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3 Steps to Calm Anxiety in the Middle of a Storm

By Jodi Cohen

Focused young woman multitasking with a smartphone and laptop in a home environment.

I am no stranger to anxiety.

It has plagued me my entire life – rearing its ugly head before middle school track meets, high school and college exams, job interviews and first dates. It kicked into hyper drive after Max died while I was trying to navigate my own grief over Max and his friends along with the external threats of multiple lawsuits.

Every time I think I’ve got my anxiety under control, the universe comes along to challenge me yet again.  This past week was the worst, with the uncertainty of the election outcome looming over our heads.  No amount of distraction or stress eating seemed to calm my nerves, so I decided to up my essential oils game.  And it helped!

So today, I want to share my best strategies and techniques to combat anxiety.

I was wanting to share what I have personally been doing and why to help you navigate the uncertainty and insanity that may continue to play out in the coming days, weeks and potentially months.


1. Activate Parasympathetic to Calm Overwhelm

Activating your parasympathetic nervous system is the key to staying calm no matter what craziness is occurring in the world around us. I think we could all use a little more calm this week.

Your sympathetic nervous system mobilizes your physical and mental response to threats and stress.  It releases stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, to help you fight or flee.   Your muscles tense and your vision narrows, allowing you to narrow your focus and pay close attention to the external, physical world.

Selective attention, a process where you identify and survive threats before dedicating your attention to anything else, helps you focus on what’s important while ignoring irrelevant, outside information.  Just as the sympathetic nervous system turns off all functions not critical to survival, including your ability to digest food, it also turns off your ability to focus on anything outside of the pressing danger.

You are constantly bombarded with sensory information. If you focus your attention on everything going on around you, you will go into sensory overload and be unable to maintain your focus on safety.  Unfortunately, when the sympathetic state locks you into a state of constantly scanning for threats, it shuts down your ability to thoughtfully contemplate different perspectives that might feel threatening to your safety.  This can also contribute to feelings of overwhelm.  The more you can activate your parasympathetic nervous system and expand your ability to focus, the more you can access your discernment and calmly observe external stimuli without being overwhelmed by it.

In your efforts to stay safe, your brain attempts to predict your future based on your past and literally limits your focus to the point where you are unable to entertain new information or ideas that clash with your historical belief system.

“That’s what stress does”, according to Becoming Supernatural author Dr. Joe Dispenza.  “It influences you to obsess about your problems so you can be prepared for the future worst-case scenario based on your past memories.  Being prepared for the worst outcome gives you a better chance of survival because no matter what happens, you are prepared for it.”

This hyper-vigulence can save your life when you are under threat, but also restricts your emotional regulation or receptivity to new or different viewpoints and ideas, making you more likely to engage in and amplify conflict.  For example, concepts that clash with your belief system or historic experience can trigger intense discomfort, prompting you to either dismiss or diminish the new information or the messenger as a strategy to reduce this discomfort.


Parasympathetic Activity Enhances Focus

Research from the University of Oregon found that “greater parasympathetic activity is a marker of increased selective attention and neurocognitive function.” In other words, you can heighten your selective attention and your ability to stay open to new or conflicting ideas by activating your parasympathetic state.  Your parasympathetic nervous system activates the relaxed physical and mental state that allows you to consider and integrate new ideas.

The parasympathetic branch of your nervous system helps to regulate heart rate and reduce blood pressure.  Research https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29713957/ has discovered that when your heart rate is regulated, your brain works much better.

In the parasympathetic state, your vagus nerve releases the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, to help enhance attention, and learning.  In your brain, acetylcholine activates and inhibits communication between different brain regions to properly store information, by speeding up or slowing down nerve signals.  In your brain, acetylcholine is mainly excitatory, allowing your neurons to communicate so you can think clearly, learn new information and form new memories.


Parasympathetic Activity Enhances Emotional Regulation

Emotions are also reactions to external stimuli. They guide your behavior in a fast and effective way to act quickly in response to the demands of your environment.  When a decision feels emotional, it heightens the intensity of the anxiety or overwhelm aligned with it.

The parasympathetic state helps you feel safe which allows you to process or “digest” information from a more balanced emotional state.  The parasympathetic state helps to activate the neural connections necessary for healthy cognitive and emotion regulation.

When you are able to shift out of the high alert state into a mental and emotional space of safety, your mind can relax, allowing you to calm your emotional state and expand your focus.

Likewise, strategies that expand your focus like meditation or EMDR, can also activate the parasympathetic state.  For example, eye movement exercises or other external bilateral stimulation creates a dual focus of attention.  This helps shift your focus away from the internal fight-flight state.  This dual focus of attention is what distracts the mind into “blurring” the intensity of the distressing internal state, lessening it’s emotional charge and allowing you to see the situation in a more clear and detached way.

This ability to shift focus and help detach from the feeling of danger helps calm your state of arousal and further lessens your tendency to over react, by calming the signals that can exaggerate the severity of a threat or certain situations.

Shifting your focus by engaging your senses, such as your sense of smell, helps distract you out of an internal state of distress, thereby lessening it’s intensity and the intensity of your responses to others.  This allows you to feel safe and access more possibilities and options.

Dispenza elaborates on how when we adopt a more broad focus, what he calls a divergent focus.  He notes that a “shift in attention from narrow to open focus changes brain waves”, changing them from beta waves (conscious thought) to alpha (relaxed and creative).  This allows you to feel safe and access more possibilities and options.

Inhaling or topically applying Parasympathetic® behind the earlobe on the mastoid bone where the vagus nerve is closest to the surface of your body helps stimulate your vagus nerve to activate the parasympathetic state and calm your nervous system.


2. Calm Your Amygdala and Activate Your Prefrontal Cortex

Your ability to respond to stress and calm anxiety and depression is controlled by the relationship between 2 areas of your brain:

  1. Amygdala which identifies potential threats
  2. Prefrontal cortex which assesses threats and determines your response

Prefrontal Cortex

Your prefontal cortex, located in the front part of your brain behind your forehead, helps you reason, sustain focus and suppress impulses. Its ability to help your brain sort through stimulation and decide what information is relevant and what to ignore is the mechanism for calming your emotional response and improving your emotional intelligence.

Low frontal lobe function is often correlated with depression.  Decreased firing in the prefrontal cortex results in lower levels of motivation and a decreased in your sense of well-being.  This helps explain why most people who are depressed also can’t concentrate, focus or remember things.


Your amygdala is your threat assessment center.  It monitors incoming signals from your 5 senses.  When it senses potential danger, it connects to your prefrontal cortex to help interpret and assess and respond to the potential threat.

If your amygdala is aggressively firing danger detection signals and your prefrontal cortex is under-functioning and not properly inhibiting those fears, it can present as anxiety or panic attacks, both of which  keeps you on alert to potential or imminent danger.   In essence, you don’t feel safe.

Calming your Emotional Response

Depression and anxiety present when your prefrontal cortex is under-firing and your amygdala is over-firing.  To calm both systems and enhance your emotional state, you need to down-regulate your amygdala and up regulate your hypothalamus.

When you use stimulatory essential oils to improve blood flow and the healthy function of your prefrontal cortex, while simultaneously calming your amygdala and your fear response, you are able to enhance your mental and physical function, calm anxiety and depression and accelerate healing.

Calming physical and mental overwhelm helps reduce background noise that stresses your system and burns through your energy reserves, allowing you to intentionally and calmly assess incoming stimulus and determine your response.  When you feel safe and can assess a situation from a calm and grounded place with healthy prefrontal cortex function, you often make better choices and avoid problems.  This allows you to feel calm, safe and drops your body in the best state for physical, mental and emotional healing.

In other words, your frontal lobe makes sure you react appropriately by reasoning through and assessing situations.   It is this mechanism that is challenged in conditions like ADD/ADHD . Children with ADHD often have delays in frontal cortex development and cannot suppress their immediate desires and impulses.

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, like Focus™, Brain Boost™ or Attention™ 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. Calm the Cortisol Response

Anxiety increases your need for energy in the form of blood sugar or glucose.  This emergency fuel is released from your adrenal glands in response to a signal from your brain in the form of stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine provide emergency energy and help keep you safe from harm. These hormones contribute to anxiety symptoms like racing heart beat that we experience as anxiety.

Every moment of anxiety means your adrenals are activating the increase of glucose in the blood so your muscles and your brain have more fuel. In that way, the adrenals are providing you with the fuel needed to negotiate a stress. But this repetitively firing of your adrenals impedes the ability of your hypothalamus to calm the adrenals. The anxiety response, triggered by a thought or an event, signals the adrenals to turn on. The adrenals continue pumping out their hormones long after the trigger has been resolved. This hyper adrenal response characteristic of anxiety has far-reaching health implications — immune depression, digestive dysfunction, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.

Your hypothalamus helps to calm adrenal output and support GABA receptivity, which calms the excitable neurotransmitter glutamate that can fuel anxiety and even induce panic attacks. Often referred to as the “master gland”, the hypothalamus acts as the hormonal control center for neural and hormonal messages received from/sent to body and plays a key role in the body’s stress response.

The hypothalamus is constantly reading blood the levels of hormones, and adjusting resulting signals sent to the body to maintain internal balance (homeostasis).  Chronic and prolonged stress can damage the hypothalamus’s ability to receive clear messages from the body which then impacts all outgoing endocrine and neural signals.

Applying Hypothalamus™ blend over the third eye may help reset the natural ability of the hypothalamus to send and receive clear messages to and from the body and inhibit the over-activity of excitatory neurotransmitters like glutamate.

Similarly, balancing the adrenal glands with Adrenal® can help calm these hormones and with them the anxiety symptoms. Smelling Adrenal® though the left nostril or applying to the adrenal glands (on the lower mid-back, one fist above the 12th rib on each side). Dilute to start or if any redness occurs.

Once you address the root causes of anxiety, you can move toward healing the underlying issues, not just managing the symptoms. Read more about essential oils for Anxiety HERE.


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About The Author

Jodi Cohen

Jodi Sternoff Cohen is the founder of Vibrant Blue Oils. An author, speaker, nutritional therapist, and a leading international authority on essential oils, Jodi has helped over 50,000 individuals support their health with essential oils.