The sun in January - winter blues

Winter blues and aromatherapy

Aromatherapy is a great way to combat the troublesome winter blues. But before I get to details, let me tell you about my personal experience with winter blues.

Winter blues

Winter blues and I are no strangers. After having spent the first many years of my life in the very bright tropics, I decided to move to a cold weather country – The United States. New Jersey, to be precise. In the beginning it was all fun and excitement. It was still early November when I first saw the first snowflakes falling from the sky. A presage of what was to come. My co-workers assured me that it was a bit early for snow in that part of the country. But still, it was magical to see snow for the very first time.

That winter turned out to be unkind. Right after New Year’s Day, a paralyzing blizzard covered the Northeast. It was still fun. I still didn’t have a car and was oblivious to the dangers of driving on slippery roads.

As the years passed, I started to notice an increasing and somewhat debilitating feeling of lethargy and low mood. This got worse with every winter. I believed the bare trees were the culprit. Boy, was I innocent.

Many years later I moved back home where it is always bright, too bright at times, and it never snows. Needless to say, my winter blues never again showed their ugly face. Until I moved back to the north!

I arrived in Germany in early December 2008 and felt immediately lethargic and anxious. I blamed it to the drastic change in my living conditions. I left my life behind in Sao Paulo to move to my fiance’s home in a foreign country. Literally overnight everything was different. Although this stress certainly added to the anxiety, it was not the cause of my over-sleeping and low mood feelings.

I was suffering from SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder. Northern Germany is in a higher latitude than New Jersey. At Christmas, there are less than seven and a half hours of daylight and often only a few hours of sunlight.

Trees in winter


















But I didn’t learn about my condition until last year. It worsened with every passing winter culminating in the very mild, yet emotionally difficult winter of 2013. I survived it. Barely.

Then came the winter of 2014 which was also a was a very mild winter. Too mild. So mild that the tick and slug populations thrived. And, boy, it was dark. So dark. The sky was often dark gray and the sun a white dot in the sky. Fortunately, from early October to mid December, I was mostly outdoors working on a new garden and didn’t feel the winter blues. Hawthorn tincture also helped me keep my energy levels high. By this time I had also been taking vitamin D supplements for several months. All was well. But a week before Christmas I had to stop making the garden to have a surgery performed on my left thumb. It was during the recovery period that the surgery demanded that I noticed the return of the classic symptoms: very low mood, lethargy and a general unwillingness to do everyday tasks.

It’s now February 2016 and I’m proud to say that I had low energy only during the last two weeks of December. Since then, I haven’t experienced any winter blues. Hooray!

What is SAD

SAD is a medically recognized form of depression that comes about in the darker months of the year causing many people to be unable to function properly. Symptoms usually appear between November and February but can manifest as early as September and linger until April. When Spring arrives, the symptoms usually disappear quickly as more daylight is available. The key symptoms of SAD include anxiety, depression, lethargy, loss of sex drive, mood swings and sleep problems. The stress caused by a condition left untreated can lead to a weakened immune system.


During my phytotherapy apprenticeship, I learned a lot about aromatherapy and essential oils. Our teacher was a retired nurse and a pioneer aromatherapist who helped to introduce aromatherapy as an additional therapy in hospitals. In one of the classes, I realized immediately that in aromatherapy lied the key to ending my personal struggle with SAD.

In my further studies and experiments, I learned what works best for me. And that is hands down Neroli. Experiment and see what suits you best.

Essential oils for SAD

Basil – Extracted through the process of steam distillation of basil (Ocimum basilicum) leaves, the basil oil is an all-star antidepressant. The chemotype Linalool is an excellent oil to reduce mental exhaustion and stress related complaints. It promotes relief from unrealistic fears and sleep disturbances. It soothes headache and migraine. Because it contains 3-31% Methylchavicol, it should not be used during pregnancy.

Bergamot – The gorgeous scent of this essential oil is promotes emotional balance, relief from distress, nervousness and depression. It elevates the mood without a sedative effect. The oil is cold-pressed from the peel of the Bergamot orange (Citrus aurantium subsp. bergamia) .

Neroli – This wonderful essential oil is extracted from the flowers of the bitter orange tree (Citrus aurantium subsp. amara or Bigaradia) through steam distillation. It’s a powerful antidepressant, particularly against nervous depression. It is extremely effective when used to treat emotional shock and anxiety. Its citric and floral fragrance balances strong emotions, boosts self-confidence and assures a restful night’s sleep. I use it quite often in times of stress and anxiety. Neroli has sedative properties and might not be the best choice if you are felling fatigued and need to feel more awake. It’s very expensive but generally safe for babies, children and during pregnancy.

Clary Sage – This outstanding oil is extracted through the process of steam distillation of the flowers of Clary Sage (Salvia sclerea) . The sensuous, sweet and floral fragrance can cause euphoria, inspire the mind and encourage feelings of well-being. It helps with the relief and release of deep-seated sadness, stress and nervousness promoting inner peace. It can regenerate energy and help you to put things in perspective. Because it contains sclareol, it should not be used during pregnancy, shortly and during heavy menstrual bleeding.

Jasmine – The intoxicating fragrance of jasmine oil makes it an excellent cheer me up oil. It uplifts the spirit, disperses mental fatigue and distress, and it is an aphrodisiac to boot! The oil is obtained from the flowers of Jasminum grandiflorum through solvent extraction. During pregnancy, use it only very diluted.

These are other essential oils used to soothe depression and encourage a feeling of well-being. Example includes geranium, lavender, cardamom, sandalwood, frankincense, rosemary, lemon, peppermint and the very expensive rose and lemon balm.

If you think you are suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder you should consult a competent health care professional to get the correct diagnosis and find out which treatment suits you best.

Learn how to grow a gorgeous medicinal and culinary garden with Giovanna Becker

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