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Essential Oils for Seasonal Sadness

By Jodi Cohen

I had the most vivid dream the other night.

We were on vacation with another family with kids the same age.  In the dream, my daughter and her friend were sharing a room with me and Max and his friend were sharing a room with my friend.  As we were heading down to meet the boys for dinner, I had this overwhelming wave of excitement to see Max, as if I hadn’t seen him in a very long time, which in the dream state felt surprising.  I sat next to him at dinner and was so excited to talk, laugh and spend time with him.

The dream was so vivid that in that space between dreaming and waking, I was reflecting on how much fun it was to spend time with Max and how it felt like forever since I got to see him.  It was only upon waking that the reality struck me.  It felt like I missed him because I did.  Because he passed away four years ago and it has been a long time since I got to spend time with him.

Grief is funny that way.

You can feel like you are doing so well – having a long stretch of good days – and out of the blue, the grief strikes and it can feel as intense as the first wave.

I have personally noticed that grief seems to hit hardest when I am the happiest, because I naturally want to share my joy with the people I love.

It seems to hit especially hard during the holiday season with the focus on family and tradition and every festive occasion unlocks decades of happy memories that Max is no longer a part of.  I have also noticed that it seems harder to shoulder intense grief during the “happiest time of the year” when you may feel that cannot express your sadness lest it dampen the festive mood of others.  This may also ring true for anyone who is not feeling like their most festive self when forced cheer abounds.


What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal sadness, also known as the winter blues or seasonal affective disorder (SAD) refers to changes in your mood and behavior that correlate to changes in the season, with darkness, cold and winter seasons traditionally impacting your energy and your mood.  Seasonal sadness can deeply impact how you think, feel, interact with others and show up in the world on a daily basis.


Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Indications that you may be suffering from seasonal sadness may include:

  • Social withdrawal (feeling like “hibernating”)
  • Low energy, fatigue and feeling sluggish
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Sleeping too much or too little, including insomnia or sleep deprivation
  • Changes in appetite or craving sugar and carbohydrates
  • Irritability or other changes in mood, including general discontent
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Sadness, loneliness or apathy
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Depressed immune system


What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?

While a variety of factors may be at play, there is some research that links the changes in light and temperature during the winter months with physiological changes in your body and brain brought on by disruptions to  your internal biological clock, also known as your circadian rhythm.

Since your body naturally produces melatonin in response to darkness, the increase in darkness during times when you can’t go to sleep can play havoc with the natural balance of your body. Research also suggests that sunlight controls the levels of molecules that help maintain normal serotonin levels – the brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that helps regulate mood and feelings of wellbeing – but in people with seasonal sadness, this regulation does not function properly, resulting in decreased serotonin levels in the winter.  Vitamin D – the sunlight hormone – helps produce serotonin, but Vitamin D levels often run low in the winter when you spend less time in the sun.

Since serotonin and melatonin help maintain your daily rhythm which is tied to the seasonal night-day cycle. When these hormones are disrupted, you can no longer adjust to the seasonal changes in day length, leading to sleep, mood, and behavior changes.


How Essential Oils Support Seasonal Affective Disorder

Essential oils can help ease the effects of seasonal affective disorder, by gently uplifting, energizing, and calming your body and your mind.

Essential oils deeply affect your brain’s ability to think and feel. In fact, Research has found that “inhalation of essential oils can communicate signals to the olfactory system and stimulate the brain to exert neurotransmitters (e.g. serotonin and dopamine) thereby further regulating mood.”  The 2013 article published by researchers at Xiamen University, China, elaborated, “Most studies, as well as clinically applied experience, have indicated that various essential oils, such as lavender, lemon and bergamot can help to relieve stress, anxiety, depression and other mood disorders.”

Inhaling the appropriate essential oils can communicate signals to the olfactory system and stimulate the brain to release neurotransmitters that help regulate your mood. For example, research explained in an article in Current Drug Targets entitled “Aromatherapy and the Central Nerve System” found that smelling bergamot, lavender, and lemon essential oils help to trigger your brain to release serotonin and dopamine.

Essential oils travel through the nasal passageways to the brain where they bind to olfactory receptors. From there they reach the emotional center of the brain, known as the limbic system, where they can positively impact brain chemistry to boost your mood and calm anxiety and depression.

As you may know, your sense of smell connects directly to the part of your brain that regulates the release of several major hormones.  These hormones directly impacting how you feel and how you function.

Smell travels through your olfactory system to your hypothalamus a region of your brain that acts as your hormonal control center, by way of your amygdala in your limbic system.  When you smell an essential oil for the hypothalamus, it stimulates your hypothalamus to release other hormones and neurotransmitters that impact your emotional state.

Research validates this, noting “inhalation of essential oils can communicate signals to the olfactory system and stimulate the brain to exert neurotransmitters (e.g. serotonin and dopamine) thereby further regulating mood.”

Additional research shows that essential oils can significantly impact the brain, calming emotional states and decreasing blood pressure, heart rate, and skin temperature, which indicated a decrease of autonomic arousal.

Remedies must be able to cross the blood-brain barrier to modify your brain’s neurotransmitter response. Neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin lack the necessary transport mechanisms to cross the blood-brain barrier, while lipid-soluble essential oil molecules do not.

Essential oils have been shown to help calm depression, in part due to their ability to access, and balance, the brain.  Essential oils are able to travel directly to the area of the brain that impact mood.

Research has shown that smells are first processed by the olfactory bulb, which starts inside the nose and runs along the bottom of the brain. The olfactory bulb has direct connections to two brain areas that are strongly implicated in emotion and memory: the amygdala, which is often blunted in depressed persons as compared to non-depressed individuals, and the hippocampus. Your other 4 senses – sight, sound, touch and taste – do not pass through these brain areas which may help explain why essential oils help boost mood.


Essential Oils for Seasonal Sadness

Essential oils, especially oils derived from citrus fruits, have been shown to lift mood, calm anxiety, alleviate depression and literally make you feel lighter.

Research on the Effects of citrus fragrance on immune function and depressive states found that “citrus fragrance was more effective than antidepressants.”  The research found that “citrus fragrance can restore the stress-induced immunosuppression, suggesting that citrus fragrance may have an effect on restoring the homeostatic balance”, or normalizing hormone levels and restoring stress-induced immunosuppression, returning the immune system to healthy function.  Mental health is thought to correlate to hormonal and immune health and this study sought to “restore mental health by stimulation of one of the sensory systems (i.e. sense of smell).  Smelling citrus allowed depressive subjects to “markedly reduce” the doses of antidepressants necessary for the treatment of depression.

Additional research found that lemon oil relieves stress. The study examined the anti-stress action of the essential oils of lavender, rose, and lemon by inducing stress in mice and found that “lemon oil had the strongest anti-stress effect”.

Researchers hypothesize “that the antidepressant-like effect of lemon oil is closely related with the 5-HTnergic pathway (which accelerates the turnover of the reward neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain), especially via 5-HT (1A) receptor. Moreover, the lemon oil significantly accelerated the metabolic turnover of DA in the hippocampus and of 5-HT in the prefrontal cortex and striatum. These results suggest that lemon oil possesses anxiolytic, antidepressant-like effects via the suppression of DA activity related to enhanced 5-HTnergic neurons.”  Similar animal research found that lemon essential oil reduces anxiety.

In particular, Uplift™ blend helps balance your energy, boost mood, alleviate depression, and promote feelings of strength, courage and protection. It also helps you align with greater health and intuition and supports optimal energetic alignment.

Uplift™ was specifically formulated with oils that assist in building courage, confidence, self-esteem and returning a sense of calm, joy and peace to our lives.  It inspires hope in those who have temporarily lost their optimism and helps users to overcome their fear and reclaim their potential.  When we have more courage to take on new things and/or change, we are better able to release old patterns that are not working for us.

Uplift™ blend contains a proprietary formulation of organic and/or wild crafted essential oils of Frankincense, Blue Tansy, Roman Chamomile, Ylang Ylang, Lime, Mandarin, Lavender, and Rose in a base of fractionated coconut oil.

Uplift™ is formulated from the following single oils:


Frankincense is an aromatic resin derived from the sap of trees in the Boswellia that can stimulate the limbic part of the brain to help elevate mood and release negativity and painful emotions.

Frankincense oil has also been shown to offer a natural solution for mild to moderate cases of depression. Frankincense contains the chemical constituent Incensole Acetate, which has been found to stimulate Transient Receptor Potential Vanilloid (TRPV3) channels in the brain that “may play a role in emotional regulation.” Research found this constituent of Frankincense to relieve anxiety and depression in animal studies.


Lavender is known for its sedative, anxiety relieving and calming properties that help your body and mind relax. One study even suggested that lavender works as well as the anti-anxiety medication Lorazepam for calming anxiety.

Linalool, a key constituent of Lavender, has been shown to help with depression.  Linalool is known to activate your calming neurotransmitter Gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), which may slows and can balance brain activity and reduce symptoms of depression.

Research has found that essential oils, like Lavender, can bind to the receptors on your cells that receive your body’s calming neurotransmitter, GABA, and help balance your brain’s level of excitation and inhibition which is vital for normal brain function and a healthy nervous system.

Scientists also concluded that inhaling Lavender essential oil can calm the nervous system and improve brain waves appropriate to a relaxed state. “Lavender oil caused significant decreases of blood pressure, heart rate, and skin temperature, which indicated a decrease of autonomic arousal. In terms of mood responses.”


Known to balance heart function, relax, calm and soothe nerves, Rose essential oil also demonstrates strong stress management and anti-depressant qualities.

Research reveals the anxiolytic-like (anxiety reducing) properties of rose oil. “Inhalation of rose essential oil produced an anxiolytic-like effect similar to diazepam (a medication used for anxiety first marketed as Valium).

A study published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice correlated “significant improvements” in postnatal depression and anxiety.

Blue Tansy

Helps lift physical and mental stagnation, relieving congestion along with anger, anxiety, depression and nervousness agitation to help open your heart and move out energy that no longer serves you.  On a physical level, it helps calm inflammation and neutralize histamine to calm allergic reactions. It helps enhance the properties of the other oils in the blend and will help you relax your mind and body.

Roman Chamomile

A natural anti-histamine, Roman Chamomile can help promote the health of your physical heart.  Roman chamomile contains high levels of flavonoids, or plant secondary metabolites, that have been shown to significantly reduce mortality from coronary heart disease when taken internally.

The flavonoids present in Roman chamomile essential oil are believed to lower blood pressure and have a relaxing effect on the heart. On an emotional level, Roman chamomile essential oil has been used as a mild sedative to calm nerves and reduce anxiety by promoting relaxation.

2013 study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that an  essential oil blend including lavender, Roman chamomile and neroli reduced anxiety levels and improved the sleep quality of patients in an intensive care unit compared to conventional nursing intervention.  Similarly, a 2006 study found that inhaling Roman Chamomile essential oil promoted sleep with calmness and drowsiness among healthy volunteers. Inhalation of chamomile is believed to offset a stress-induced increase in the levels of adrenocorticotropic (ACTH) hormone, which is released by the pituitary gland to trigger the release of the stress hormone cortisol.

According to a 2005 study published in Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin,  chamomile extracts exhibit benzodiazepine-like hypnotic activity. A significant decrease in the time it took to fall asleep was observed in rats who received chamomile extract at a dose of 300 milligrams per kilogram of body weight.

Red Mandarin

Mandarin essential oil acts as a relaxing agent for agitated nerves and reduces stress and emotional imbalance. Mandarin essential oil has been found to possess anti-anxiety and sedative properties and may help to relieve anxiety, depression, nervousness, and promote a healthy sleep.  It can work as an instant mood booster, helping to switch off an overactive mind, promote relaxation and relieve nervous and muscular spasms.

Research tracking nurse-delivered aromatherapy as part of patient care found that mandarin essential oil showed “significant clinical improvements” in lowering anxiety. Mandarin is known to have numerous emotional benefits. It is regarded as being highly uplifting and blends well with several other essential oils.


Lime oil was found to be “more effective than antidepressants.”  It clears trapped emotions and thoughts, helping to overcome stagnant energies – including grief, despair, apathy anxiety, depression, listlessness fatigue, overwhelm, or a heavy heart. Lime can help support clear boundaries, opening the door for happy, healthy, and heart-focused relationships.  Further, the Lime oil can help promote emotional grounding, encouraging a balance between the heart and mind, the connection of which helps you ground.

Research has demonstrated that citrus oils, like Lime, help stimulate the production of glutathione, an antioxidant known to protect you against inflammation and reduce our chances of developing autoimmunity as well as normalize “neuroendocrine hormone levels and immune function.”

Ylang Ylang

Ylang ylang essential oil works directly on brain chemicals to reduce anxiety and depression.

Ylang Ylang is believed to balance the central nervous system, calm blood pressure and support mental relaxation, all of which help to calm depression nervousness. It has been also reported to have blood pressure lowering effect suggesting its potential use in managing hypertension.

Research has found Ylang Ylang “indeed possess sedative, relaxing, and also harmonization effects” and provides “relief of depression and stress.”

A study on The effects of the inhalation method using essential oils on blood pressure and stress responses of clients with essential hypertension found that inhaling lavender, ylang ylang, and bergamot oils once daily for four weeks reduced cortisol levels, psychological stress, and blood pressure in people with essential hypertension.

An additional clinical study concluded that both cortisol and systolic blood pressure declines after inhalation of a combination of lavender, ylang ylang, marjoram, and neroli oil in those with high blood pressure or pre-high blood pressure

Similarly, animal research found that ylang ylang essential oil and its major constituents (benzyl benzoate, linalool, and benzyl alcohol) reduce anxiety in mice, and modifies neurotransmitter levels (decreases dopamine in the striatum and increase serotonin in the hippocampus).

Apply  2 -3 drops of Uplift™ to the vagal nerve (behind earlobe, on mastoid bone) over heart, the base of your neck, wrists, temples and forehead. To keep balanced and confident during the day rub 3 to 6 drops on the bottom of your feet each morning.  It can also align the physical, mental and emotional energies of the body when applied to shoulders and/and feet.

To aid with seasonal affectiveness disorder, apply 2- 3 times daily or as needed.

Movement and exercise help support healthy brain chemistry by increasing the release of happy hormones like endorphins, energizing hormones like epinephrine (adrenaline) and uplifting neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin.


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About The Author

Jodi Cohen

Jodi Sternoff Cohen is the founder of Vibrant Blue Oils. An author, speaker, nutritional therapist, and a leading international authority on essential oils, Jodi has helped over 50,000 individuals support their health with essential oils.