Aromatherapy is a complementary therapy that uses essential oils extracted from plants and flowers. It has been used for thousands of years to aid a variety of physical and mental health issues.

Aromatherapy works through sense of smell and through skin absorption. The therapeutic qualities of the oils are thought to soothe, uplift, restore, boost the immune system and encourage positivity.

Aromatherapy can:

  • Help to lift mood
  • Promote relaxation, reduce stress and improve our sense of well-being
  • Reduce nervous tension

Aromatherapy and mental health

Aromatherapy may help relieve the following symptoms and conditions:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress
  • Sleep issues
  • Exhaustion
  • Agitation
  • Dementia
  • Chronic pain
  • Cancer

Furthermore, relaxing aromas, combined with therapies such as diaphragmatic breathing, mindfulness and hypnotherapy can help to induce a state of relaxation more quickly than if used alone.

For example, if a person associates lavender with the practice of mindfulness, then after a certain amount of time, the smell of lavender alone can induce a mindful, relaxed mind-set. This is sometimes referred to as ‘associated learning’ and the aim is for the scent to generate the same reaction as the initial practice it was used to complement.

Speak to your doctor before starting aromatherapy if you have any of the following:

  • Epilepsy
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Asthma
  • Sensitive skin
  • Allergies
  • Pregnancy

Essential oils

There are hundreds of different aromatherapy oils, all of which have different benefits.

You can use them in different ways — massage, inhalers, room diffusers, bathing oils, etc.

An aromatherapist may recommend a single oil for the treatment or use a combination of oils.

Some of the most common essential oils include:

Rose essential oil is a natural mood lifter. It has been shown to boost serotonin and other good mood neurochemicals. Rose oil can help with:

  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Hormonal imbalances

Chamomile is one the best medicinal herbs for fighting stress and promoting relaxation.Hongratanaworakit, T., 2011. Aroma-therapeutic effects of massage blended essential oils on humans. Natural product communications6(8), pp.1199-1204. Singh, O., Khanam, Z., Misra, N. and Srivastava, M.K., 2011. Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla L.): an overview. Pharmacognosy reviews5(9), p.82.

Chamomile oil is recommended to relieve

  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Bergamot oil is very stimulating and can create a feeling of joy, freshness and energy and improve blood circulation. It also can have a relaxing effect.

Bergamot oil and blended essential oils that include bergamot can help with:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Sleep disturbances, 

Rub two to three drops into your hands and cup your mouth and nose. Breathe in the oil slowly. Try rubbing the oil on your feet and stomach.

Clary sage has been shown to improve mood, help with depression, stress and hormonal imbalances. It can help reduce cortisol levels, improve thyroid hormone levels and balance estrogen production in the body.

It can help with labour pains and menstrual cramp.

Ylang ylang oil can have a positive effect on mood and can help in coping with depression. It can help release negative emotions, lower the stress response, and help you to relax.

Ginger can help ease digestive problems. The scent is known for revitalising the body.

This oil is known for relieving respiratory congestion, so it can be helpful if you are suffering from a cold.

Mint is an energising oil which may help ease migraines and relieve nausea.

An uplifting and detoxing scent, lemon can help energise you and lift your mood.

Fennel is thought to help the digestive system and encourage menstrual regulation.

A calming oil with a warming citrus scent. It is often combined with lavender oil to help children relax.