What is Aromatherapy? Simply put, Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils. But what are these essential oils? Essential oils are the fragrant molecules stored inside flowers, leaves, bark, and berries. They are extracted through steam distillation and are expensive to produce, but a tiny bottle contains hundred of droplets; each droplet is a powerful force to use for wellness.
Aromatherapy is often used as a last resort or stumbled upon – it has effects beyond a gorgeous massage with scented oils. It works on the subtle level that affects our mood. How do you ask? The molecules are so small they travel up from the nose to the brain’s limbic system that controls moods. Certain oils are associated with calm, others with energy, so you can use aromatherapy extracts to influence how you feel in an indirect way. In France, essential oils are prescribed by Medical Doctors. In The UK, USA, and Canada, we use essential oils as part of therapeutic massage and in skincare products.
There’s a story behind the term ‘aromatherapie.’ A French perfumer, Gattefossé, injured his hand in a laboratory explosion. He then plunged his hand into a vessel of pure lavender oil. He noted how the swelling reduced and how fast it healed. Plus, no scar tissue. In 1937 he published the world’s first book on Aromatherapy: ‘Aromathérapie: Les Huiles essentielles hormones vegetales.’
Depression affects 20% or more of the population. It’s a dark time of lowered energy when life feels glum, hopeless, and even purposeless. Serious cases need professional therapy and psychological help that may involve CBT techniques or medication. But for less intense spells of the Dark Dog, Aromatherapy can be used to perk up the mood. This is where we use oils that are energizing and inspiring. Remembering that in life, many things we never feel like doing so waiting until the mood is right means we will never get started… You need to do the thing, and the mood can shift.
One of the oils I use when depression or low mood strikes is bergamot. Mmm. It’s a gorgeous fruity, fresh scent, and you’ll recognise it as the scent of Earl Grey Tea. It comes from a citrus tree and is known to work on our mood in a similar way to antidepressants. It really is an uplifting, joyous scent. How to use it? Simple. Sprinkle a drop onto a tissue and tuck that into your shirt pocket or sleeve – and discreetly inhale. You can also sprinkle a few drops into a diffuser or vaporizer.
Other oils for depression are Sweet Orange, which is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Orange is a symbol of joy and, along with mandarin, evokes a playful atmosphere – that’s what’s needed when you’re down in the dumps. It’s hard to be gloomy and playful at the same time. Use oils that bring in the sense of light and playfulness, like citrus and florals. It’s hard to stay depressed once you regain your childlike wonder and playfulness – so start doing things that are fun.
For anxiety, look for oils that calm the nervous systems – so lavender, chamomile, vetiver all help with this. As the essential oils work on our emotional and spiritual selves, here are some more ideas to consider:
If you feel timid, then consider thyme. It’s the oil of courage, the essence of warriors. For inner fears, then try juniper or atlas cedar. For unknown fears, then cypress is excellent. Where you have night sweats and anxiety, then you likely have insomnia – so this calls for the cooling oils that comfort feminine hormones like rose, ylang , geranium, and palmarosa. Jasmine uplifts while it calms when anxiety alternates with depression – common during peri-menopause.
If you feel anxious about your health, then lavender is an option. It’s also good where you feel boxed in, suffocated by circumstances or other people. If you feel anxious and deep inner feelings of regret, shame, or guilt, then neroli can ease and comfort you. Neroli is an oil that restores hope. When you have lost faith, then reach for the holy oil, spikenard.
Massaging an aromatherapy hand cream into your cuticles, hands, and arms is a physical act of self-care – the act of touch is much needed during this isolating pandemic where we are all feeling alone. As humans, we thrive on touch, for comfort, for healing. When we need a hug, we can also self hug, hug a teddy or a pillow. It sounds silly but is part of self-care and does not cost anything. Nobody can see you giving yourself a comforting hug – try it next time you feel down or worried.
For sleep, use an aromatherapy pillow spray and a herbal sachet or dream pillow. Aromatherapy bath oils also help make the transition from work to sleep. Look for blends of chamomile, mandarin, lavender, and vetiver, to help you wind down before bed. Switch to caffeine-free drinks at night. Think of chamomile, valerian, vervain, rose, and lime flower. Diffuse essential oils in your bedroom – again, a calming blend will work.
When you travel, take your oils with you. You can sprinkle a drop on the hotel pillow to create calmness. You can use oils when you are studying or doing a Zoom call. For worriers, allocate a 20 minute time in the day to write down all your worries – seeing them in black and white, and then you can ask yourself how true they are.