Depression can affect the way you feel, how you think, and the way you act. Although it’s a mood disorder, depression can cause both physical and emotional symptoms. These can vary depending on the person, but they often include:
- difficulty concentrating
- difficulty sleeping
People use essential oils as complementary treatments for many conditions, including depression. It’s important to note that essential oils aren’t a cure for depression. They’re a drug-free option that may help relieve some of your symptoms and help you manage the condition. In most cases, essential oils are safe and free of side effects.
What the research says
Although dozens of essential oils are on the market, research on the potential benefits, risks, and efficacy is often limited.
The floral yet earthy scent of lavender oil is often valued for its calming effects. Research suggests that lavender aromatherapy may help:
- relieve anxiety
- decrease stress
- improve mood
- promote relaxation
The herb itself may also help depression. Researchers in a 2003 study compared the effectiveness of a lavender tincture to the antidepressant imipramine. A tincture is different from an essential oil. Tinctures are made from fresh herbs and a grain alcohol such as vodka. Researchers concluded that lavender tincture might be a beneficial adjuvant therapy to treat mild to moderate depression.
According to a 2014 animal study, wild ginger may have antidepressant qualities. Researchers found that stress-challenged mice that inhaled wild ginger oil experienced less stress. They also exhibited less depression-like behaviors. It’s thought that the oil may activate the serotonergic system, which is a system of brain transmitters associated with depression. This may slow the release of stress hormones.
The citrus scent of bergamot oil is known for being both uplifting and calming. According to a 2013 study, bergamot oil aromatherapy significantly reduced anxiety in patients awaiting outpatient surgery. Although depression and anxiety are different disorders, they often happen at the same time. Anxiety is also a possible complication of depression. It’s unclear how bergamot eases apprehension. It may help reduce the release of stress hormones during stressful situations.
Studies have shown that both ylang-ylang oil and rose oil have calming and relaxing effects. The oils can also decrease what are called “autonomic functions,” such as your breathing rate, heart rate, and blood pressure.
Although other essential oils are thought to relieve symptoms of depression, supporting evidence is mostly anecdotal. Some of these oils are:
- sweet orange
How to use essential oils for depression
These essential oils are primarily recognized for their aromatic effects on depression and its symptoms. Whether you choose to inhale the scent directly or allow it to disperse into the area is up to you. You should still be able to benefit from its effects either way.
Here are the most common methods for scent inhalation:
- Inhale the scent directly from the oil’s bottle or inhaler tube.
- Dab a few drops of the essential oil onto a cotton ball and inhale directly.
- Add several drops of the oil to a diffuser and inhale indirectly.
- Create an aromatherapy bath by adding several drops of essential oil diluted with honey, milk, or a carrier oil to your bathwater.
- Enjoy an aromatherapy massage by adding a few drops of the essential oil to your favorite massage oil.
Combining essential oils may also help depression, according to a 2008 study. Fifty-eight hospitalized hospice patients with terminal cancer received either a hand massage with general massage oil or aromatherapy massage oil on seven consecutive days. The aromatherapy oil was made with frankincense, lavender, and bergamot essential oils. People who received the aromatherapy massage experienced significantly less pain and depression.
Risks and warnings
People with respiratory problems, pregnant women, and children shouldn’t use essential oils unless under the supervision of a doctor or trained aromatherapist.
All essential oils may cause an allergic reaction, so you should never apply them to your skin undiluted. If you do plan to apply an essential oil blend to your skin, you should add 1 ounce of a carrier oil to every 3 to 6 drops of essential oil. Common carrier oils include:
- sweet almond oil
- olive oil
- coconut oil
- jojoba oil
You should also do a skin patch test before large applications. Dab a small amount of your essential and carrier oil mix to a small patch of skin at least 24 hours before to your planned application. This will allow you to see if the mix will cause your skin to have a reaction.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate essential oils. Only buy oils from a reputable manufacturer. If possible, ask a trained aromatherapist for a recommendation.
Other treatments for depression
You shouldn’t replace your current treatment plan for depression with essential oils without your doctor’s approval. Essential oils are only meant to serve as a complementary treatment in addition to your current regimen.
Conventional treatments for depression include:
- prescription antidepressants
- psychotherapy, including one-on-one and group sessions
- inpatient psychiatric treatment for severe cases of depression
- electroconvulsive therapy for people who aren’t responding to medication, can’t take antidepressants, or are at high risk of suicide
- transcranial magnetic stimulation for people who don’t respond to antidepressants
Untreated or mismanaged depression may lead to:
- physical pain
- anxiety disorders
- suicidal thoughts
- substance abuse
What you can do now
If you’re experiencing depression, speak with your doctor about your symptoms. They can work with you to develop the best treatment plan for you. Once your treatment plan has been set, you should stick to it as best as you can. Missing appointments or medications may cause your symptoms to return or cause symptoms similar to withdrawal.
If you’re interested in using essential oils, speak with your doctor or a trained aromatherapist. They can help you determine the best way to incorporate essential oils into your current treatment plan.