3 Essential Oils for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Do you know that creeping feeling of gloom that starts each fall and lasts through winter? Some call it “winter blues” but its true name is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It’s a temporary depression caused by the change of seasons and the lack of sunlight that ushers us into winter. For some, antidepressants may be the answer. But what about the power of scents?

Related: Does Light Therapy Really Work for SAD?

Scent and Mood

Research on essential oils is an emerging field as natural and alternative therapies become popular throughout the western world. Most essential oil use and their efficacy is based on anecdotes. But slowly science is showing how essential oils affect the central nervous system and thereby cognition and mood. While the science behind essential oils and physiology catch up to speed with long-told stories  about their benefits, psychology has already well-studied the power of scent on mood.

The psychologist Rachel Herz from Brown University explains that the connection between scent and mood has more to do with associative learning than specific smells. In other words, the situation in which you first smelled a particular scent conditions your brain to either find the scent pleasing or displeasing. You can also be influenced by what someone else says about the scent, whether they classify it as good or bad.

No matter how you come to find a scent pleasurable or not doesn’t change the fact that pleasing scents have been scientifically shown to increase mood. And when you’re in a better mood you’re more creative, helpful and motivated. Plus, these are scents of any kind (plastic to garbage to perfumes).

Essential oils can be classified as therapeutic grade scents in which studies are finding neurochemical responses that change your brain at a molecular level. These three oils in particular have been shown to positively impact mood:


Bergamot is an uncommon citrus fruit that looks like a lime but it’s about the size of an orange. It has a fresh, citrus smell that’s slightly floral and sweet. Citrus smells are known for their powerful mood-lifting properties. But bergamot essential oil has proven to be particularly powerful in allaying anxiety and boosting mood. One study on rats compared bergamot essential oil to diazepam (an anxiety medication). As expected, diazepam worked to reduce anxiety in rats but so did bergamot oil.

If you combine bergamot into a blend with lavender and use it for massage, then you can truly harness its antidepressant properties and lift your mood significantly. Otherwise, you can use bergamot in a diffuser or on a tissue that you carry in your pocket and sniff throughout the day.


Depression, even if only seasonal, often comes with fatigue alongside sadness. Lemon essential oil has the power to energize you while lifting your spirits. One study reported that lemon oil suppresses certain chemicals in the brain which leads to an antidepressant and anxiolytic effect. Which means lemon can break you out of a depressed or anxious cycle.

Lemon is the perfect scent to use around your home. Most often found in cleaning products and kitchen scents, lemon can be used in a diffuser in your living room or kitchen to keep things lively even during winter’s darkest days.


Jasmine is a beautiful scent that brings forth images of a warm, breezy spring or summer night. This fragrant flower has long been used in Thailand in aromatherapy but was only recently studied for its effects on mood. Researchers studied the impact of jasmine on the central nervous system. The study suggests that jasmine has the power to not only promote feelings of well-being but also increase energy. Jasmine’s stimulatory effect keeps drowsiness at bay, which can be a problem during the cold, dreary months of winter.

All in all, when you combine the power of neurochemistry with psychological impressions, you have the perfect arsenal to combat seasonal affective disorder this winter and every winter going forward.

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Photo Credit: Unsplash - Kelly Sikkema


John B
John B6 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

Ian C
Ian C2 months ago


Ian C
Ian C2 months ago


Julia S
Julia S2 months ago

Thank you!

Richard A
Richard A2 months ago

Thank you for this helpful article.

Peggy B
Peggy B2 months ago


Patrice Z
Patrice Z2 months ago

Interesting ideas. Thanks for sharing.

Aries N
Aries N2 months ago

Thanks for sharing

W. C
W. C2 months ago


William C
William C2 months ago

Thank you.