a massage!
4) Add essential oils to water in spray bottles and use as you wish.
5) Mix a few drops of essential oils in with your body lotion and use accordingly.
6) Simply inhale it from the bottle when you feel like you’ll benefit from it!
As a cautionary note, if you are going to purchase essential oils, do your homework first. Make sure you are only buying organic and pure essential oils. The last thing you want to deal with is added chemicals or contaminants.
Though we traditionally associate essential oils with aromatherapy, we don’t have to limit aromatherapy to essential oils. I challenge you to get creative with your smells! Go into a perfume store or drug store and experiment with different perfumes and sprays. See which ones make you feel good and which ones don’t. Do the same thing with your shampoo, conditioner, soaps and body washes. Experiment with candles and various scents. Write down smells you absolutely love and then describe how they make you feel. If they make you feel happy, relaxed, less stress and less anxious, then maybe you should start thinking about ways of smelling them more! Also take notice of smells that make you upset, uneasy, more stressed and more anxious. Try to avoid them! The key is to make your aromatherapy YOURS. Not everyone likes or dislikes the same smells. Everyone is different. For example, I love the smell of cow manure and skunks, two smells probably 90% of the population can’t stand. Okay, let's make that 99%. (And probably 99% of you right now are thinking, “What a weirdo!”) But cow manure reminds me of growing up as a kid, because there’s a cow pasture adjacent to my childhood home. Skunks remind me of summer nights playing outdoors in my Nana’s back yard. Though the stenches of cow manure and skunks might cause other people anxiety, stress and excessive vomiting, for me, they are stress-reducing, nostalgic and enjoyable.
A few of my other favorite smells: fresh laundry, lilacs, freshly-cut grass, pine. Try cooking with different herbs and see which ones you like best. Personally, I love the scent of rosemary, oregano and dill.
A fun, self-made aromatherapy I use is sunscreen in the wintertime. When I get a bad case of the winter blues on a frigid, snowy day, sometimes I’ll close my eyes and rub sunscreen on my face. Then I’ll think about being at the beach or on a tropical island while inhaling the sunscreen’s scent. It works like magic.
So, let’s go, guys! Team up with your nose and get creative!