It’s true, essential oils can actually support our emotions. There is scientific evidence that your sense of smell or the olfactory bulb is directly linked to your amygdala. Your amygdala is an area of neurons in the brain that control memories and emotions. Including the “fight or flight” response we get when we sense fear or in some cases think we are fearful when really we are not.
But smells are different. Before reaching your thalamus, they first wind their way through other regions of your brain, including areas controlling memory and emotion, the amygdala. So with scents, you have all this extra processing even before you have conscious awareness of the scent.*
In ancient times when we lived in the wild and there were tigers lurking around every corner waiting to pounce on us we needed to be able to kick into our “fight or flight” mode or be eaten. This mode increases our heart rate and breathing in order to get more blood to the muscles so we can run for our lives. This also slows down digestion and other non-vital body functions until after the threat of the tiger passed and we were in a safe place.
Unfortunately, even though there are no tigers waiting outside of our home, when we are under stress our body responds as though the tiger is chasing us. Even when clearly it’s not, clearly we are safe from danger and bodily harm, but our body responds as though the tiger is there. This can eventually make us very sick because our body is constantly sending out adrenaline that is making our heart beat faster all the time and our digestive system shut down. Our food isn’t being digested properly so we don’t get the nutrients we need. Digestive disorders can begin. Our heart has extra wear and blood pressure may rise and stay at that level. We never calm our body. We are never ending the fight or flight mode.
Now back to that amygdala area. This area is the main spot where the “fear” of that tiger is housed. In fact all of our fears and other emotions are here. When we feel fear or stress this area of the brain sends out signals that we need to fight or run away from danger. What we smell can trigger this response – like smelling smoke in your house.
In turn, things we smell can calm us as well. Sometimes these smells can trigger memories that are also housed in the amygdala. Like smelling fresh baked bread may remind you of your grandmother baking bread when you were little.
The neurological substrates of olfaction are especially geared for associative learning (in your hippocampus) and emotional processing (in your amygdala).11Kate Fox explains it well in “The Smell Report”*
“Our olfactory receptors are directly connected to the limbic system, the most ancient and primitive part of the brain, which is thought to be the seat of emotion. Smell sensations are relayed to the cortex, where ‘cognitive’ recognition occurs, only after the deepest parts of our brains have been stimulated. Thus, by the time we correctly name a particular scent as, for example, ‘vanilla,’ the scent has already activated the limbic system, triggering more deep-seated emotional responses.”*
Essential oils have hundreds and sometimes thousands of chemical components that can do different things. Think of it as a tool box filled with special tools. Each one can do certain things, like calm and ground you or working as an anti-inflammatory. But when you put all of the tools together you can actually build a house with them all. Instead of taking one component and making a synthetic form of it and adding it to your product to help with a specific thing – like stomach upset, the components are all left together in their natural form. The components together in any one oil or blend can work together to support the entire body. And the smell of one oil or blend release all of these components into your amygdala. They can then calm this area and slow or stop the fight or flight response in it’s tracks. Calming our fears or imaginary fears and in turn calming the cardiovascular and nervous system.
Below are some diffuser blends that can help with different feelings and emotions. But you can also put a drop of oil in your hand and rub your palms together and breathe in deeply a few times. Or use a diffuser necklace where drops of oil can be placed in the necklace to breathe in conveniently anywhere.
How Are You FEELING?