Scientists at the Center for Autoimmune Diseases at Tel Aviv University recently discovered a link between depression and our sense of smell, and found that citrus fragrances—lemons in particular—directly affected neurotransmitters in the brains of mice. The aromas help boost serotonin, a feel-good hormone, and reduce levels of norepinephrine, a stress hormone.
How to use essential oils: Everybody responds to aromatherapy differently, says Beverley Hawkins of the West Coast Institute of Aromatherapy in Vancouver, B.C. To find what works for you, experiment with scents—lemon and orange boost energy; sandalwood and ylang-ylang calm anxiety—and keep a record of how each makes you feel. (Consult a certified aromatherapist before using oils topically.)
- At home: Use a few drops of essential oil in a tea light– fueled diffuser for two hours. Or burn a citrus–based candle in your office to sharpen your focus, says Asa Hoffman, coowner of the Daughters of Isis aromatherapy line in Florida.
- At work: For a mood boost, add a drop of essential lemon oil to a handkerchief you can sniff throughout the day.
It worked for me: Samantha White (not her real name), 35, a business owner from Richmond, Va., struggled with depression for 15 years before hearing that aromatherapy could help. She was skeptical, but says, "After using grapefruit and ylang-ylang oils in my shampoo, shower gel, and lotion, I didn't need antidepressants."