With winter upon us, we welcome cozy afternoons by the fire, warm soups and hot toddies, snuggly boots and scarves…. but unfortunately for many women the colder months can bring an increase in the blues. The advent of winter and the holiday season often exacerbate symptoms of depression and many women report they feel more loneliness, anxiety and feelings of helplessness in December than other months. Any time of year, there is no shortage of women feeling sad, disinterested and less hopeful. In fact, 12 million women in the United States experience clinical-level depression each year and the number is likely much higher if we include “sub-clinical” and those women who just don’t talk about it.
There are a whole host of reasons why our mood can plummet in winter. Less sunlight can contribute to winter depression as we get less Vitamin D. We also may produce less serotonin (a good mood neurotransmitter) while at the same time creating more melatonin (which makes us sleepy and lethargic). We also tend to exercise less in the colder weather and exercise has been shown to create positive moods and reduce negative emotions. And, of course, the holidays in December bring along increased stress, concerns about money and family commitments and feelings of social isolation. Holiday events and business often discourage healthy eating and sleeping in exchange for alcohol and partying which take a toll on our body’s ability to support mood.
The Role of Essential Oils
One of the best natural strategies for helping boost your mood are essential oils. Essential oil aromas are carried directly to the brain which registers pleasure, pain, danger or safety. This then creates and ultimately directs our emotional response, which can include feelings of fear, anger, depression and attraction. This makes scents very powerful in our day-to-day lives because they’re a direct pathway to memory and emotion — and why they can be such an incredible tool in helping to fight depression and anxiety
Here are a few of my favorite oils for lifting your spirits:
1. Bergamot: Originally from Southeast Asia, bergamot is a little sweet and a little spicy with notes of citrus that can leave you feeling more peaceful, cheerful and calm. Recent research on women in a mental health facility indicate bergamot can increase positive feelings and in another smaller study can reduce stress hormone levels. Try infusing 5 drops in a diffuser or mixing a drop of two with a small amount of a carrier oil and inhaling or gentling rubbing on the back of your neck or at the temples.
2. Sweet Orange: This bright, uplifting aroma may need no explanation as a mood booster as it has been used for centuries as an anxiety-reducer, mind-clarifier and mood relaxant. Citrus sinesis, or sweet orange, is a member of the Rutaceae family and studies have shown that the orange scent is a suitable aroma to decrease anxiety even among women in labor as well as sufferers of PTSD. Because of the oil’s anti-bacterial qualities, this oil is lovely when diffused in your home as well as by adding a few drops to a 1:4 ratio of water and vinegar for a safe home cleaner.
3. Chamomile: Even more effective than the tea, roman chamomile essential oil has been used all over the world to calm the nerves and promote relaxation as well as to promote healthy sleep. Inhaling the vapor of chamomile oil, can reduce ACTH (adrenocoricotropic hormone) levels and in turn enhance relaxation. The scent of chamomile is soothing yet joyful and allows for peaceful thoughts. Try mixing a drop of chamomile with lavender and rose geranium essential oils for a wonderfully comforting blend.
How to Use Essential Oils
To use essential oils safely, there are a few tips to keep in mind.
Use a carrier oil. Rather than putting directly on your skin, make sure to mix 1-3 drops of your favorite oil with a carrier oil such as jojoba, almond or even olive oil. Avoid putting oils directly on your skin as they can burn or create a rash. You can also diffuse the oil by adding 1-2 drops to an evening bath or using a water diffuser such as this one.
Buy a high-quality oil that has been organically grown or sourced. Since oils are not regulated, many oils on the market have been mixed with synthetic fragrance and/or have not been extracted properly which can impact their integrity. Look for independently-tested, organically-sourced oils that use their botanical name and are transparent about their sourcing and extraction processes. The higher cost you might pay out-of-pocket for such oils will come back to you in their purity, benefits and endurance.
Use small amounts. A little goes a long way with a high-quality essential oil. Take care to use just a small amount at first and avoid those oils that contain ingredients to which you might be sensitive. For example, wintergreen may not be a good match for those with sensitivities to salicylates. In addition, children, teens and pregnant or breastfeeding women may want to take extra care with certain oils as some are more appropriate than others.
High-quality, sustainably-sourced essential oils can be purchased online at Mountain Rose Herbs or Floracopeia. If you are local to or find yourself in northern New Jersey, stop by Renew Integrative + Functional Medicine in Maplewood to browse our wide selection of Floracopeia essential oils, carrier oils and diffusers.