Using Aromatherapy While Grieving

As anyone who’s used incense to set the mood knows, scents can be a major part of our environments and they can change our perspectives and emotions. If you’ve experienced a major loss, whether it is recent or not, aromatherapy offers ways to manage your environment and address the specific grief-related emotions you’re experiencing at the time. 

Choosing the Right Oils

Even though we use one word to talk about how we feel after a loved one dies, the reality is that grief involves a complex mixture of emotions, including sadness, guilt, anger, and frustration. Specific types of essential oils can help combat particular negative emotions. 

Here are some categories of essential oils and when to use them. 


Aromatic citrus oils like bergamot, grapefruit, and lemon bring joy to any room. If you’re feeling generally down and sad, citrus essential oils can brighten your environment. They are particularly potent when the weather outside isn’t particularly sunny, either—citrus represents sunshine and is useful when you’re feeling like you need an energy boost. 

Woody Oils

Essential oils derived from trees, like cedarwood, cinnamon, and sandalwood, are good for bringing out inner strength and for inspiring personal growth. Essential oils derived from tree bark is best for the times when you feel overwhelmed by your grief, by the responsibilities in your life or when you need to push through a difficult day. 


Resins are produced naturally by trees when they are wounded—their purpose is to heal, and that is exactly what resin-derived essential oils are best for. The most common resins are frankincense and myrrh, both of which have been used during meditation and prayer for centuries. Both oils help calm the mind and let go of feelings of guilt, as well as help open up space for you to peacefully examine your emotions. 


Energetically, flowers represent potential, love and joy. Lavender is particularly good at encouraging forgiveness and healing, and it’s subtle aroma usually provides uplifting energy without becoming overpowering. Rose, on the other hand, is best for building compassion and self-love—but can be so strong that the recently bereaved might be overwhelmed. 


Roots provide grounding energy that encourages stability, balance and security—all things that seem lacking in the aftermath of a major loss. We often think of our family members, especially our parents, as our roots—so root essential oils can be particularly poignant after the loss of your father or mother. Root essential oils like ginger and vetiver can help provide stabilizing energy while also invigorating you and providing the motivation to rebuild. 

Working with a counselor can help you identify and isolate the primary emotions associated with your grief. This can help you decide which essential oils to use at each stage of your grief journey, and how to use aromatherapy to move through the sharp pangs of acute grief to a place of peace. Aromatherapy can also become part of your rituals to get through waves of grief, even years or decades after your loss.

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