Fear is a natural response to danger. It protects us from legitimate threats by sharpening our senses and making our bodies react in ways we didn’t know were possible. It is vital to our survival as humans. Fear can be provoked due to a previous, traumatic experience or it can simply be fear of the possibility of something going wrong. Abnormal fear can cause dread, despair, and a consistent mental state of apprehension.
So what if fear manifests itself in such a way that causes you to hesitate to take good risks? What if you have conditioned yourself to have a fear response with certain situations? How do you move past the fear and into a normal state of emotional well-being? In this article we will look at how aromatherapy can support our psychological, and in turn, our physiological self.
Anatomy of Fear
First of all, let’s look at how the emotion of fear establishes changes in our physical self. When we are exposed to a stimulus that incites fear, our senses send a message to the thalamus to “figure it out.” The thalamus then sends the message to the amygdala, that then signals the hypothalamus to emit the “fight-or-flight response.” Then, there is a release of epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline) into the bloodstream. These "stress hormones" cause several changes in the body, including an increase in heart rate and blood pressure.(1)
This reaction can be beneficial in saving our lives. It’s that adrenaline rush that we hear about when a petite woman lifts a car off her child. However, what if we are living in constant fear? Our adrenal glands are overworked and our mind, along with our physical body, is under a consistent stream of stress. This can cause our immune system to malfunction, which in turn causes us to become ill more often. Conquering fear is not only strengthening for our emotional core, but it can assist with physical balance. In the case of fear, we must deal with the emotional root in order to heal the physical outcome it invoked.
Let’s look at the science of aromatherapy and how that works in the body. Aromatherapy works with our olfactory system. This has a direct tie to the limbic system in the brain, which is our emotional center (as stated above). Inhaling an essential oil can have an immediate and powerful impact on our emotions due to this physiological link.
Suggested Essential Oils
Let’s examine some essential oils that have been traditionally used in overcoming fear. In situations where fear is minor and needs to be overcome, I like to combine inhaling the essential oil with a positive affirmation. The mind is very powerful. In order to achieve something, we need to believe in it. This affirmation is a verbal reminder to your consciousness of this belief.
Start by inhaling the essential oil during a time when you feel centered and calm. Do it in a quiet and peaceful environment, such as during meditation. Focus on your calmness when inhaling the essential oil. Then, when facing a situation that you find fearful, use this same aroma and affirmation. The combination of the essential oil's chemistry and the aroma brings you back to a time where you experienced peace and tranquility and it will instill calmness in the mind. Practicing this aromatherapy technique several times can be healing in moving past the fear that stifles you.
Sweet Orange (Citrus sinensis) is an essential oil that is cold pressed from the orange rind and therefore replicates the aroma of its corresponding freshly-squeezed fruit. Its aroma is vibrant and uplifting. It is a happy essential oil that exudes warmth, positivity, and joy. Children especially gravitate towards this aroma. It is particularly helpful with letting go and reducing obsessions. This could mean letting go of our anxieties or feelings of not being good enough. It encourages taking that leap that you are hesitant about. It makes you feel optimistic and motivates you to expose your inner radiance. Studies have shown it to be effective in reducing anxiety and improving mood in females at the dental office.(2)
Neroli (Citrus aurantium var. amara (flos)) is a complex yet stunningly beautiful combination of floral and citrus. It is instantly uplifting and profoundly calming. It is indicated for shock and trauma. Whenever I take a few deep inhalations of neroli essential oil, I feel like the weight of my worry is lifted off my shoulders. I feel peaceful and content, even if my troubles are still there. Neroli offers emotional stability and brings lightness to a heavy heart. Research finds that it is helpful to help relieve preoperative fear and anxiety.(3)
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is a gentle floral essential oil that exudes feelings of calmness. It encourages security. It is like a familiar, comfortable blanket that embraces you and makes you feel safe. It is harmonizing to the mind and body. It dissipates tension and irritability. It is a very balancing essential oil that has a motherly nature. It has also been studied for its fear relieving effects and lowered blood cortisol levels pre-op.(4)
Frankincense (Boswellia sacra) is an essential oil derived from resins. Resins ooze out of the tree to protect and heal the wound of the tree. We can relate that to frankincense and the protective energy it manifests on the human psyche. It encourages one to step out of their comfort zone. It is highly regarded in meditation to look deep within us to face our fears. It is wise and enlightening.
Spikenard (Nardostachys jatamansi) is an earthy essential oil extracted from the root. It is grounding and can have a strong sedative effect. (5)It can calm the racing heart, squash excessive thinking, and encourage peace and tranquility. It is supportive when you feel out-of-sorts and confused. It helps us to release our fears of the unknown and have the courage to move forward. (5) It heals on a spiritual level and encourages peace.
Jasmine (Jasminum grandiflorum) is an intense floral absolute that can diminish fear. It helps us to accept ourselves and boost our self-esteem. It is your cheerleader and tells you that “you can do it." It helps us to release our inhibitions. It is powerful in times of grief. So if your fear stems from grief, this essential oil can be magical for overcoming the feelings of sadness and move past the fear that paralyzes you.
Cistus (Cistus ladanifer) is good in feelings of disconnection. It helps you to connect with your spiritual side to overcome the fear, especially when used during meditation. It is warming to the heart. It is especially helpful after trauma or suffering a dramatic loss and the fear that it ignites.
Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata) is another exquisite floral essential oil that has an affinity to the heart and feelings of love. This essential oil is indicated in fear of change, fear of loving, fear of failure and fear of madness. Ylang yang combined with lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) essential oil and frankincense (Boswellia sacra) essential oil can be instrumental in moving past fear of change. (6) Ylang ylang washes over you with feelings of love and self-confidence.
Another consideration is that the best essential oil choice can be very individualized. You should seek aromas that are comforting to you or invokes good memories. We can each resonate with certain essential oils that might give us the sense of tranquility and the emotional balance that we desire.
Part Two : Flower Essences to Conquer Fear...coming soon!
How Stuff Works Science website, How Fear Works, accessed on April 21, 2017: http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/emotions/fear2.htm
Lehrner J, Eckersberger C, Walla P, Pötsch G, Deecke L. (2000) Ambient odor of orange in a dental office reduces anxiety and improves mood in female patients. 2000 Oct 1-15;71(1-2):83-6: Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11134689
Akhlaghi M, Shabianian G, Rafieian-Kopaei M, Parvin N, Saadat M. (2011) Citrus aurantium blossom and preoperative anxiety. Brazilian Journal of Anesthesiology 61 (6), 702-712: Retrieved from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0034709411700794?via%3Dihub
Hosseini S, Heydari A, Vakili M, Moghadam S, Tazyky S. (2016) Effect of lavender essence inhalation on the level of anxiety and blood cortisol in candidates for open-heart surgery. Iran J Nurs Midwifery Res. 2016 Jul-Aug;21(4):397-401. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27563324
Worwood, Valerie Ann (2006) Aromatherapy for the Soul: Healing the Spirit with Fragrance and Essential Oils. New World Library; 2nd edition. Novato, California.