As we approach Halloween season, aka scary movie-watching season, let’s talk about fear. Whether it is the fear you feel during a visit to a haunted house (some might call it fun – I don’t), or fear from a life-threatening situation, or the deep-rooted fear from general life situations (fear of change, fear of death), fear has an essential role in our survival.
How does fear work?
Fear is essentially an automatic response in our body called “fight or flight”.
The fight of flight response is a process that begins in the limbic system (also called our emotional brain), and involves:
- The processing of environmental stimuli in the hypothalamus, which activates the pituitary gland.
- An interplay of the endocrine system and the sympathetic nervous system, transmitting the signaling and firing of hormones in the body.
As a result, the heart pumps faster, the lungs expand, the pupils dilate, the digestive system is inhibited, the hormone adrenaline (or epinephrine) is secreted; the body is getting ready to fight or flee.
Usually, the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex can assess the fear and tone down an excessive response (i.e.: this is just a movie, there is no actual ghost behind me right now). But for some reason, fear can overpower our thinking brain, and may even lead to phobias and anxiety.
Olfaction: the pathway to our limbic system
We know that the fight or flight response starts in the amygdala, an almond-shaped set of neurons in the limbic system, which happens to be closely related to our sense of smell. Indeed, when we smell something, the olfactory neurons (located in our olfactory epithelium, at the back of our nasal cavity) send a signal to our limbic system. The signal travels through the olfactory nerves and bulb, directly into the amygdala.
By smelling essential oils, we can trigger feelings of calm, safety, peace, euphoria and self-confidence. Essential oils can also promote deep breathing, which is proven to induce a relaxation response in the body.
My “It’s Going to Be All Right” Synergy
- Vetiver – 4 drops
- Sandalwood – 15 drops
- Clary sage – 12 drops
- Juniper berry – 15 drops
- Roman chamomile – 4 drops
Blend the above in a small glass bottle. If you like, you can let this blend “rest” until the next day, and adjust it to your your aromatic preferences.
Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanioides)
Vetiver has affinities with the root chakra and provides a sense of safety and belonging. It puts things back into perspective and helps us focus on the “here and now”. Smelling Vetiver is very helpful when fear is separating you from reality.
Australian Sandalwood (Santalum spicatum)
Sandalwood calms the central nervous system very effectively, and quickly. It enhances the grounding benefits of Vetiver and complements the woody, smoky aroma very well. Sandalwood promotes introspection and is often used in meditation blends.
Clary sage (Salvia sclarea)
The euphoric effect of Clary sage is beneficial in situations of fear and helps restore a feeling of peace. Its antispasmodic and general muscle relaxant properties make it an excellent oil to help you let go, relax, and promote positive thoughts.
Juniper berry (Juniperus communis)
There is a quality of movement and detox with Juniper. I think it is a wonderful oil to help remove blockages, fear and feelings of being immobilized. It is an overall stimulant, and brings a lovely, fresh, and piney touch to balance the heaviness of the other oils.
Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile)
This is the best oil for acute fear situations such as panic attacks. Roman chamomile is very strong and soothing, and has a direct effect on the nervous system, providing sensations of comfort and calm.
The best way to use this synergy is in a personal inhaler that can be easily carried around and used whenever fearful thoughts take over. Making one is quite simple: let the cotton insert soak up 25-30 drops of the synergy and insert it in the inhaler tube. Check out these instructions.
You can also diffuse this synergy at home, especially if you tend to feel fear before going to sleep. This recipe is kid-friendly and can be used when there is bedtime anxiety.
Other fear-busting tools
Visualization and self-hypnosis
Visualization is a powerful technique that can help when dealing with fear, anxiety and phobias. Visualize yourself facing your fears and imagine a positive outcome: this is called self-hypnosis. Reciting personal affirmations and mottos may seem awkward at first, but can lead to amazing results. Beyond visualization, try to mimic the feeling of self-confidence: What is it like when you feel secure, powerful, strong and confident? Do you smile? Do you hold your head up? Then do just that.
I will end with a quote from Marie Curie:
“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”