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Essential Oils to Hack an Anxiety Attack

By Jodi Cohen

I just navigated a really stressful situation.

I am leaving for a road trip tomorrow from my Idaho home without the dogs.

While I have an amazing dog sitter in Seattle, I have never left my fur babies in Idaho and the few trusted friends I have in town were not available to watch the dogs this week.

So I went on Rover and found a someone who looked great on paper.  She had hundreds of five star reviews and dozens of repeat customers.   She agreed to watch my little dogs and assured me that her two larger dogs  – a golden retriever and labradoodle – are very sweet and gentle.   My dogs get along with most dogs as long as they are not aggressive, so I made the booking.   Then yesterday she informed me that one of her regulars needed to pick up her 3 large dogs late and they would overlap on the stay with my little dogs.  While she assured me that the German Shepard was afraid of it’s own shadow and the other two big dogs were very sweet, my momma bear alarm started to go off.  I asked for a trial visit and I’m glad I did.

It did not go well.

All five large dogs immediately surrounded and attacked my youngest dog who is not yet neutered (which I had told the dog walker).  She assured me that they always get excited in the first 30 minutes then settle down.  My fur babies were hiding in a corner and I could see my little one visibly shaking.  I could feel myself start to visibly shake.  I was as anxious – if not more – than my little puppy.  Four of the five dogs did calm down but one was relentless.  I realized in that moment that this was not going to work.  That I could not leave my dogs in this environment.

Even though I had no back up plan and was leaving town the next day, I knew I couldn’t make this work.

The old me would have tried to make a bad situation work.

Would have bent over backwards to accommodate and tried to rationalize that my dogs would be ok, even though it was clear from that brief interaction that they wouldn’t.

Without a clear back up plan and knowing that I might have to cancel my trip, I scooped up my visibly shaking dogs and left.

Then sat in my car, applied my Parasympathetic® blend and cried holding my fur babies.

Crying is actually an excellent tool for emotional release.  Research has found that crying activates the parasympathetic nervous system which helps support mood regulation and stress reduction.  The short cry helped me regulate my nervous system and restore access to the problem solving brain, known as the frontal lobe.

I immediately started brainstorming everyone that I knew in town who might either be able to watch my dogs for a few days or help me find someone who could watch the dog.  Within minutes, I had a few friends offer to take the dogs and another refer me to her trusted dog sitter who was newly available as my friend’s travel plans had just fallen through.

In other words, It will all work out.

But I didn’t know that when I was standing in the yard with my terrified fur babies and the potential dog sitter.

In that moment, I did not feel like I had options – even though the option I was presented with seemed terrifying.

I have learned to take stock of those moments – when I feel like I do not have a choose.  When I feel like the world is closing in and I don’t have any viable options.

And force myself to take an intentional pause.

To quote Holocast survivor Viktor Frankl:

“Between the stimulus and response, there is a space.

In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our responses.

In our response lies our growth and our freedom”

The key to calming anxiety is the pause.

The key to the pause is activating the parasympathetic nervous system. I talk more about it here.

Parasympathetic Pause to Hack Anxiety Attacks

The “parasympathetic pause” 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” anxious or overwhelmed state into a mental and emotional space of safety, your mind can relax, allowing you to calm your emotional state and expand your focus.

Once you are able to calm your nervous system, you may notice that you immediately feel less triggered and far less reactive.  It is far easier to practice restraint in the Parasympathetic state.

In her excellent book The Art of Extreme Self Care, Cheryl Richardson advices that a “parasympathetic pause” is a wise choice when:

  • You can’t think clearly
  • You feel really angry and triggered
  • Your emotional reaction feels bigger than what the current situation warrants.
  • You feel anxiety coursing through your veins and feel compelled to react
  • You feel angry and know there’s a good chance you will say something mean or stupid that you will regret.

If you experience any of these emotional reactions listed above, consider pausing and activating your parasympathetic nervous system.  Again, the fastest and easiest way to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system is to apply Parasympathetic® blend behind the earlobe on the mastoid bone.

In Chinese medicine, negative emotions are believed to cause a disruption in the body’s energy system, often in connection to certain meridians and organs in the body. The word emotion includes the word motion, signifying that emotions are meant for us to experience and move through.

Apply the Parasympathetic® blend and allow emotions to be present without judgment. It helps to name the emotions, like “anger”, “fear”, “sadness” or “frustration” – this unattached acceptance allows you to identify and release these emotions.  Acknowledging your emotions from a mindful state allows you to observe your experience from a more detached, less emotional place which makes it easier to process.

It is helpful to allow the emotion wash over you without feeling the need to judge yourself or avoid it.  I try to drop into the parasympathetic state where I can pause and objectively observe the emotion.  This mindfulness practice can help you process challenging emotions like anger, grief, fear, and sadness.


Essential Oils to Hack an Anxiety Attack


The parasympathetic state helps you feel safe which allows you 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, expand your focus and clam anxiety and overwhelm.

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 its intensity and the intensity of your responses to others.  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.


Anxiety triggers the release of stress hormones to fight or flee and with it, your need for energy in the form of blood sugar or glucose.  This emergency fuel is released from your adrenal glands in the form of stress hormones such as cortisol.

Balancing the adrenal glands with Adrenal® can help calm these hormones and with them the anxiety symptoms that keep you stuck in overwhelm. 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.


Your frontal lobe (behind your forehead) helps you react appropriately by reasoning through and assessing situations.  Research shows that increasing blood flow to the prefrontal cortex can ensure attention and problem solving.

Essential oils, like Focus™on the forehead 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 enhance focus and concentration to calm anxiety.


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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.