Life is full of constant unexpected and uncontrollable change. Whether you suffer from a mental health condition or not, we all experience heavy energies in our minds and bodies from time to time. Even if your anxiety or depression is situational, it can still be difficult to navigate through the heaviness. If I've learned anything over the years of working in this field, it's how important it is to have the proper toolset to cope with the unavoidable ups and downs that we will all encounter during our lifetime. When I was housebound in 2010, I started practicing yoga and studying various holistic modalities. I was desperate to find anything and everything I could incorporate into my daily routine to find relief from the unbearable anxiety I had. I was having multiple panic attacks a day that were being triggered by my intrusive thoughts. I had recently experienced a sexual assault, I was in an abusive relationship with an addict and I was consumed by an eating disorder that manifested when I was 14. I actually felt the need to take a deep breath for you after reading those last two sentences. Yes, they were extremely dark times, but I wouldn't change a thing because I turned all those experiences into passion and purpose. So, last week I went over the importance of basic self-care practices and it's interesting because I was NOT practicing them to the best of my ability towards the end of the week. I took on way too much at once and guess what? I woke up on sick on Sunday and I've been in bed since. Although this cold/flu is awful, it's a total blessing in disguise because I was desperate to have a few days to myself to recharge from the craziness of my current life.
Anyways, I'm really excited to talk about aromatherapy this week because it's something that I started incorporating into my daily routine back in 2011 while I was in treatment. For those who do not know, aromatherapy is also known as essential oil therapy and has been around for about 6,000 years. It can be defined as the science of utilizing naturally extracted essences from plants to harmonize our mental, physical, and emotional health. How does this apply to mental health? Inhaling the essential oil stimulates the olfactory system, the part of the brain connected to smell. As the molecules reach the brain, they affect the limbic system, which is linked to the emotions, the heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, memory, stress, and hormone balance. The coolest part (in my opinion) is that each oil has it's own healing properties and like everything else in recovery, what works for you may not work for and what works for me may not work for you. A certain scent may be calming to me, but not so calming to you. With that being said, let's talk about some of the oils that I've found to be helpful when it comes to coping with my mental illness. Here are the 6 most common oils that are used for anxiety and depression:
1) Lavender is the most common oil used for anxiety. It has a calming and relaxing effect on the nervous system. It also helps with sleep, feelings of peacefulness, panic attacks and general tension in the mind as well as in the body.
2) Rose is the second most common and is known for relieving for anxiety, depression and grief. Many find the floral scent to be comforting and calming.
3) Vetiver has a tranquil and grounding scent to it. This oil is often used to help ground and support individuals dealing with trauma looking to gain self-awareness and calmness. *I don't personally like the smell of this oil so I blend it with other oils in a diffuser.
4) Ylang ylang is another scent that I'm not fond of, but it's calming effects are pretty amazing! This oil is used for depression because of it's ability to make you feel uplifted and more cheerful. This oil helps with agitation and has been known to serve as a sedative for people with insomnia. Again, I usually blend this oil with others in a diffuser.
5) Bergamont is great for depression because it's stimulating and it has been known to create feelings of joy and alertness. If you are feeling anxious, an oil with a more stimulating aroma could cause your anxiety to increase. Perhaps blending this with a calming oil could do the trick if you are looking to combat both anxiety and depression.
6) Chamomile is one of the best medicinal plants out there to combat stress. You have probably heard of this herb being in candles and teas, right? Well, that's because it's amazing! This herb promotes relaxation and soothes the nervous system. This is my personal go-to for anxiety on a daily basis. Not only do I put this oil in my diffuser, but I also drink chamomile tea or tea blends with chamomile in it daily. I've noticed a SIGNIFICANT decrease in my overall levels of anxiety since I replace chamomile with caffeine. I know, how dare I suggest the idea of giving up caffeine. Sorry, not sorry! Some people don't feel that their high levels of anxiety are related to their caffeine intake and that may be true for them, but I've noticed a major difference since the day I broke up with caffeine. Again, what works for me may not work for you!
So, how do you use the oils? Well, there are two main ways and they are quite simple!
First, you can buy an oil diffuser like one of these. It's extremely easy, all you need is water and whichever oil(s) you choose. Each diffuser requires a different amount of water so, make sure to confirm how much yours needs beforehand. All you need is a few drops of oil. If you are going to make your own little blend of various scents in the diffuser, I usually do 2-3 drops per oil. For example, 2 chamomile, 3 lavender and 2 rose. You can also find other types of oil diffusers that require tea light candles are the cheaper option. Even though I have one like this, I done use it often because I've found that the scent is a lot stronger than the other diffuser; however, it's still a great option for a beginner.
Secondly, you can put your oil directly on your skin and allow them to absorb into your bloodstream to have the same results as a diffuser would. I just put a drop or two of my oil on my wrists, temples, chest and/or center of my forehead. Sometimes I'll put a few drops on my palms, rub them together and then put my hands over my face to inhale the scent. Trust me, this can have a really powerful impact on our overall wellbeing. Doing this before or after working with clients really helps me to shift my energy back into balance! Please note that some oils do need to be diluted with water before going directly on the skin. There are some blends that are specifically for topical use and do not need to be diluted before using them.
You can buy your oils online or at local stores. Two brands I highly recommend include Young Living and DoTerra , but they can be a little pricey. Aura Cacia is another one that is really great and affordable for someone just starting out with this practice.
As you can tell, I have become really passionate about using oils in approaching whole body wellness because of my personal success with them. If you give the oils listed above a try and find some relief with them, you can also start doing some of your own research to discover other oils that you find helpful. There are oils for when you have a cold, an upset stomach, menstrual cramps, headaches and pretty much anything else you can think of. It's amazing when you think of all the amazing things that earth provides for us, don't ya think?
See you next week for my talk about how my meditation practice was a complete game-changer for me in my recovery!