Winter Blues

Members article

By E. Bowles ©

Winter can be a time of turning inward, of slowing down and feeling less vigorous. Some people find they get depressed more easily, and coughs, colds and flu often accompany the colder weather. Older people in aged care facilities are often encouraged to have flu vaccinations, and cold hands and feet are common.

Aromatherapy can help beat the winter blues through its mood-enhancing properties and by the anti-infectious, soothing or warming properties of certain essential oils.

On days when your mood is low, a nice way to nurture yourself is to have a warm bath with 3-5 drops of an essential oil whose smell you love. Oils like Bergamot or Lavender are good choices, as they also have relaxing properties. Bergamot and Geranium are thought to help balance mood-states, and oils like Vetiver and Australian Sandalwood are calming and grounding, and help you to become still and calm. A warm bath also helps you feel relaxed and can ease the aches and pains brought on by cold weather.

Cold feet can be warmed using a warm foot-bath, later followed by a gentle foot-rub using 1-2 drops of Red Thyme oil in 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil. This oil is often thought to be too strong for use on the skin, but I have used it in this way on myself with great effect, and the warming brought on by the thyme oil lasts for at least 20 minutes. However, if a red rash or itching develops after applying the oil, wipe it off immediately with a towel and reapply some plain vegetable oil, wiping and reapplying until the rash or itch stops. Washing the oils off with cold water is not so successful, but can be done if you have no vegetable oil handy.

To help keep yourself feeling cheery during the day, you can use about 3-5 drops of all of these oils in a vaporiser, or dab a drop or two on a handkerchief and keep it in a breast pocket where you can smell it. Another recommendation for beating the winter blues is to spend up to 20 minutes sitting in the warm sun with at least your arms and face exposed. The sun’s rays encourage your body to make vitamin D which is useful in making serotonin, a brain chemical that makes us feel cheerful.

The anti-infectious properties of Tea Tree and Lavender oils are well-known. Eucalyptus oil is not such a good anti-bacterial oil, but it does have anti-inflammatory effects on the lung lining, and also can help make the mucus thinner and easier to cough up. The age-old remedy of using a bowl of hot water and inhaling the steam to alleviate a tight chest or blocked sinuses can be enhanced by adding 1 drop each of Eucalyptus, Tea Tree and Lavender oil onto the water before inhaling. If you become giddy or short of breath, stop immediately and get some fresh air. Alternatively, you can put the same mixture on the palms of your hands and cup your palms over your nose and mouth to inhale the vapours that way. This is a useful method if you are too sick to get out of bed, or if spilling hot water is a concern.

Unfortunately, Vicks Vaporub, a popular chest-rub ointment containing essential oils and compounds from essential oils, has recently changed its formula. The formula change was from Cedarwood oil to Cedarleaf oil, which is not only a different type of plant and has a different smell, but also contains at least 60% of a neuro-toxic chemical known as thujone. While the small dosages of thujone absorbed by the skin or from inhaling are unlikely to be harmful, I would caution against using Vicks VapoRub for frail, elderly people taking more than one form of medication, and children under the age of 2, as their livers may not be able to cope with additional burden.

For sore throats, I have found it soothing to put 1-2 drops of Australian Sandalwood oil and Tea Tree oil into a teaspoon of olive oil, and massage the mixture gently over the outside of my throat to ease tightness and soreness in the lymph-nodes.

All in all, the best recommendation for coping with winter is not to fight the season’s suggestion to turn inwards and become reflective. If you do get sick, use the time in bed to nurture yourself and ask yourself what you might be grieving for or needing to let go of. Let the aromas of the essential oils assist you on your journey!