Essential Oils for Mental Health | Counseling | Therapy

Essential Oils for Mental Health

Samantha Eisenberg , MSW, LCSW, MED, LMT — Therapist

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What are Essential Oils?

Essential oils have been used for thousands of years as a way to improve wellbeing. The first documented usage dates back to 3000-2500 B.C.E., where oils were used in medicinal practices, religious and spiritual ceremonies, in beauty routines and even for culinary purposes (though we don’t recommend ingesting oils in this article). The scents in essential oils are powerful because smells evoke feelings and memories. You can therefore use essential oils for mental health, as they enhance or stimulate emotions of your choosing. Some scents seem to evoke similar feelings for most people, but scent preferences are personal and you may dislike a scent that someone else loves depending on the memories and feelings you associate with that scent. Sometimes it just comes down to personal preference, just as you might prefer chocolate or vanilla.

How Do Essential Oils For Mental Health Work?

Essential oils are extracted from plants through distillation or cold pressing, and the different plants give each oil their specific therapeutic properties. When essential oils are inhaled through the nose, like in aromatherapy, the smell gets recepted and interpreted by the olfactory bulb. The olfactory bulb then sends the information to the olfactory nerve and into the limbic system, the part of the brain that regulates emotions, behavior, and physiological functions like breathing, heart rate and blood pressure. Using essential oils for mental health is effective because they are thought to have a stimulating or relaxing effect on the limbic system due to how memories of scent have been categorized in the brain.

Essential oils can also be absorbed through the skin, hair follicles and sweat ducts, as the molecules are small enough to pass through the layers of skin into the capillaries and bloodstream. Clean, warm, thin skin with good blood flow absorbs oils fastest, which is why oils are often incorporated into a therapeutic aromatherapy massage and recommended for certain areas of the body.

When Should I Use Essential Oils for Mental Health Issues?

Using essential oils can be a great natural tool to help manage stress and anxiety, but be sure to check with your doctor or trusted medical professional before trying any new method of healing, even if it is natural. Some oils are best for facilitating relaxation and sleep, while others are good for boosting energy and focus. Some uplift you and foster a sense of calm at the same time. Have you ever noticed that it’s easier to think clearly when you’re feeling at ease? To be clear, essential oils cannot cure stress or mental illness, they just provide a boost towards whatever feeling you want to cultivate.

Essential oils come in small portable bottles that you can take anywhere you might need them. Getting anxious before a big presentation, test, or plane ride? Essential oils could be useful here for easing your nerves. Having trouble getting out of bed or staying focused at work? Essential oils could give you the boost in mood needed to start your day or the concentration to power through. Can’t fall asleep or turn off your mind? Essential oils could give you that dose of calm needed to wind down. Writhing from a breakup or feeling ungrounded, unmotivated and lost? Essential oils could contribute to the peace and clarity of mind you need to move forward.

How Do I Apply Essential Oils For Mental Health Purposes?

The most common ways to use essential oils for mental health are through inhalation or topical application. For inhalation, some oils can be gently sniffed directly from the bottle, or inhaled indirectly after being dropped on clothing, a cotton ball, a pillow or the palms as they cup the face. Oils can be placed in a diffuser or vaporizer that fill the room with the scent of your choice. You can also add several drops of your preferred essential oil to a spray bottle of water and mist your room or body.

When putting essential oils on the skin, it is recommended to dilute the oils with a carrier oil such as grape seed, coconut, olive, avocado, jojoba or sweet almond. Oils are often rubbed into the chest, neck, wrists, soles of feet and behind the ears. They can even be added to bath water for an extra relaxing experience. You will be able to get the benefit of smelling the oils as they absorb into your skin. Another fun and trendy way to enjoy essential oils is through jewelry. Porous beads made from the rocks formed by cooling lava can hold 1-2 drops of your preferred oils for a day or so at a time. You can find lava rock jewelry in the form of bracelets, necklaces, earrings and rings.

Which Essential Oils Should I Use For Supporting My Mental Health?

Below you will find a description of several popular essential oils that can be used for therapeutic purposes. They are listed roughly in order of most relaxing to most uplifting, but when trying them out, pay attention to what makes you personally feel good. It makes the most sense to use the scents you find most appealing! This is a starters guide to help you pick the right oil for your wellbeing, but it is not a complete list of all available oils, their uses, or precautions you should take when using them. It is always a good idea to do your own research before trying a new product.

Lavender Essential Oil For Mental Health

Lavender oil is one of the most popular essential oils, as the lovely soothing, restorative floral scent is great for several things. This is a good one to start with, as most people seem to like it. Lavender has been shown to calm the nervous system which can help reduce stress, panic, agitation, irritability and nervousness, relieve headaches, and improves sleep and concentration. It is most effective through topical application to the skin, then through inhalation. This scent is good to have on hand to reduce feelings of anxiety or curb a panic attack, and also is great to sniff when you get into bed to help fall asleep.

Chamomile Essential Oil For Mental Health

Chamomile essential oil comes from a flower and is often used in teas to help induce relaxation and restful sleep. It can also boost mood, reduce irritability and worry as it creates calmness and peace in the body and mind. This scent is great for anyone with sleep troubles.

Frankincense Essential Oil For Mental Health

Frankincense is a sweet, musky scent that can help ease stress and anxiety with its relaxing and calming effect. It is often used in religious practices and meditation due to its ability to provide spiritual grounding. Try this scent before your next meditation or yoga session.

Sandalwood Essential Oil For Mental Health

Sandalwood is a woody scent that is often used in meditation and yoga practices due to its ability to balance emotions, provide inner peace, clarity and mental focus. Test it out and see whether this scent or frankincense better aids in your spiritual practice.

Rose Essential Oil For Mental Health

Rose is a relaxing floral essential oil that has been used to treat anxiety, panic, grief and depression. It is thought that this feel-good scent can boost hope, joy and self esteem, stimulate the mind, and at the same time provide a sense of peace and calm.

Ylang Ylang Essential Oil For Mental Health

Ylang Ylang is a floral essential oil that is both calming and uplifting to the senses. It uplifts and helps with depression by stimulating cheerfulness, courage, optimism. It soothes anxiety by reducing fearfulness, nerves and insomnia and is a moderately strong sedative. This oil can be irritating to sensitive skin and should be avoided in people with low blood pressure.

Clary Sage Essential Oil For Mental Health

Clary sage oil can help uplift your mood, improve confidence and self esteem and also soothe anxiety by calming the mind. Try this before a big presentation to ease nerves.

Jasmine Essential Oil For Mental Health

Jasmine oil comes from the Jasmine flower and is known to relieve depression by uplifting mood and boosting confidence, and relieve anxiety, stress, insomnia and even low sex drive by calming nerves. Try this scent before going on a date to set the mood for you and your partner.

Bergamot Essential Oil For Mental Health

Bergamot is the ingredient in Earl Grey that gives the tea its citrusy floral scent. Bergamot essential oil has both stimulating and calming effects. It can aid in the treatment of depression by stimulating blood flow, increasing energy and improving mood. It can also help with insomnia as it reduces agitation and anxiety. Do not go out in the sun for 12 hours after application as Bergamot can make skin extra sensitive to UV rays.

Orange Essential Oil For Mental Health

The uplifting essential oil from oranges has been proven to aid in stress relief and can help manage anxiety. It also improves mood, concentration and energy. If used on the skin, avoid direct sunlight for 12 hours after use. This oil is great to have on your nightstand when you can’t seem to get out of bed or on your desk at work for the post-lunch slump.

Using essential oils for mental health can be a fun and natural way to boost self care, promote wellbeing, and enhance your mental health treatment. Scents activate parts of our brain and nervous system that can both stimulate and soothe the body and mind. Please enjoy exploring with these essential oils, and remember it’s always best to do a little research before diving in to using the oils yourself. Essential oils can give you a boost in mood, but they cannot cure overwhelming stress, anxiety or depression. If you’re feeling this way, it is important to identify healthy ways to implement changes in your thinking, behaviors, environment, relationships, or whatever it is that is triggering your mental health challenges. Seeking support from trusted loved ones or a skilled therapist can help you through this process. If you would like to learn more techniques for relieving anxiety and depression, please call The Center for Growth at 267-324-9564.

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