Brenda Stansfield is a licensed massage therapist, certified clincial aromatherapist and the creator of the Clear My Head product line, sold in spas nationally at www.clearmyhead.com. She belives aromatherapy should be simple and easy to incorporate into a hectic lifestyle.
It's that time of year again. The kids are back at school and the holidays are looming in front of us. Just when we need all the energy we can muster, IT descends upon us: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). For many individuals in northern climates, myself included, the onset of seasonal depression is signaled by a sense of emptiness, fatigue, lethargy, food cravings, lack of concentration and/or disturbed sleep patterns. Once dismissed as 'simply the blues', mainstream medicine has acknowledged that this is a true disorder affecting as many as one in 20 individuals during the fall and winter months. Reduction of sunlight is often cited as a primary cause of SAD. Without the correct full spectrum light patterns that we are used to during the summer months, our neurotransmitter serotonin levels become irregular and an increase of the hormone melatonin (from the pineal gland) causes us to be come depressed at varying degrees.
Most people will 'snap out of it' on their own, others can benefit from holistic care: aromatherapy, light therapy, herbal supplements and a sunny vacation!
(Please note that severely depressed or suicidal individuals should seek the care of a physician and may need to consider the addition of antidepressant care. Never dismiss or self-treat massive depressive disorders yourself or encourage anyone to discontinue medication when being treated by a physician).
As a southern girl transplanted to Ohio, I know only too well how devastating and debilitating this disorder can be. In fact, SAD is what first brought me to aromatherapy. For me it was a natural choice to help prevent the onset of a mild depressive episode. Since aromatherapy doesn't require much time, it is a perfect way to incorporate a feeling of wellness during the bleakest months of the year.
Aromatherapy is using essential oils in massage, inhalation, diffusion and bathing as a way to uplift the body, mind and spirit. The medicinal properties of the oils are absorbed through the skin or through the olfactory system into the blood stream. In addition to their pleasing scents, which calm or stimulate the mind, the body benefits from the natural antiseptic, anti-viral and hormonal regulation of various oils. These properties may help boost the overall immune system. By diffusing fragrant oil in the air you are not only enhancing the emotional and spiritual benefits, but also creating an atmosphere of wellness by combating airborne germs (viral and bacteria).
Since SAD affects the body, mind and spirit, it makes sense that aromatherapy, which works on all aspects of the disorder, can be used alone or in tandem with other medical treatments. Aromatherapy is a complimentary therapy to traditional and herbal medicines. Here are some applications to incorporate in your daily life to help lift seasonal depression:
Fatigue, Lethargy, Lack of Concentration: The symptoms described are in need of essential oils, which stimulate the mind, activate the circulatory system, and energize the soul. These are the oils to choose when you need to 'wake yourself up' or put in overtime at the office. Any and all of the citrus oils are perfect for office use: grapefruit, sweet orange, tangerine, lemon, lime and bergamot will impart freshness in the air, reminiscent of walking through a fresh orchard. To boost memory and increase your mental clarity you can add a drop or two of peppermint, basil, rosemary or black pepper.
Disturbed Sleep: A client of mine seems to get her days and nights mixed up when she is experiencing her bout with SAD. To help alleviate this we set up an evening and morning ritual to help trigger her brain to function and to rest when it was required. For evening she diffuses calming, sedative scents in the air, bathes in ylang ylang & lavender before bedtime and puts one drop of lavender on her pillowcase to help fall asleep naturally. By using these relaxing scents she has encouraged a reflex response (memory map) of relaxation. The morning, however, required a bit more of a wake up call for her. We added some lemon essential oil to her shampoo, not just to condition her hair, but to give a burst of energy first thing in the morning. We blended a jar of sea salts, jojoba oil and essential oils of rosemary and grapefruit to exfoliate her skin. Rosemary is used for its stimulating scent and has the added bonus of being a wonderful respiratory oil which helps clear up nasal congestion and fight off colds and flu. In addition she switched to full spectrum lighting with increased wattage at the office and diffuses lemon in the air during office hours. Now she keeps her energy at peak performance.
Cravings & Weight Gain: Essential oils may be used in weight loss and to help curb your appetite. The most common essential oil to combat hunger is fennel. Use two drops in a cup of warm water. Drink before meals. Soaking in an essential oil bath of grapefruit, lemon or other diuretic oils may help increase the flow of urine to alleviate bloating and excess fluids. Don’t' neglect your daily exercises or diet (using essential oils will only boost your potential) and remember to drink 6 to 8 glasses of water
If you decide to incorporate aromatherapy to help you combat the onset of SAD a few precautions for safety must be adhered to:
• Always use pure botanical oils. Synthetic, perfume and fragrance oils are lovely to smell but have none of the medicinal properties contained from extraction of the true plant.
• Essential oils are potent and should be used sparingly. A few drops mixed in a carrier oils is perfect for massage or bathing. A general guide is 15 drops essential oils to one fluid ounce of carrier oil (almond, sesame, grapeseed etc.). Remember these are therapeutic at low levels and may be toxic at high.
• Consult a reliable aromatherapy text or Certified Aromatherapist if you are in doubt of the safety of an oil. Check for contra-indications if you are prone to seizures, high blood pressure, heart ailments or are pregnant or nursing.
Suggested essential oils for SAD through aromatherapy:
• Clary sage (mild depression, aggression, PMS)
• Lemon & grapefruit (mild depression, water retention)
• Rosemary, basil (fatigue, mental confusion, respiratory concerns)
• Pettigrain & bergamot (balancing, uplifting)
• Lavender (insomnia, tension headaches)