Did you know that helping the brain to focus can shift it out of painful emotional states like grief?
Since my son Max died in a car accident last August, I have been learning skills to help navigate the chronic, intense pain of grief.
The learning process has involved a lot of trial and error. I will try something and if it helps, I will continue to do it. If it makes me feel worse, I will try to avoid it. For example, every time I go to blame, feeling angry that the accident happened or the circumstances surrounding it, I feel awful. By way of contrast, there are certain activities that always make me feel better, most noticeably anything that requires intense concentration, like activities that are new or scary.
I first experienced how intense concentration and new activities helped me feel better this past winter break. We were driving from the airport to our hotel and I was overcome by grief – all my past memories of this drive including my son and his absence was blaring. Trying to mask my upset from my daughter and her friend, I pointed out a pie shop that I had always wanted to try, but never had. My cheery daughter said, “Let’s try it.” The minute I turned into the parking lot, I felt better.
The grief lifted immediately as I was focused on the new adventure ahead of us. I noticed this pattern repeating every time I embarked on something that required intense focus. I could physically feel myself changing lanes in my brain – out of the emotional part of my brain that played the grief tape on a constant loop and into the part of my brain that required focus and concentration. I began to hypothesize that I was moving out of my amygdala and into my pre-frontal cortex and every time I made that conscious shift, the intensity of my grief lessened.
I was sharing this experience with my EMDR therapist who then shared the latest research study on how EMDR works (How Does Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy Work?) with me.
The research confirmed my personal experience that our brains cannot “dual task”, or perform two tasks simultaneously. It turns out that when we force different regions of our brains to compete for the same information processing resources, the thinking/focusing area of your brain, known as your pre-frontal cortex, seems to win, downgrading your emotional and traumatic experience. This seems to be the principal employed in EMDR and other limbic retraining programs.
The study supported the rapid eye movement component of EMDR, noting that “the act of moving eyes right to left generates more activity in your pre-frontal cortex”, the area of your brain that controls cognitive function, including planning, focus, attention, decision making, impulse control and self-regulation. Damage to the prefrontal cortex presents as ADD/ADHD.
Your prefrontal cortex, located right behind your forehead, also helps calm your stress response and moderate emotional influences on cognitive processes from the limbic area of the brain. When this prefrontal-amygdala connection is weak, excessive anxiety can be the result.
Essential Oils for Focus
I began to experiment by strategically applying essential oils to the pre-frontal cortex (forehead) to increase blood flow and energy to the area. Your prefrontal cortex helps balance brain function and improve cognition and processing speed.
Research shows that increasing blood flow to the prefrontal cortex can prevent the reduction of brain function in elderly people, especially in attention and working memory.
Applying essential oils on the forehead helps to draw energy to the prefrontal cortex. This is because your prefrontal cortex contains several reflex points that can be stimulated with essential oils to help with emotional release.
Applying essential oils or touching to these reflex points to the forehead can increase cerebral spinal, organ and muscle flow of blood to the area. It’s hypothesized that when we are under stress, blood goes to the back of our brain, where the past is stored. Placing a hand, or appropriate essential oils, over the forehead, helps shift the energy and blood flow from the more emotional mid‐brain areas to the area just below the forehead known as the prefrontal cortex which is associated with a calmer mind and rational, logical thinking.
Emotion balancing essential oils on the forehead have been shown to calm the vascular system which circulates the blood flow in the veins, arteries and heart and further helps alleviate the negative emotions around that issue. Similarly, the application of essential oils on specific reflex points, while at the same time holding a specific trauma or crisis in your mind, can help the body to release the thought pattern and related stress response that may have become habitual.
The hands can also be used to stimulate the forehead points, but research indicates that the longer you hold the points the more the stress will fade. Applying essential oils to the points allows you to hold the energy for significantly longer, resulting in greater health improvements. Read More about Applying Essential Oils to the Forehead HERE.
The Benefits of Essential Oils for Focus
When you strengthen the prefrontal cortex, you enhance your brain’s ability to plan, organize, and see the big picture. When the PFC loses its “tone,” or processing speed, those possibilities are all but impossible resulting in poor internal supervision, short attention span, distractibility, disorganization, and hyperactivity, impulse control problems, difficulty learning from past errors, lack of forethought, and procrastination.
Strengthening the prefrontal cortex also exerts a moderating influence on the more impulsive and less flexible structures of the limbic system.
How the Brain Loses the Ability to Focus
Chronic stress has the ability to flip a switch that inhibits connections to the prefrontal cortex, which lays down durable scaffolding linked to anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Similarly, modern technology, scatters your attention and weakens the brain’s wiring for focus. Just like a muscle atrophies from being underused, your prefrontal cortex shrinks with lack of focus. Your brain is “use-it-or-lose-it” – if the prefrontal cortex is neglected, it begin to atrophy. As a result, the degraded brain wiring can no longer focus, be attentive, organize, or build sequences and ideas.
When connections to the prefrontal cortex are inhibited, you need to reactivate these connections to turn down stress. Can do so by manually stimulating them with essential oils. Essential oils for focus can prime the prefrontal cortex to develop new brain pathways.
3 Essential Oils for Focus
Focus™: Formulated to enhance concentration and alertness, especially when applied over the forehead to the prefrontal lobe. Focus includes several individual oils that help keep the mind thinking clearly and focused on the task at hand. For example, research shows that 1.8-cineole, one of the main compounds in Rosemary essential oil, results in improved speed and accuracy on cognitive tests.
Similarly, research from the University of Cincinnati found that inhaling peppermint oil increases the mental accuracy by 28%.
Apply 1- 2 drops across brow, back of neck, collar bone or on temples and wrists to increase mental focus.
Attention™: Formulated by homeschooling parents specifically to assist with ADD and ADHD. The medical benefit of this oil was proven during research conducted by Dr. Terry S. Friedmann.
Subjects with a confirmed ADD/ADHD diagnoses inhaled essential oils daily when they began to feel “scattered”. The inhalation of the oils improved brain wave patterns along with scholastic performance and behavioral patterns. Improvements in brain activity were revealed via electro-encephalograph (EEG), which measures electrical impulses moving through the brain. This allowed researchers to determine whether the children’s brains were functioning primarily in a beta (i.e., alert) state or a theta state (i.e., lack of focus). Improvements in beta-theta ratios were noted following the use of vetiver essential oil, while parents also noted improvements in symptoms.
The four oils in the Attention™ blend – Vetiver, Frankincense, Lavender, and Cedarwood — all showed substantial benefit, with Vetiver helping 100% of the test cases. The blend further synergizes the positive impact of the individual oils.
For best results, apply 1- 2 drops on brain stem (back of the neck), temples, across the forehead and the bottom of the feet.
Brain Boost™: Formulated with brain supporting oils, like Frankincense, Helichrysum, Cedarwood, and Melissa oils which contain a high concentration of sesquiterpenes that are known to cross the blood brain barrier and improve oxygenation of brain cells.
Apply 1- 2 drops on the back of the neck, on the temples, the bottoms of the feet and especially on the big toe.
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