I have shared a great deal about my battle with grief following the loss of my 12-year old son Max. What I have not yet shared is the intense anxiety and panic attacks that arose in the aftermath of Max’s passing.
When Max died, I thought I had hit rock bottom. And then, things got worse.
There were four boys in the car that day and only one of them is still with us. Max’s closest friend, whom he met in preschool at age 3, passed away in October. Another child, who really seemed to be making progress toward recovery, passed away in January. Around that time, my dad fell ill and needed to be hospitalized. Then the lawsuits kicked into high gear – a wrongful death suit involving all four families and a criminal suit against my ex-husband, the driver.
I distinctly remember my real rock bottom – I was sitting with my dad in the hospital when one of the attorneys called, threatening a worst case scenario that was beyond my wildest nightmare and demanding an immediate decision on a topic that I needed more time to ponder. I could feel myself slipping into a place of panic, where I literally could not breathe and my heart felt like it might explode out of my chest.
And then I accidentally did something right.
Something that all of us can do when life gets too overwhelming and we need a reset.
I ended the phone call without making a decision.
I excused myself from the hospital room.
I went outside and took several deep breaths and doused myself with Parasympathetic™ blend to calm my nervous system and I took a walk. A very intentional walk, focusing on my body, my breathing, the feeling of my feet touching the ground, the sound of the birds in the air, the sight of the trees and other people walking their dogs.
As I walked and directed my attention to my body and the natural environment around me, I could literally feel my heart stop racing and my breathing calm down. The best part was my mind worked better. I was no longer trapped in panic, but could tap into creativity and problem solving skills that allowed me to calmly and clearly navigate through my options. I realized that the situation that the attorney had presented as black and white, had many potential outcomes and the decision he was demanding I make immediately could wait until after I had gleaned more information.
The more I calmed my nervous system, the more I turned on my creative problem solving ability and the more options opened up.
How I Shifted Brain Gears
I now realize what I “did right” in that moment. I shifted my brain out the sympathetic “fight or flight” response where focus and creativity are limited, so as not to overwhelm you with options and compromise your ability to hyper-focus and avoid danger.
When you’re locked in the fight or flight sympathetic state, you are not in a good position to think clearly and creatively. You need to literally shift gears into the parasympathetic state in order to tap into your best problem-solving skills
This is because your sympathetic nervous system literally stops all resources that are being used for anything that is non-essential for survival – including your mental problem solving abilities. Your parasympathetic nervous system does the opposite – helping you feel safe and turn on your ability to think creatively, reason and problem solve.
When your sympathetic nervous system is active, you release stress chemicals like cortisol and adrenaline that narrow your focus and dampen creativity and problem solving potential to keep you on high alert and ready for intense physical activity. Activating your Parasympathetic nervous system also helps to boost calming chemicals and neurotransmitters, like the “happy” hormone Serotonin and the “love” and connection hormone oxytocin. Serotonin helps regulate the parasympathetic nervous system and impacts your mood, appetite, and your level of alertness.
Other calming chemicals released in the parasympathetic state include the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, along with anti-stress hormones like prolactin and vasopressin that help you calm anxiety. Boosting you natural levels of these happy hormones and inhibiting the chemicals that keep you on high alert for the fight or flight response help shift you out of stress and anxiety.
It is my hope that this brain gear shift strategy can help you shift out of anxiety and panic so that you might turn on your best brain and your best self. This can also be helpful for enhancing your performance at work or school, your relationships, or help you live your best life.
3 Steps to Gear Shift Your Brain
Step 1: Grounding
Grounding, or connecting to nature, brings your body into a state of balance that helps you feel both mentally and physically safe. Walking outside in nature is my particular favorite way to ground as you also benefit from natural light and the blood and oxygen flow generated from movement.
Essential oils, especially those derived from grounded plants like trees which are intrinsically grounded through their root structure into the Earth, can help you ground. Essential oils comprised from barks, roots, grasses, needles and resin of plants also help you pull your energy centers down into the Earth.
Plants that grow under earth entrain with earth’s energies. This is why stones, root vegetables or essential oils from root plants that share space with the Earth, match the frequency of the Earth and can be used for grounding. Rock, crystals and minerals, in particular, are able to hold a solid vibration so when you hold one in your hand or place it near your body, you have to change your frequency to match that of the rock or mineral. This is one reason that crystals are so popular for grounding.
Natural scents, like essential oils derived from plants, also carry a vibration and smelling essential oils forces you to entrain your energy with the plant and helps connect you to nature and ground you.
My favorite essential oils for grounding include:
Attention™ This blend helps ground you in your body. It contains Vetiver, a perennial bunchgrass with very deep roots that help ground it to the Earth. Vetiver essential oil is extracted from these deep roots and is known to ground you mentally, physically and emotionally, often helping you explore the root of your emotional issues. Attention™ also contains Frankincense and Cedarwood which helps us ground and feel connected to the planet and each other. Cedarwood is derived from a tall tree and gives you the strength of a tall standing tree that continues to grow over long years through all types conditions – weathering turbulent storms, fire, flood, and other such disasters only to bloom once more and stand strong. They remind us that “this too will pass with time.” Cedarwood enhances and facilitates this ability to stand tall and weather the storms of life, helping you endure dark, uncertain, and emotional events by instilling you with the strength to move forward. Apply 2- 3 drops of Attention™ on the bottom of the feet and back of the neck to help with grounding.
Frankincense is a resin extracted from trees that grow in the challenging climates of northeastern African and the Arabian Peninsula. These challenging climates make Frankincense uniquely resilient and supportive to help with grounding. What’s more, the resin and sap of trees is reminiscent of life’s blood in the sense that it protects, seals, and heals a wound. And, just like a physical wound, essential oils derived from resins are known for their ability to heal the wounds within us as well. Frankincense is known for helping to purify, sanctify and connect you to your spiritual path, calming the mental chatter of your nervous system. It also helps connect you to the healing energy of the Earth. Apply Frankincense to the bottoms of your feet to support grounding.
Parasympathetic™ Supporting the Parasympathetic State can also help the body ground which further benefits the vagus nerve. Further, the Lime oil in the Parasympathetic™ blend can help promote emotional grounding, encouraging a balance between the heart and mind, the connection of which helps you ground. Apply Parasympathetic™ over the vagus nerve (behind the earlobe on the mastoid bone).
READ THIS NEXT: Essential Oils to Support Grounding
Step 2: Shift Into the Parasympathetic Nervous System
When your brain senses a threat, it triggers your vagus nerve to activate your nervous system’s “fight-or-flight” survival response and shuts down creative problem solving function. When the danger passes, your vagus nerve signals your body to shift back into your parasympathetic rational thought pattern.
Sadly, anticipatory and thought driven stress can keep us stuck in the sympathetic thought loop of fear and apprehension where cognitive function shuts down. Activating your parasympathetic nervous system helps you feel safe and calm so you can access your optimal problem solving brain function.
Essential oils are natural, non-invasive, easy tools to use to activate your vagus nerve. They possess both olfactory (smell) and transdermal (topical application) qualities, making them easy to inhale and apply on the skin to activate your vagus nerve. Research backs this up as inhaling essential oils such as lavender or bergamot has been shown to activate your vagus nerve as measured by improved heart rate variability. Inhaled essential oils travel directly to your brain (specifically to the prefrontal cortex behind your forehead) where they can immediately help calm the fear response in your brain. In addition, topically applied essential oils can cross the blood-brain barrier to stimulate your vagus nerve within the brain.
Apply the Parasympathetic™ blend behind your earlobe on your mastoid bone to help calm your nervous system.
READ THIS NEXT: Stimulate your Vagus Nerve
Step 3: Shift into the Heart Space
Nothing helps you shift out of anxiety like shifting into the heart space and looking at the world from a place of kindness and compassion. If you are truly stuck, directing your thoughts toward gratitude or forgiveness can help you gearshift into your best brain state.
Your heart connects you to feelings of love, balance, and connection to others. When you process things through your heart (as opposed to your head) you are better able to be kind and compassionate and avoid conflict. Your heart also helps to support feelings of self-acceptance, self-love, compassion, openness, and unconditional love of others.
Looking at the world through your heart center allows the kindest, most genuine response and helps you avoid the desire to engage in any kind of conflict or argument. Heart centered focus allows you to bear witness and hold space for others and validate their experience without judgement, allowing you to be kind and supportive witness and validate the experience of others without the need to carry their pain for them or diminishing own your voice.
Heart™ balances the heart to enhance compassion and support, integrate and reset all the systems of the body, including supporting feelings of open-heartedness, expansiveness, receptivity while mitigating loneliness, sadness and grief.
This blend includes several heart-opening oils, including Jasmine. A report in the Journal of Biological Chemistry examined the impact of hundreds of fragrances on the brain and found jasmine to be “as good as Valium at calming the nerves with none of the side effects.”
READ THIS NEXT: Heart Centered Healing with Essential Oils
Ready to get started? Click the links below to order today:
- Attention™ available here
- Frankincense available here
- Heart™ available here
- Parasympathetic™ available here