How Aromatherapy Helps Depression and Anxiety


Our moods, behavior, feelings, and thoughts are all affected by our amazing sense of smell. This is why aromatherapy can help relieve stress, depression, and anxiety.

The validity of using essential oils therapeutically is no longer based only on centuries of tradition and personal anecdote. Science is finally validating what has long been known intuitively and experientially about scent.

The Path of the Nose

Scents have incredible power and influence because of the way our brain processes olfactory data.

Touch, taste, visual, and auditory sensations travel straight to the brain’s thalamus. The thalamus functions as a switchboard, forwarding the input to the proper sensory area of the cerebral cortex.

Smells follow a different neurological path. Before olfactory sensations reach the thalamus, they visit parts of the brain involved with emotion and memory. When the scent finally reaches the thalamus switchboard, it carries feeling and remembrance data with it. The emotions and memories attached to the scent influence our mood and behavior.

Our own reaction to a specific smell is mostly learned. It depends greatly on the emotion experienced when the scent is first encountered. There are also gender and genetic factors involved in our smell responses. Women of all ages - even infants - score higher than men on smelling tests, and there can be up to a 30 percent structural variation in scent receptors between individuals.

Find What Works and Use It

If you are looking for ways to manage tension, low mood, anxiety, and other complaints, aromatherapy is an excellent symptom management tool. It is important to choose therapeutic grade essential oils derived from plants—synthetic scents will be unhelpful and may contain allergenic or toxic substances.

Here are some suggested uses for essential oils.

  • Anxiety Relief: bergamot, clary sage, lavender, lemon, orange, pine, Roman chamomile, rose, rose-scented geranium, sandalwood.
  • Depression Relief: chamomile, jasmine, lavender, peppermint.
  • Stress Relief: bergamot, lavender, lemon, peppermint, pine, vetiver, ylang ylang.
  • Fatigue Relief: angelica, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, citrus, clove, jasmine, rosemary, sage, tea tree
  • Insomnia Relief: benzoin, chamomile, jasmine, lavender, neroli, rose, sandalwood, sweet marjoram, ylang ylang.
  • Better Focus: cinnamon, peppermint, sage.

Not only are scents powered by memory and emotion, scientists have found that breathing certain essential oils stimulates or calms our sympathetic nervous system as well. Clearly aromatherapy can, along with other therapeutic and healthy lifestyle choices, benefit our well-being.

Photo credit: Francois Philipp - flickr


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