Essential Oils For Seasonal Affective Disorder

Essential Oils For Seasonal Affective Disorder

From time to time many of us suffer from a dose of what might be called the ‘winter blues’, which usually appears as a short period of inexplicable lethargy, anxiety or low mood. For some people though, at certain times of the year, this malaise can develop into a seriously disabling illness with a wide range of symptoms that can totally and utterly disrupt their lives.

Known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), this is a form of clinical depression that strikes during the darker winter months and is now medically recognized. Most sufferers of this condition can be perfectly healthy during spring and summer, but as soon as the darker days arrive in winter they find they are unable to function properly.

The symptoms of SAD

Symptoms appear between September and April, and are usually the most severe during November, December, January and February. When springtime arrives the symptoms often disappear quite quickly along with the arrival of the longer daylight hours and brighter sunlight.

Also known as ‘winter depression’, the key symptoms of seasonal affective disorder are anxiety, depression, lethargy, loss of sex drive, mood changes, over-eating and sleep problems. If the condition persists untreated for many months it can often lead to a weakened immune system due stress.

People who regularly suffer from this condition can become reclusive and seem reluctant to interact with other people during the winter. They know that they are not at their best and they desperately want to avoid their friends seeing them like this. The continual state of dread increases their anxiety and depression, often sending them into a downwards tail-spin emotionally.

The causes of SAD

The precise cause of SAD is not yet fully understood, but it is believed to be linked to the reduced exposure to sunlight during the shorter days of the year during the winter. A few hundred years ago about 75% of the population worked outdoors in natural daylight, whereas today this figure is down to less than 10%. This can be okay during the summer months when we all see longer daylight hours, but during the winter indoors workers operate under artificial lighting and see little, if any sunlight.

Amazing as it sounds, the natural light we receive through our eyes controls our moods, sleep, appetite, temperature and sex drive. Throughout the winter months many people travel to and from work during darkness, literally not seeing sunlight for days on end. Research has now established that a lack of sunlight can disrupt the balance of the brains chemistry, and it is believed that the combination of long dark winter nights together with the colder temperature contributes towards this depressive disorder.

The Science Bit

During the hours of darkness the pineal gland produces a chemical called melatonin which makes us feel drowsy and signals the time for sleep. Exposure to sunlight prevents the production of melatonin whilst increasing the production of a neuro-transmitter called serotonin. When seasons change, the circadian rhythm (biological clock) in your body shifts due to the changes in daylight, and this can affect the body’s production of serotonin and hormones. It has been discovered that disruption to the body’s circadian rhythms together with a decreased production of serotonin can trigger depression.

To counter the milder symptoms of seasonal affective disorder you must absorb as much natural daylight as possible, which ideally should be between one and two hours a day. Sufferers of more serious symptoms may need medical treatment such as phototherapy (special light lamps), antidepressants, counselling and psychotherapy. However, traditional antidepressant drugs can actually increase the symptoms of lethargy and sleepiness which the sufferer is trying to overcome!

Essential Oils can Help

To help tackle seasonal affective disorder successfully we should use the essential oils known to uplift and energize together with others that bolster the emotional system, and a few to help you get a good night’s sleep. Essential oils influence the limbic system, which is the area of the brain responsible for controlling our moods and the body’s circadian rhythm mentioned earlier. This means that we can use carefully chosen essential oils to bring about a changes on all levels to get the very best results.

Choose from the essential oils at the bottom of this article according to your requirements, and they are grouped together to make selection easier for you. You can choose oils from both the ‘energizing’ and ‘emotional support’ categories if you wish, and selecting 2 oils from each group would make a nice balanced blend.

Citrus oils have a general cheering and uplifting action on the emotions as well as an energising action on the body whilst the floral oils work on the more subtle energies to help to fight feelings of sadness, melancholy or even guilt which may be brought about by the condition. In case you are having trouble sleeping there are also a few recipes to help get a restful night’s sleep too.

All the essential oils listed can be vaporized (diffused), used in a bath or diluted in a carrier oil for a nice massage. Be sure to use bergamot FCF in a massage oil if you intend using a lightbox or sunbed afterward your treatment, since conventional bergamot is photo-sensitizing. The positive effects that essential oils have on the emotional system are perfect to help combat the winter blues and re-energize you, especially when combined with any of the conventional treatments.

The conventional treatments for seasonal affective disorder include phototherapy, medication, ionized-air reception, cognitive-behavioural therapy and carefully timed supplementation of the hormone melatonin. If you think that you are suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder you should consult your GP to eliminate the possibility of any other medical conditions, as well as seeking their advice on suitable treatment.

Energizing Oils for SAD

These essential oils help boost flagging energy levels on dull days:

  • Basil
  • Bergamot
  • Cardamon
  • Grapefruit
  • Lemon
  • Litsea Cubeba
  • Orange Sweet
  • Peppermint
  • Rosemary
  • Spearmint

Emotional Support

These essential oils help balance or strengthen your emotions:

  • Frankincense
  • Geranium
  • Jasmine
  • Neroli
  • Patchouli
  • Rose Otto
  • Ylang ylang

These essential oils can be used in a bath, massage or in a burner. When using essential oils in a bath use no more than 6 - 8 drops in total. Feel free to change the proportion of drops to suit your aroma preferences.

  • Sleep blend 1:
    1 drop Lavender • 1 drop Sweet marjoram • 2 drops Chamomile Roman
  • Sleep blend 2:
    2 drops Ylang ylang • 1 drop Geranium • 2 drops Neroli
  • Sleep blend 3:
    2 drops Clary Sage • 1 drop Sandalwood • 2 drops Bergamot

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Posted by Jill Hawker on 1/20/2014 to Ask Your Aromatherapist