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Essential oils have gone through something of a Renaissance since the early 2000s. These are mixtures of both simple and complex chemicals, sometimes containing almost 300 substances.

Once thought of merely as nice smelling product you put in your bath after a long day or the stuff pagans splashed under their armpits while worshipping the moon goddess, essential oils are now a mainstream business. Just check out the phenomenal success of doTERRA. This company is a worldwide phenomenon with offices in 17 countries and a veritable army of 1,800 employees.

Essential oils are often used in aromatherapy, a branch of alternative medicine that claims that low doses of highly concentrated plant oils can improve someone’s physical or emotional health.

When inhaled the absorption of essential oils by the nose is as fast as an intravenous injection. These plant oils stimulate smell receptors in the nose, which then send chemical messages through nerves to the brain’s limbic system, which affects moods and emotions, and may have some physiological effects on the body.

Despite their wide appeal, there is limited scientific evidence that suggests essential oils improve people’s health and moon. However, a few studies suggest that some specific oils can help reduce anxiety and depression symptoms, which often creep in during this season in the North Hemisphere — the dreaded winter blues.

Dealing With Depression

Around one in four Americans are going to experience depression at some point in their lives. For many of us, winter is the most difficult time of the year for depression.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is an extremely common condition, especially in colder parts of the world. It manifests in a range of depressive symptoms, from lethargy, to sleep disturbance, to overeating. While severe depression always warrants a visit to your doctor, there’s solid research to suggest that essential oils are a useful tool to lift your mood and keep you feeling good through the dreary months.

Laboratory tests have shown that the smell of jasmine is as good as valium at producing calming effects. When the scent of jasmine is inhaled, it was found to have a direct effect on the nervous system. Nerve cells involved in regulating anxiety and restfulness were stimulated, producing an immediate and biologically significant calmative effect. There’s also a growing body of evidence that it may also affect heart rate, blood pressure, and even immune function.

Improving Sleep

Sleep is vital for your mental, emotional and physical well-being. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as one in three adults don’t get enough sleep. This increases the risk for a depressing list of maladies, from hypertension and heart disease to depression and mental illness. We need to sleep more.

Sleep disturbance is a particularly pressing health problem in the winter months, for one simple reason — there isn’t enough sunlight. Sunlight plays a key role in regulating serotonin, and without a solid dose of those golden rays, sleep patterns become disturbed, often drastically so.

A 2016 study suggests that inhaled lavender can significantly alter sleep patterns, improving not just duration of sleep, but also its regularity. Given how much we now know about the value of sleep in moderating mood and maintaining a good quality of life, essential oils (and particularly lavender) may be a good bet for staving off the winter grumpies.

Dialing Down Anxiety

Anxiety is depression’s amped up, Trans-Am owning, rollerblade-wearing cousin. And to make things worse, anxiety frequently accompanies depression, creating one hell of a double-whammy for the sufferer.

Turns out, essential oils may have a useful role to play here too. A 2013 study carried out on patients awaiting outpatient surgery showed that bergamot essential oil was highly effective in easing acute apprehension.

Those who used this specific citrus oil, showed a marked reduction in preoperative anxiety than the control group. Another animal study backed these findings up, finding that bergamot was as effective as the pharmaceutical diazepam in reducing the body’s physical autonomous response to stress.

A word of caution on essential oils — if you’re a male. One study found that eight chemical compounds found in lavender and tea tree essential oils interfere with hormone levels by promoting estrogen and inhabiting testosterone secretion. So be sure not to overdo it — not unless you’d like a pair of male breasts.