When you walk into a room, home, or office, you often notice the scent right away. Often we will identify if a scent is warm or cool, pleasant or unpleasant, relaxing, uplifting, or soothing. 

“Aromatherapy” is a term that is, maybe too loosely, used by candle companies and the like. However, I would venture to say that using essential oils are a bit more researched (John Hopkins University is doing research with Doterra right now) and have more medical backing in actually being an effective aid in various disorders.

If you are not familiar with essential oils, they are basically the essence of the plants that give them their distinctive smells. The smells range from earthy smells like patchouli to woodsy scents like lavender and pine, to flowery jasmine to sweet lemon and tangerine.  

A common misconception is that essential oils can only be diffused into a room, (which is one of my favorite ways to use them!), but essential oils can be used directly on the skin, on porous bracelets or necklaces, or even in the car.

Personally, I have been using essential oils for a long time to cope with my own anxiety.  As I psychologist, I always have oils diffusing in my office and I notice the difference on the days I forget to bring my oils to work. Many of my patients have said that they have helped them to manage their anxiety and trauma symptoms, helping them as a coping tool to stay grounded and present.

I have read that researchers believe that smells cause the brain to respond by activating the body’s nervous system in a soothing and healing way.  This is especially important in the aftermath of trauma, as often our nervous systems are understandably out of sorts and need to be nourished. 

Smell is the only one of our five senses that is directly linked to the lobe of the brain that houses our emotions.  Anyone anyone who has experienced trauma can tell you that smell can definitely be a trigger, it is for this same reason that it can be so calming. 

As a psychologist, I give a gentle reminder that essential oil therapy is supposed to be an additional, ancillary service to traditional mental health support. You should also always check with a medical professional prior to using essential oils for yourself or your children. 

Here are a few ways essential oils can be used in your mental health routine: 


The most common use of essential oils regarding mental health I believe is for sleep. There are a variety of blends that work well for sleep, some made by individual companies that are pre-mixed and others that work well together from mixing a few individual oils. I think my favorite, especially for kids, is mixing equal amounts of lavender and chamomile in a diffuser or a roller bottle mixed with coconut oil for rolling on the bottom of feet, neck, or temples. Vetiver, Cedarwood, Valerian, Ylang-Ylang, and Bergamot are just a few of many oils that have shown to improve sleep. Young Living makes a blend called Peace and Calming that I quite like and DoTerra makes a blend called Serenity which many people swear by.


The essential oils that have found to be most effective with depression are generally the citrus oils (Wild Orange, Bergamot, Lemon, Lime, Grapefruit) and the woodsy scents (Cedarwood, Cypress, Sandalwood). Peppermint generally has an energizing effect so this is often thrown into blends to help motivate as well.


Anxiety is probably the complaint people are generally coming to see me for. There are tons of anxiety blends out there and you can do some of your own research on Pinterest or other sites. The oils that help with anxiety are sometimes the same that help with sleep, though there are a few additions as well. Lavender, Basil, Bergamot, Valor, Patchouli, Vetiver, and Chamomile are some of the best. A few drops of lavender on the bottom of your feet will generally calm the nervous system down fairly quickly. I love the scent of patchouli and often mix this with ylang-ylang and lavender in my diffuser for a relaxing environment.

ADHD and other Behavior Issues

Parents who are struggling with the idea of medication for their child diagnosed with ADHD or other disorders that can involve behavior disturbances (Oppositional defiant Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorders, etc.) often start with essential oils and have found them to be helpful. Some of the most common oils for concentration and calming are Valor, Vetiver, Cedarwood, and lavender. DoTerra makes a blend called In Tune that is a blend of Amyris, Patchouli, Frankincense, Lime, Ylang Ylang, Sandalwood, and Roman Chamomile that many people have reported finding helpful.

This is certainly only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the ways that oils can be helpful for mental health. I always have something diffusing in my office whether it is Thieves oil (Young Living) mixed with orange to stave off illness (and smells amazing), a blend of Pine, Basil, and Bergamot (helps with irritability), or something I found online that morning, I want my office to be a place of serenity and calm for my clients.

The company, Young Living, actually makes a few oil blends specifically for Trauma: 

Release: a blend of Ylang Ylang, Lavandin, Geranium, Sandalwood, and Blue Tansy

Trauma Life: a blend of Valerian, Lavender, Frankincense, Sandalwood, Rose, Helichrysum, Spruce, Geranium, Davana, Citrus, Hystrix

Some other great blends are:

  • Patchouli with Bergamot
  • Thyme, Eucalyptus, and lime
  • Clary Sage, Cedarwood, and Orange
  • Bergamot, Orange, and Patchouli, and Ylang Ylang
  • Lavender, Lime, and Juniper Berry

And of course, some of the best blends come from experimentation of what you feel you need in that moment. Mints tend to uplift and help wake up. Lavender, Ylang Ylang, and Patchouli help to relax and citrus scents are generally to feel refreshed and happy. Depending on what is currently happening and what mood you are intending, you can blend accordingly.

Essential oils have played a big role in my healing and my every day life. I would love to hear how essential oils have impacted your life!

*It should be noted that I do not work for or get any benefits from any company for writing about essential oils. Also, I write this as a lay-person and that while I have seen results from clients using essential oils; this is not something I am recommending medically as from the standpoint of a Licensed Psychologist.  You should always check with a medical professional prior to using essential oils for yourself or your children. 

Dr. Melissa Mahon is a professional Life Coach and Clinical Psychologist.  She uses her background in Psychology  to focus on the positive aspects of human potential and growth to help others fill their life with joy and purpose. Connect with her on facebook and her website: Journey to Present.

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