Essential oils have recently become famous for their healing and curative properties. Everyone seems to have some kind of knowledge or understanding that essential oils can help with things such as cuts and scrapes, headaches, acne, lice, and other physical problems. But did you know that they can also be extremely effective for mental health as well?
Indeed, some studies have shown that certain essential oils actually do just as well as antidepressants in the treatment of depression or other mood disorders. More research needs to be conducted, of course, but there are already studies out there showing the amazing effects of essential oils.
In this article, we’re going to look at what we know so far. Certain essential oils are better than others for addressing specific mental health problems. Some work best for treating the fatigue that often accompanies depression, while others work as a kind of sedative that allows a person suffering from anxiety to finally be able to relax. Let’s take a look at the top ten essential oils for mental health.
- 1. Essential Oil 1: Bergamot
- 2. Essential Oil 2: Lavender
- 3. Essential Oil 3: Roman Chamomile
- 4. Essential Oil 4: Ylang Ylang
- 5. Essential Oil 5: Frankincense
- 6. Essential Oil 6: Rose
- 7. Essential Oil 7: Vanilla
- 8. Essential Oil 8: Nutmeg
- 9. Essential Oil 9: Grapefruit
- 10. Essential Oil 10: Sandalwood
- 11. Summary: What Should You Do Now?
- 12. References
Essential Oil 1: Bergamot
If you’ve never heard of bergamot before, you’re not alone. It is a type of citrus tree that doesn’t receive as much fame as orange trees or lemon trees, partly because the fruit is generally too sour to consume. Its oil can be highly beneficial for various aspects of your health, however. It was originally used in perfume due to its strong aromatic quality. This aroma is what calms anxiety and stress.
Bergamot oil serves as a stimulant, which means that it brings forward feelings of happiness and energy. This makes it particularly useful in the treatment of depression or anxiety. There have been studies that show clearly the bergamot oil reduces rats’ anxiety response. Bergamot has also been shown to relieve fatigue and muscle tension associated with stress, anxiety, and depression.
Sometimes simply blending bergamot oil with other essential oils is enough to have these anxiety-reducing effects. One of these blends is between bergamot oil and lavender oil (see below) and the results in the study were impressive — doubly so because the study was done on humans.
Essential Oil 2: Lavender
Lavender essential oil is perhaps the best known for its relaxing attributes. There are actually more than two dozen species of lavender around the world, and the flowers themselves are used for producing the essential oil. Lavender scent (if not the oil itself) is found in a variety of beauty products, including soaps, lotions, and skin care products. In fact, its very name comes from the Latin word for “to wash.”
When used in aromatherapy, lavender essential oil does an excellent job of calming anxiety and stress. Many people who suffer from depression find relief with lavender, as do people who have trouble falling or staying asleep. Because of its ability to calm nerves and relax people, lavender is used in places you might not even expect. For example, lavender in dental office waiting rooms was found to be more effective at easing anxiety than music, orange essential oil, or none of them.
Essential Oil 3: Roman Chamomile
There are two types of chamomile that are found frequently in teas and natural medicines: German chamomile and Roman chamomile. While the plants themselves (as well as their scent) are quite different, the soothing qualities provided by both are similar.
Roman chamomile is all about relaxation and stress reduction. It soothes your feelings and emotions that are symptoms of depression, serving as a natural treatment for these and other symptoms. This is one reason you have probably found chamomile in a variety of products, including teas, tinctures, and other aroma therapy forms (including essential oil).
It is popular for a reason: it works. Roman chamomile could serve as an effective antidepressant, according to one study, which is likely why it has been used in human civilizations for thousands and thousands of years.
Fun Fact: Chamomile was considered by the ancient Anglo-Saxons one of just 9 sacred herbs gifted to humans from their deity.
Essential Oil 4: Ylang Ylang
Ylang ylang essential oil is highly adept at reducing stress and inducing calm. Someone with depression might find this especially helpful if one of their main symptoms is anxiety. This is because ylang ylang actually lowers your heart rate as well as your cortisol levels. Cortisol is something that usually increases when someone is experiencing stress. If someone is chronically stressed or anxious, their cortisol levels are likely to remain high, and that can have negative effects on your body’s regular functions
Keeping this in mind, ylang ylang essential oil is a must for people with depression or negative emotions. It is like a natural, less intense version of a medication used for when you are at your lowest points. It works kind of like a sedative, but not to the point of you no longer feeling like yourself or being unable to operate a vehicle, for example.
Essential Oil 5: Frankincense
Frankincense has been a substance documented throughout history, included in the Christian Bible. There is a reason for this; this powerful essential oil does a great job of improving a person’s mood. It likely does this by having a direct effect on the brain to help with emotion regulation.
To get a bit more in-depth look into the process, frankincense oil widens a channel for ions to get through to the brain. This plays a key role in emotion regulation and is the reason frankincense essential oil is so effective in making someone feel better, especially if they have depression.
Essential Oil 6: Rose
Yet another essential oil that can have a beneficial effect on people with depression is rose essential oil. This lifts up the spirits in a calming (rather than energetic) way. It is a mild sedative, which allows it to also relax the muscles as well as lowering the number or severity of muscle contractions. Rose essential oil is especially effective in combating postpartum depression — even more so when it is combined with lavender essential oil. It is important to note that rose oil is best used after it has been diffused.
Essential Oil 7: Vanilla
Vanilla oil serves as an effective antidepressant, making it great as an alternative treatment for depression. Vanilla is actually a type of orchid and has been used since the ancient Aztecs. The vanilla bean comes from a pollinated flower (which blooms for just one day out of the year if it is growing naturally). This bean is where everything we love about vanilla (its scent, its taste) comes from.
The benefits of vanilla essential oil come from the presence of vanillin, a compound that actually works in ways similar to Prozac in terms of how it fights the symptoms of depression. Interestingly, vanilla essential oil isn’t extracted in the same way as other essential oils are. Instead of using a cold press or distilling the flower, carbon dioxide is injected into it, which separates out the oil. Sometimes it is also extracted with the use of alcohol.
Essential Oil 8: Nutmeg
Nutmeg essential oil has a wide variety of useful health benefits, and its antidepressant benefits are not the least of these. One study was done over the span of three days where people were given nutmeg essential oil. After just three days, the people being tested had improved moods in a way that similarly occurs from taking pharmaceutical antidepressants.
Lots of people know about nutmeg as a spice, but they may not know where it comes from. The tree itself is a huge evergreen that comes from Indonesia. It grows tall and gets quite old and isn’t mature until almost a decade of growth. The nutmeg spice is most commonly used as a baking ingredient in the Western world, but the seeds are dried and distilled for the oil to be used for other purposes (including medicinal ones).
Essential Oil 9: Grapefruit
One of the less common essential oils used for treating depression and other mood disorders is grapefruit essential oil. It is used in aromatherapy to awaken the senses, thus combating a few specific symptoms that come with depression. Namely, these include fatigue, exhaustion, and lethargy. It has an intense scent and helps balance hormones and even boosts the immune system.
In fact, a study was done of citrus oils in general, and it found that they worked better than antidepressants — or, at least, better than the antidepressants that were available in 1995. Better yet, grapefruit oil can do that without bringing the harmful and negative side effects that pharmaceuticals tend to bring. Grapefruit oil is best used with a diffuser, like some of the other essential oils that are used to treat depression or other mental health issues. It can also be added to the shower or bath to lift up your mood and feel refreshed and ready to go.
Essential Oil 10: Sandalwood
A recognizable scent that has become more popular as of late, sandalwood essential oil is already associated with a sort of warm, “calm” kind of scent. It is used in a diffuser or inhaled directly to help a person wake up their brain and shake away the fogginess that comes with depression or other mood disorders.
Better yet, sandalwood essential oil helps balance emotions because of the way it affects your brain’s limbic system. This part of your brain is responsible for your emotions, memory, motivation, and learning — so you can see why it plays an important role in mental health.
To go one step further, sandalwood essential oil even serves as a sedative. This helps people gain the sleep they so need when they are suffering from poor mental health or from a mood disorder. The more sleep you get, the better your brain (and mental health) is going to function.
Fun Fact: Essential oils are sometimes used best in combinations rather than just one at a time. For a great anxiety mixture, try 10 drops of lavender, ylang ylang, and chamomile, and 5 drops of frankincense. You’ll be impressed with the results!
Summary: What Should You Do Now?
Now that we know about many of the best essential oils for retaining your mental health, let’s consider what is to be done with those oils if you do need a mood boost or a relaxation break. In most cases, the use of essential oils for mental health has everything to do with aromatherapy. It is more than just smelling something nice and being happy because of a pleasant smell, however. It actually has a direct effect on your brain.
To put it more scientifically, when you use aromatherapy, it is transporting the essential oil molecules to the limbic part of your brain. This part of your brain takes care of your moods and emotions and is connected to your heart and hormones, making it highly important in the preventing and treatment of mood disorders. Aromatherapy can be achieved in a variety of ways, including diffusing the essential oil, putting it in a hot bath, applying it to your skin, or spritzing it with a bit of water. Let’s look at how you can do each of these.
Action Steps: Tips for Essential Oil Aromatherapy
- To diffuse: Simply put 10 to 12 drops of your essential oil of choice into the diffuser.
- In the bath: Add between 8 and 10 drops to your bath water before getting in the tub.
- To apply to skin: Mix a couple drops (2-3) of your essential oil with 2.5 milliliters of carrier oil and apply it to the skin.
- For spritzing: Mix together a higher number of drops (20-30) of the essential oil with about 50 milliliters of purified water in a spray bottle.
Whichever method you choose, it’s okay to use trial and error to find the most effective essential oil combination for you. Find out what works best for helping with your most problematic symptoms and stick with it. Having the helpful effects of a medication without any of the negative side effects. So why not try?
-  “Acute effects of bergamot oil on anxiety-related behaviour and corticosterone level in rats.” NCBI. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21105176>
-  “Aroma-therapeutic effects of massage blended essential oils on humans.” NCBI. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21922934>
-  “Ambient odors of orange and lavender reduce anxiety and improve mood in a dental office.” NCBI. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16095639>
-  “Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) may provide antidepressant activity in anxious, depressed humans: an exploratory study.” NCBI. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22894890>
-  “Chronic stress puts your health at risk.” Mayo Clinic. <https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037>
-  “Top 7 Essential Oils for Depression, Mental Health, Postpartum & Mood Swings.” The North American Essential Oil and Aromatherapy Experts. <https://essentialoilexperts.com/essential-oils-for-depression/>
-  “Effects of citrus fragrance on immune function and depressive states.” NCBI. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8646568>
-  “Treating Mental Illness with Essential Oils.” Essence of Arcadia. <https://www.essenceofarcadia.com/blogs/articles/treating-mental-illness-with-essential-oils-an-overview>
- Fun Fact Source Crevin JK, Philpott J. 1st ed. USA: Duke University Press; 1990. Herbal medicine past and present.
- Fun Fact Source “Treating Mental Illness with Essential Oils.” Essence of Arcadia. 28 August 2016. <https://www.essenceofarcadia.com/blogs/articles/treating-mental-illness-with-essential-oils-an-overview>.
Carly loves to keep fit, healthy and enjoys passing on any tips and tricks to her readers. She can be found in the kitchen cooking up healthy treats!