Posted in medicine, rituals

Behind-the-Ears Essential Oils for Anxiety

In my last post, I shared how I diffuse different essential oils with half-a-coffee-cup of water to help with my depression. I also shared my favorite depression blend… which also happens to be my favorite everyday blend.

But of course my depression blend is my daily blend; depression doesn’t turn off. It’s there when you wake up, when you go to bed; it’s just the intensity of the tide that moves around.

Anxiety, similarly, is ever-present in the background noise of my life, and given it overlaps with depression, I have another method I layer on top of diffusers for when I feel panicked, frozen, and/or nervous. I actually learned this method as a child, when a friend handed me a blend in a brown bottle—a medicine he made himself—but a different friend rekindled this memory in my rollercoaster ride at Fresno Unified:

I like to put essential oils behind my ears.


How much oil do you have to put behind this guy’s ears? 

(a) twice as many drops!
(b) same drops!
(c) don’t use essential oils on animal ears!
(d) …I have testing anxiety.

Answer at the end of the post!

Suggested Oils for Anxiety

The following essential oils have been suggested for anxiety:

  • bergamot;
  • cedarwood;
  • chamomile;
  • cinnamon leaf;
  • clary sage;
  • copaiba;
  • eucalyptus;
  • frankincense;
  • geranium;
  • jasmine;
  • lavender;
  • lemon;
  • lemongrass;
  • lime;
  • orange;
  • peppermint;
  • rose;
  • sandalwood;
  • tea tree;
  • vetiver;
  • ylang-ylang;

So I’ve never tried vetiver or geranium. I wanted to throw that out there to help remind you these are suggestions I’ve accumulated throughout the Internet—I’m more of the curator than the expert here. (That said, autistic people are awesome curators; we make lists, organize piles, file details, and see patterns like you would not believe.)

If you have tried vetiver and/or geranium, I’d love to hear your thoughts!—been curious about those two in particular lately.

Why Put Oil Behind Your Ears?

Many prefer topical uses of essential oils. Topical application is a process of placing an essential oil on the skin, hair, mouth, teeth, nails or mucous membranes of the body. When the oils touch the skin, they penetrate rapidly.

—Dr. Axe

You can put essential oils on your skin in all kinds of places: behind the ear; on your arm; behind your knee. (It might be weird to go for behind the knee.) But I choose behind the ear—specifically, in that pressure point near the mastoid, around our mastoid cells—because this helps me reach my sinuses.

I want to breathe that essential oil in.

Given the sensitivity of this area of your body, I truly do not recommend more than one drop for both ears. Especially because, if you use my method, you’re also going to receive a drop of oil through your hands. 

The Application Process

First, I plug my aromatherapy bottle with my primary hand’s index finger. Once I am certain I won’t have a spill, I flip the bottle over.

You’ll feel the oil on your fingertip. Your application has begun!

Now flip the bottle back to the gravity-friendly position, then use your wet fingertip to dab behind both ears. If you have a keen sense of smell, let your nose figure out what “dab” means—not your sense of touch.

Any remaining oil can be rubbed into the tip of your non-primary index finger. Now you have an even application behind your left and right ears…and your left and right hands!

My Personal Oil Choices

I usually dab peppermint, but if my anxiety feels more visceral, I switch to tea tree. 

Peppermint is great because it:

  • reduces nausea (the largest issue I experience as a result of anxiety);
  • alleviates headaches (and my arch-nemesis, the Almighty Migraine);
  • increases energy (which anxiety drains);
  • relieves muscle and joint pain (and anxiety often tightens muscles and joints); &
  • opens the sinuses super-well (so you can return to your present-moment breath).

But there are reasons for tea tree as a substitute:

  • fights infections and provides antibacterial, antimicrobial benefits* (when anxiety and/or depression burrows its long-term impacts into your immune system);
  • soothes skin (and I don’t know about you, but anxiety makes me itchy, twitchy); &
  • instead of rubbing your fingers together to wipe away the excess, you can go ahead and wipe the leftovers on that pimple that’s been bothering you—then wait 8-24 hours. It’s really cool.

 *Please remember you shouldn’t use aromatherapy as a substitute for visiting a doctor. Aromatherapy should be as a treatment alongside modern medicine—not as an excuse to dodge modern medicine.

If you’re using aromatherapy regularly, it’s good to tell your doctor. Your doctor’s response will double as professional advice, and on a lucky day, as an opportunity to invest in an authentic and human connection with your medical provider, versus the dehumanizing feeling of in-n-out medical practice.

Lastly—and I hope this goes without saying—do not ingest either of these oils, especially tea tree oil. Use them topically. (Or in a diffuser—peppermint’s great for a single-ingredient, 3-drop diffuse.) Do not duck up your insides with tea tree.

…You know what you can duck up with tea tree, though?

And it’s something that’s kind of annoying but can become a teensy fun?

Magical floss.

Answer Key

Did you take that quiz earlier? The answer is (c) don’t use oils on animal ears!—not unless you vet okays it, anyway—because different arrangements of DNA and cells means different reactions to other arrangements of DNA and cells.

Essential oils are essentially (pun intended) jam-packed essences (I can’t stop) of a plant, so you should always treat them like you’re taking one arrangement of DNA and cells, then rubbing it into your skin (or lungs) of DNA and cells;

In other words, you should treat essential oils as chemistry. Be mindful. Be considerate.

Posted in medicine, rituals

Diffused Essential Oils for Depression

The following essential oils have been suggested for depression:

  • basil;
  • bergamot;
  • cedarwood;
  • chamomile;
  • clary sage;
  • jasmine;
  • geranium;
  • ginger;
  • grapefruit;
  • frankincense;
  • lavender;
  • orange;
  • patchouli;
  • peppermint;
  • rose;
  • rosemary;
  • sandalwood;
  • turmeric;
  • vetiver;
  • ylang-ylang.

Reading Aromatherapy

I recommend exploring the four links I embedded above, if you’d like to read more about the effects of specific essential oils; or if you’re more of a papery, traditional book reader, you could also consult this encyclopedia (I keep a copy on my nightstand):

That said—if you take my suggestion and decide to commit to researching beyond blogs—remember what you read is not always what you get.

You may react differently to essential oils, especially if you’re autistic; sensory sensitivity often walks hand-in-hand with autism, and aromatherapy is strong, so at least for me, fine-tuning is required.

Also, remember olfactories access deep parts of our minds—thus, aroma can trigger memory—so aromatherapy a) may bring emotions to the surface, and b) is best handled when you journal your reactions to different blends over the long-term.

Blend for Depression

My favorite blends combine a flower, a citrus, and a tree. I humidify, or diffuse, these blends in a visual-stimulation-friendly diffuser:

In the case of depression, I use:

  • Lavender goes in almost all of my blends for its multi-purpose benefits—it not only helps with depression, it soothes anxiety, helps sleep, and deters mosquitoes (although if you’re truly trying to chase off mosquitoes, it’s also good to dilute citronella oil in a spray bottle and give yourself a light, refreshing mist);
  • Grapefruit, which can be easily substituted for orange or lemon in a pinch, is an excellent up-lifter; even skeptical aromatherapy experimenters will notice the way citrus opens you up physically (which, at least for me, helps opening up mentally);
  • Frankincense—a scent I’ve never enjoyed on its own—is a marvel when mixed with lavender and citrus; and frankincense is also good friends with ylang-ylang, so if you’re not enjoying your flower (lavender), and you need a change, you can adjust your blend to see what’s better for you.

Once I fill my humidifier with half-a-coffee-cup of water, I put in the following portions:

  • 2 drops lavender;
  • 2 drops grapefruit (or 1 drop grapefruit, 1 drop orange);
  • 1 drop frankincense.

I am not a fan of more than a touch of that frankincense. It packs a punch.

Story about My Depression

Not all autistic people are depressed.

However, autistic adults do have a higher likelihood of depression, and in my case, the world crashes down as a catalyst to living a “high function” life; so I can easily draw line between “I’m on the spectrum” and “I’m suffering as a result.”

What neurotypical people see as a “high function” autistic person is often a human being imitating to be someone they’re not—and they’re screaming on the inside—so this is why so many autistic people disapprove of ABA therapy, i.e., therapy models designed to teach autistic children how to behave “normally.”

Because of the dangers of “high function,” many autistic people also have to field a wrenching micro-aggression from people we should be able to trust, like family, friends, and co-workers; and it sounds like this:

“You’re autistic?—you don’t look it…?”

I have deep, dark, screaming demons beneath more masks than most actors keep in their closets. On the hardest days, I wake up feeling like a decoupage of a “normal person,” with my autistic insides hollowed out; and in horror, I realize, This is what neurotypical life wants from me. It’s what most bosses want. It’s what most parents want. It’s easy to confuse this decoupage for a successful life.

I wake up on these hollowed-out days thinking, If you breathe on me at the right angle, I’ll collapse into a mote of dust, into nothing; and so I move about the house with this emptiness and insignificance bearing me down. (Easy to see how this spiral ends at, “I am worth nothing.”) I spend my day making sure no one breathes on me; looks at me; I must ensure you never have an opportunity to hold a measuring tape next to me.

And I feel like, years from now, once I at last peel the final mask from my face, while I think I’ll feel free, what I’ll really feel like is a husk. A ghost. A burden. Because how long will this depression go?—how much has fear disrupted my flow?

I honestly cannot envision a full life.

I write about a full life;

I pro-talk myself into this full life;

Yet I still look in the mirror and think, Hollow.

Will I ever get beyond Hollow?

That’s when my passive suicidal thoughts kick in—after I feel cornered into a place with no options. After I decide this suffering is my norm. On the days my body is wracked with exhaustion, and I feel a chill of You will always be wracked with this exhaustion.

Autistic people have very touchy amygdala. It’s easy for us to get stuck in an emotional corner. We are more vulnerable to the fear of never finding a way out, because we’re often taught to ignore the authenticity within. (In an article I wrote for The Mighty, I explored this Freeze Loop more.)

Parents who think it’s good to post on #autismsucks, or otherwise add to negative perspectives about the spectrum—I implore you to understand, no matter how hard it is for people in our environment, at night, as everyone lies their heads on pillows, the autistic person is the one who has to search the emptiness within.

The autistic person is the one who is most disheveled by saddening rhetoric.

For me, depression is a crashing, a pressuring—a weight of worlds on two small shoulders—equally a somber lens to interpret reality, and a potentially fatal lens, all based on if I stare too long, too obsessively, or too inconsiderately within myself.

If I can open my lungs for just a moment with a deep, refreshing breath of citrus, flowers, and wood bark, maybe, just maybe, I can relax those backbones just enough to survive my internal collapse, and I can leave this frightening place a little stronger; I can make it through another day; I can invest in the hope that, someday, I’ll transform this awful experience into the knowledge needed to pull others out of life-threatening darkness.

I wish I wasn’t exaggerating when I call depression “life-threatening darkness,” but there you go. Now it’s time for me to blend some lavender and citrus!—with a hint of Frankenstein, of course. Or was it frankincense? I like Frankenstein.