A couple of weeks ago, I posted about stress and the brain. In it, I talk about the limbic system (our “reptilian brain” that controls our emotions) and the five main ways to impact its response to stress.
Of those five ways--aromatics, breath, nature, nervous system and energy work--the fastest way to invoke calm in the limbic part of our brain is by literally following our noses. This is effective because the olfactory nerve--the part of our anatomy that correlates to our sense of smell--is directly wired to the limbic part of our brain. It is located at the top inner part of our nose and connects directly to the limbic part of our brain.
A smell can bring on a flood of memories, influence people's moods and even affect their work performance.
Because the limbic system is also closely associated with memory and feeling it's sometimes called the "emotional brain," smell can call up memories and powerful responses, including our stress/calm on-off switch, almost instantaneously.
You’ve probably heard people say things like, “That smell really takes me back….” or “If someone could bottle that scent…” Maybe you’ve even said it yourself. Things like your grandma’s apple pie, or the tropical flowers from your last vacation, or even that classically delicious baby smell that all babies seem to come with… Those smells all take us back to those happy memories and the emotions we felt while we experienced them.
So, that’s the goal with aromatherapy and essential oils: To take you to your happy place through scent. But it doesn’t just work through memory access. Essential oils, which are highly concentrated plant extracts, also work on the brain on a chemical level and have been proven to lower heart rate and blood pressure.
The two best ways to use essential oils are through aromatic diffusion and topical application. Basically, 1. smelling the scent or 2. applying it to skin.
Amazing fact: Within 5 minutes of applying to skin, essential oil molecules can be found in your blood stream!
The types of oil to use is going to vary from person to person (with personal preference playing a large role), but I usually recommend using oils that have been documented for their calming effects and also considered pleasant to most people: rose, neroli, chamomile, lavender, geranium, ylang ylang. (If you’re not a fan of florals, you might try bergamot, orange, tangerine, cedarwood, vetiver, spruce or peppermint.)
If you do a search for “essential oil recipes” on Pinterest, you’ll no doubt find tons of ideas of ways to use them. But, honestly, I think easy and simple is just as good.
The most basic, fail-proof way to start using your oils is by adding 1-2 drops of your favorite oil to the palms of your hand, then rubbing your hands together a few times to activate the oil. Cup your hands over your nose and inhale deeply and slowly for a couple of minutes. Then, I like to rub the rest of the oil on the back of my neck, especially at the base of the skull, and hold my hand there for just a moment to warm the area.
Bottom line: Experiment with essential oils. Smell all the oils you can. See which ones bring you calm, or joy, or a boost of energy.
You just never know which one will be your heaven. And, let's be honest, for those crazy chaotic days, instant heaven is something every mom should have in her arsenal.
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