Lack of greenery, gray skies, a snow-covered world, reduced activity and the cold temperatures of winter can all lead to what is known as the "Winter Blues." The Winter Blues involve feelings of sadness, depression and loss of energy. While winter is a time usually associated with family, celebration, and lots of eating, it is also a time of increased sadness as our biological clocks are disrupted as the days become shorter. This disruption is characterized by feelings of irritability as we long for bright, sunny days. However, this irritability has the capacity to transition into mild to severe depression, otherwise known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, due to decreased levels of serotonin in the brain.
Winter blues may also negatively impact our productivity thanks to symptoms such as inconsistent sleep patterns, difficulty concentrating, a weakened immune system, a change in appetite which can lead to weight gain, loss of libido, fatigue, and a drop in energy levels. If these symptoms are not addressed, it could lead to a situation where we're completely out of sync with our natural schedules, and it can make winter the most draining time of the year.
But, luckily, there's a way to beat the winter blues: with aromatherapy. You may not realize it, but a lack of sunlight isn't the only thing you're missing in winter: the aroma of the great outdoors is vital to improving our well-being, and reminds us of the simple things we take for granted during spring and summer. Thankfully, it doesn't have to be that way all season long. Along with eating right, exercising, and exposing ourselves to light as much as possible, aromatherapy may be an answer to our winter problems.
Some of the typical winter complaints in our area are chills (internal chills), dry skin, chapped lips, dry stale interior air, colds and flus, joint stiffness and depressed moods. Colds and flus become more prevalent. Eczema, psoriasis and other dry skin conditions can flair up with drier air, lower temperatures and less exposure to sunlight.
SOME GOOD ESSENTIAL OILSFOR WINTER
• Dry skin, eczema and psoriasis – Benzoin (Styrax benzoin), Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens), German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita), Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum), Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin), Rose (Rosa damascena) and Sandalwood (Santalum album). The choice of carrier oils is important, especially with skin conditions. Rosehip and Tamanu are great for eczema and psoriasis.
• Nasal congestion and sinus inflammation – Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens), ravintsava (Cinnamomum camphora), Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis var camphor), Fragonia (Agonis fragrans), Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus radiata) and Pine (Pinus sylvestris).
• Anti-Oxidants – Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum), Clove (Eugenia caryophyllus), Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus radiata), Lemon (Citrus limon), Juniperberry (Juniperus communis) and Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium).
• Relief from cold and flu symptoms – Palo Santo (Bulnesia sarmientoi), Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus radiata), Pine (Pinus Sylvestris), Siberian Fir (Abies sibirica) and Spruce (Picea mariana).
• Focus and concentration – Lemon (Citrus limon), Peppermint (Mentha piperita) and Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis var camphor).
• Grounding – Cedarwood (Cedrus altanica), Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin), Petitgrain (Citrus aurantium), Vetiver (Vetiver zizanoides), Frankincense (Boswellia carterii).
• Antidepressants – Bergamot (Citrus bergamia), Clary sage (Salvia sclarea), Lemon (Citrus limon), Grapefruit (Citrus paradisi), Orange (Citrus sinensis) and Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata).
• Support during transitions – Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens), Himalayan Cedar (Cedrus deodora), Myrtle (Myrtus communis), Tangerine (Citrus reticulata) and Frago
NOTE: It's important to know the specific plant species from which a particular essential oil was derived (e.g. Lavandula angustifolia and not just any lavender plant) in order to ensure that the essential oil you use has the healing properties you seek. That's one reason why the botanical names have been included in parentheses above.
OTHER ESSENTIAL OILS FOR YOUR WINTER MEDICINE CHEST:
Bergamont (Citrus bergamia): Bergamot oil is a powerful antiseptic. In appropriate dilution, it has proven its use in the treatment of many troublesome skin complaints, such as eczema, some of which can be reluctant to respond to other forms of treatment.
Stress-related complaints such as headaches and irritability will often respond well to a massage with bergamot in the blend. The effect of the oil is vitalizing and uplifting, soothing tension away without any sedative effect. Bergamot eases problem gastrointestinal spasm and flatulence and gentle abdominal massage can bring relief from constipation and colic.
The oil is also detoxifying and is thought to help in the treatment of cellulite when used in massage. In addition to this, when used for bathing, bergamot oil can soothe inflammation and can help alleviate vaginal itching and the symptoms of cystitis.
In inhalation or massage, it can be used in the treatment of respiratory infections such as sore throats and bronchitis. Bergamot can also be used in a mouthwash to deodorize bad breath and fight mouth and throat infections, or on the hair to control dandruff. Suitable methods of use: bathing, hair care, inhalation, massage, skin care, vaporizer/diffuser.
Cedarwood (Cedrus atlantica): Cedarwood oil has a rich, honey color and a warm, woody, sweet smell that appeals to both sexes. The oil is extracted from wood – sawdust, chips and shavings – by the process of steam distillation. Aromatherapists also use cedarwood for the treatment of respiratory ailments.
It has antiseptic properties, and is effective against coughs, bronchitis and catarrh. Its use in skin and hair care is well recognized, and it can be very beneficial in the treatment of dandruff, eczema and acne. As an ingredient in a blend to perfume a room, cedarwood is warm and pleasant. The oil is particularly useful in treating stress and tension.
Cinnamon Leaf (Cinnamoma zeylanicum): There are two different oils extracted from the tree. Cinnamon-leaf oil has some use in aromatherapy, but cinnamon-bark oil is a strong irritant, high in toxicity and should not be used. Cinnamon-leaf oil is extracted from the leaves and young twigs of the tree by steam distillation.
Commercially, it is used in the food and drinks industry in some sweets and carbonated drinks, and in the pharmaceutical industry it is used in cough medications and dental preparations.
Aromatherapists can use cinnamon-leaf oil in massage to relieve rheumatism, and it can also be beneficial in the treatment of digestive disorders. It is a stimulant and is used to treat circulatory problems. It can also be of benefit to those who are suffering from nervous exhaustion. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, cinnamon is used to warm the interior as well as used for exterior conditions such as a common cold or flu.
Clove bud (Eugenia aromatica): This essential oil is extracted from the buds of the tree. The scent of the oil is hot-spicy, sweet, penetrating. Clove is a tropical evergreen tree that grows to a height of about 40-70 feet and has aromatic dark green leathery leaves and bright pink buds that bloom into yellow flowers, followed by purple berries.
Heating the oil creates vapors which open sinuses and breathing passages. This oil is uplifting, an aphrodisiac and reviving, is a mental stimulant, improves mental clarity and memory; improves digestion; reduces pain by numbing the area; a disinfectant and repels insects. Clove bud oil can irritate the skin and should either be avoided or used with extra care by people who have sensitive skin. Use small amounts.
Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin): Essential oil of patchouli is obtained by the process of steam distillation from the leaves of the plant which is previously dried and fermented. The oil is thick and viscous and is orange-amber in color. It has a distinctively sweet and earthy smell that is long-lasting and unlike other essential oils, actually improves with age.
Patchouli oil is antiseptic and anti-inflammatory and can be used in skin care to treat acne, oily skin and open pores as well as minor sores that are weeping and reluctant to heal. It is also beneficial in the treatment of athlete's foot, chapped and painful skin and eczema. Patchouli is particularly beneficial to aging skin and will also help prevent scars and stretchmarks.
When used in a massage blend, particularly in abdominal massage, or alternatively in a warm compress, patchouli can relieve constipation and combat flatulence. Patchouli can also be used to strengthen the spirits when exhaustion has set in and will help restore a sense of calm and determination in stressful times.
The oil also has aphrodisiac properties and can benefit in particular those whose desire or sexual performance has been adversely affected by stress and fatigue. Patchouli oil can also be used as an insect repellent.
Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanoides): Vetiver is a grass, and it is native to southern India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. It grows to a height of approximately 6 feet. It has deep, strong roots and is planted in some countries to protect the soil from erosion. Therapeutically, Vetiver oil has a profoundly relaxing effect on the nervous system, relieving tension and stress. It can be used to good effect in the treatment of insomnia.
In India, Vetiver oil is known as the oil of tranquility. In baths or in massage, vetiver is beneficial in the treatment of the symptoms of disorders such as arthritis, rheumatism and stiff muscles. It is warming and comforting and will help to relieve the tension that is often associated with chronic pain.
Vetiver oil also benefits the circulatory system, stimulating and warming, especially when used in combination with massage. In skin care, the antiseptic and slightly astringent properties of vetiver can be used to good effect in the treatment of oily skin that is prone to spots.
AROMATHERAPY APPLICATIONS FOR WINTER
Essential oils are the primary aromatherapy ingredient, but carrier oils and the type of application are critical considerations as well. In fact, in situations such as when the skin is very sensitive or inflamed, an aromatherapist may recommend only a simple blend of soothing carriers. Some applications are better suited for certain conditions: the skin tends to absorb lotions rapidly for quick delivery of their nourishing attributes (e.g., moisturizing) while balms and ointments persist on the surface of the skin and offer more extended healing to the skin's surface (e.g., wound and acne treatment).
In choosing essential oils for the winter months, select one to four essential oils that create an integrated, complementary and mutually reinforcing blend. Resist the temptation to use every essential oil that has an appealing attribute given your condition or intention.
Personal inhalers can offer a convenient, portable personal treatment for an individual. An inhaler can be filled with an essential oil blend to clear the sinuses, increase focus and concentration, ground or uplift the spirits.
Diffusers scent an entire space affecting everyone present or moving through the space. They can be used as an alternative or a complement to personal inhalers. Depending on the blend of essential oils used, diffusers can address sinuses congestion and moodiness, instill mental clarity and focus or provide an immune boost. Where spaces are shared, diffuser oil blends tend to designed for more general purpose use.
Lotions, creams and butters are excellent applications for dry skin, eczema and psoriasis and other skin conditions prevalent during these months. The healing properties of carriers make important contributions to these products. Many oils and butters, rich in beneficial fatty acids, moisturize the skin: Avocado (Persea americana), Jojoba (Simmondisia californica) and Shea butter (Butyrospermum parkii) are three commonly recognized examples. Tamanu (Calcophyllum inophyllum), Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) and Calendula (Calendula officinalis) cold pressed or infused oils address both eczema and psoriasis. Carrot seed oil (Daucus carota) calms the itchiness that often associated with these conditions. Whereas body oils, butters and balms can feel a bit heavy in the summer months, they tend to warm, moisturize and soothe the skin during the cold, dry months of winter.
Baths are a wonderful way to get a little "me time," and to modify moods, warm baths are particularly therapeutic and enjoyable in winter. They're helpful for chills or when one feels cold to the bone. Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of an emulsifier (full fat milk, oatmeal, whipping cream, bath salts, etc.) to help your essential oils and bath water mix as well as to act as a dilutor. Choose essential oils with properties that support your intentions – warming, moisturizing for dry skin or emotionally supportive and uplifting; fill your tub and turn the water off before adding them to the bath to assure that they disperse and are, therefore, less concentrated. You don't want little essential oil bubbles floating on the surface and making direct contact with your warm skin. Use only essential oils that are considered non-irritating to skin; for example, don't use clove or cinnamon in the bath and be aware that warm water can increase the potential for irritation.
APPROPRIATE ESSENTIAL OIL DILUTIONS
NOTE: Essential oils are extremely concentrated and can cause irritations when used improperly. As general rule, use these dilutions of essential oils for specific applications:
• 3% for products applied to specific limited areas of the body
• 1-2% for body oils and other applications that are applied to large portions of the body (e.g. massage oil, lotion, cream, body butter)
• 4-8 drops per bath: the essential oils should be added to the bath with a dispersant such as vegetable oil, whole – not fat free or skim – milk, vegetable glycerin or salt (those with sensitive skin should use fewer drops)
• 100% essential oil or essential oil blend for inhalers
• 2-4 drops (100% essential oils or essential oil blend) for a diffuser (for a 12 ft x 12 ft room).
• 0.5% to 1% dilution for children, the elderly and those with sensitive skin or compromised systems. In most cases the age and other facts will play a key role in deciding the ratio.
A FEW WINTER RECIPES:
Uplifting Winter Blend
10 drops Cedarwood essential oil
25 drops Bergamot or orange essential oil
15 drops Fir needle essential oil
30 drops Juniperberry essential oil
20 drops Sandalwood essential oil
Air Purification Blend
3 drops Clove Bud essential oil
3 drops Cinnamon Leaf essential oil
5 drops Lavender essential oil
3 drops Pine Needle essential oil
4 drops Rosemary essential oil
Oh Christmas Tree Essential Oil Blend (Classic evergreen aroma)
30 drops Douglas Fir essential oil
15 drops Cypress essential oil
15 drops Orange essential oil
10 drops Nutmeg essential oil
FINAL NOTE: The best way to benefit from the wonderfully healing properties of aromatherapy is to consult a professional aromatherapist who will conduct a consultation, including a thorough holistic health assessment, in order to determine the appropriate blend of essential oils for you and your specific condition or intention.
Amber M. Bowers is a Clinical Aromatherapist with LovingScents Aromatherapy (a supplier of essential oils and other related aromatherapy products) and an educator in the field of aromatherapy. The LovingScents store is located at 1024 West Gate City Blvd. in Greensboro. Visit www.LovingScentsAromatherapy.com or call 336-294-7727 for more information