Navigating Depression with Essential Oils

by Jodi Cohen

Last week I shared strategies that help me navigate my daily battle with anxiety and grief and was overwhelmed by the positive feedback and response from so many of you who silently suffer from similar symptoms.

Today I want to give voice to a new symptom of grief – depression.

As rotten as anxiety feels, depression is worse.  For me it literally feels like running on empty all the time.  No motivation to get work done or connect socially.  Even exercising or walking my dog feels like a lot of effort and taking a nap in the middle of the day has never felt more appealing.

I am a journalist at heart and truly believe that once you understand the root cause of an issue, it is easier to resolve.  I recalled that Dr. Christiane Northrup correlated feelings of depression with unresolved grief in her book The Wisdom of Menopause.

Dr. Northrup explains that “depression is very often anger turned inward”, noting that depression can be a “stage, not a destination” that “lifts when we get in touch with our anger.”

I really resonate with Dr. Northrup’s perspective that depression, sadness and anger offer us an opportunity for growth and healing and have been exploring that strategy to work through depression.


How Depression Presents an Opportunity for Growth

Depression often presents as symptoms like fatigue or low motivation – symptoms that force you to slow down and rest so you can actually experience and work through your feelings.

“Rest is a primary ingredient in creating radical shifts in your life while exhaustion facilitates stagnancy.”

This quote from my friend Lauren Geersten in her new book The Invisible Corset so beautifully captures how depression presented as an opportunity for me to recognize and work through my unprocessed emotions like grief, anger and sadness.  Lauren elaborates that we often “use exhaustion as an unconscious strategy to avoid the truth”, noting that when we stop and rest we actually feel our lives.

Since Max’s death, I had been using work as a distraction to numb my pain.  I kept myself so incredibly busy during my waking moments that there was no time to feel.

Instead of drugs or alcohol, I choose work as my numbing strategy of choice.  This strategy was not without benefits.  Grief can hit like a tsunami – and the impact can be intense and at times overwhelming.  So it can be helpful to finds ways to take a break, just as you might take a rest between sets during an intense workout.

Breaks are not the same as a permanent pause, which is what my workaholic strategy was turning into.  I worked around the clock to write my book, launch the Parasympathetic Summit and market my new book Essential Oils to Boost the Brain and Heal the Body.

After the book launched and I suddenly had the time and space to feel, the depression started to slowly creep in.

Common symptoms of depression include:

  • Feeling sad, hopeless or empty
  • Fatigue or lack of mental and physical energy
  • Irritability, frustration or angry outbursts, even over small matters
  • Losing interest in activities that normally bring pleasure
  • Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
  • Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things

For me, it really just felt like fatigue on all levels.  Physical fatigue that caused me to crave naps during the day and mental fatigue that prompted me to avoid intense mental activity.

This low level depression had been at play for months, but the dam burst this past weekend sending me into a tailspin that required a better solution.

My 3-Step Strategy for Navigating Depression

Last Sunday was my father’s unveiling, a Jewish tradition of officially adding a tombstone over his grave, which is located a stone’s throw from Max’s grave.  I managed to hold it together for the service, but the exhaustion hit shortly thereafter and seemed to last through the week.

As I mentioned above, fatigue and low motivation force you to slow down and rest so you can actually experience and work through your feelings.  I have long used work and workaholic tendencies to distract and numb myself so I don’t need to feel my grief.  But avoiding the problem does not solve the problem.

It just keeps your stuck.  I have come to realize that when I don’t know what to do, I often do nothing, but in this case, avoidance was not sustainable.  Recognizing that the definition of insanity is expecting different results from the same strategy, I decided to shift my approach.  Instead of running from and suppressing my grief, I decided to try leaning into my pain, fear and depression.

Dr. Northrup describes depression as a “temporary bump in the road that can be alleviated when we have the courage to see it as a message from our inner wisdom.”

She further explains that “depression is one way your body’s inner wisdom tells you that something in your life is out of balance. Often its message is that a part of you has ceased to grow or has stagnated, or that you have lost the passion for living that is a natural part of being alive. It may also be a hint that you are angry with someone but do not feel free to express that anger directly.  Depression may result from unresolved grief over the loss of a loved one through separation or death.”

My Strategy for Leaning in Involves 3 Steps

Step 1: Ground

Grounding is a technique that helps you connect to the healing energy of nature and the Earth.  Grounding brings you into a state of balance, both mentally and physically. It is in this balanced state that your body can rest, relax and open your awareness to any underlying emotions that can contribute to feelings of depression.

Grounding allows you to feel safe so you can process and release any depression, sadness, anger, guilt, sorrow, or unacknowledged pain.  You can neutralize these intense emotions by simply acknowledging them, expressing them safely, accepting yourself for having them—and realize that you’re having them for a reason.

When we physically ground and connect to Earth, it allows physical and emotional toxins to flow out of us and into the Earth   On the emotional level; grounding allows our thoughts and emotions to move through us more easily.  On a spiritual level, grounding enhances our connection to our intuition and spiritual guidance. When we ground ourselves, these natural processes flow easily without interference.

Essential oils and the energy of nature, especially oils from grounded plants like trees or grasses, help you ground so that feelings of depression can be more easily released and discharged.

We know that the earth helps us discharge, neutralize and recycle that which we no longer need.  For example, we bury our dead in the ground where the minerals of their body decompose and recycle back into minerals that can then nurture and support other plant life.  This is one reason that animal waste is recycled as fertilizer for new plants.

When you connect to nature and allow yourself to discharge your emotions, it gives those negative emotions somewhere safe to land where they won’t cause harm to you or anyone else but will just be neutralized and released.   Animals in nature are known to physically shake on the ground after a stressful event has passed to help discharge and release stress chemicals like cortisol.  While you do not need to physically lie on the ground and shake, moving through nature can help you discharge those unpleasant emotions.

My favorite oils for grounding are:

Attention™ blend was designed to support children with ADD/ADHD and it works because it helps ground these kids into their bodies and when they are grounded, they are less distracted, impulsive and more focused.   Attention™ contains Vetiver, a perennial bunchgrass with very deep roots that help ground it to the Earth.  Vetiver essential oil is extracted from these deep roots and is known to grounds you mentally, physically and emotionally, often helping you explore the root of your emotional issues.  Attention™ also contains Frankincense™ and Cedarwood which helps us ground and feel connected to the planet and each other.  Apply 2- 3 drops of Attention™ on the bottom of the feet and back of the neck to help with grounding.

Frankincense™ is a resin extracted from trees that grow in the challenging climates of northeastern African and the Arabian Peninsula.  These challenging climates make Frankincense™ uniquely resilient and supportive to help with grounding.  Frankincense™ is known for helping to purify, sanctify and connect you to your spiritual path, calming the mental chatter of your nervous system.  It also helps connect you to the healing energy of the Earth.  Apply Frankincense™ to the bottoms of your feet to support grounding.

Parasympathetic™: Grounding is known to calm your sympathetic nervous system and help balance your nervous system. Supporting the Parasympathetic State can also help the body ground which further benefits the vagus nerve.  Further, the Lime oil in the Parasympathetic™ blend can help promote emotional grounding, encouraging a balance between the heart and mind, the connection of which helps you ground.  Apply Parasympathetic™ over the vagus nerve (behind the earlobe on the mastoid bone).

Step 2: Center

When you focus or “center” your energy in your heart, it helps to integrate and balance your physical, emotional, and mental body.

This is known as Heart Coherence, or “the state when the heart, mind and emotions are in energetic alignment and cooperation,” according to Dr. Rollin McCraty, the Research Director for the HeartMath Institute.  McCraty elaborates that heart coherence “is a state that builds resiliency – personal energy is accumulated, not wasted – leaving more energy to manifest intentions and harmonious outcomes.” You might think of it as an emotional “catch-and-release” program.

Your heart connects you to feelings of love, balance, and connection to others. When you process things through your heart (as opposed to your head) you are better able to support feelings of self-acceptance, self-love, compassion, openness, and unconditional love for yourself and others.

Heart centered focus allows you to bear witness and hold space for yourself and others and validate those experiences without judgement.  Allowing yourself to feel love, gratitude, compassion, kindness and support helps alleviate negative  emotions which are more likely to  occur  when  you  don’t  feel  that  you’re  getting  your  needs  met.  Centering in the heart space helps you feel supported so that it is easier to surrender and release any emotions or limiting beliefs that might be constraining your ability to release the underlying emotions that are contributing to your depression.

Your emotions are reflected in your heart rhythm patterns. When you are in a state of fear or anger, your heartbeat reflects that negative energy through a chaotic heart rhythm known as an “incoherent heart rhythm pattern.”

Your heart then sends signals to your brain that influence your mental and emotional experience. More specifically, the type of chemicals released into your body depends upon the quality of the emotional signal sent from the heart to the brain.  Incoherence of the rhythmic activity of your heart inhibits higher cognitive functions such as attention, perception, memory and problem-solving.

Conversely, when you’re experiencing positive emotions like love, joy, gratitude and compassion, you creating a state of heart coherence or “coherent heart rhythm patterns” that look smooth, ordered and stable. Coherent heart patterns help your body’s systems synchronize and work better, enhancing your ability to think clearly, learn, remember, reason and make healthy, thoughtful decisions.

Vibrant Blue Oils Heart™ blend was designed to harmonize the brain, digestive track and the entire body for optimal communication between the heart, brain and gut to foster balance and optimal health.  To use it, simply apply 2-3 drops over the heart (left side of chest) 2-3 times daily or as needed.

Step 3: Shift (and Uplift)

The true cure for depression lies in learning the skills associated with full emotional expression and then taking positive action

Depression is a reflection of areas of our life that we need to address.  It requires you to dedicate your focus and energy on whatever issue needs to be addressed.  It can feel painful and uncomfortable to experience the emotions you were desperately trying to avoid.  Supporting healthy brain biochemistry can help make these intense emotions less intense and more manageable.

Citrus essential oils 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.”

Anti-depressants,  like Prozac, Celexa, Lexapro, Paxil, and Zoloft, are “selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors” or SSRIs,  which means they increase  the  availability  of  the  happy neurotransmitter  serotonin  in  your  brain.

Essential oils can work in the same way, which can help calm the intensity of painful emotions.  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.”

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.

Uplift™ 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.


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About The Author

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.

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Subscribe to Vibrant Blue Oils and receive weekly information on oils and how to use them. As a bonus, we’ll send out Beginner’s Guide to Essential Oils to your inbox immediately!